Leeroy Stagger is a rock ‘n’ roll, country-roots musician, hailing from Victoria in BC, and he recently played at The Golden Lion in Bristol.
With ten albums under his belt and a hefty volume of live performances to boot, Leeroy Stagger has gained the attentions of many – including the likes of musical artists Carolyn Mark and Hot Hot Heat. His debut record, 2002’s Six Tales of Danger would be the start of an enduring and prolific dedication to his music – with an album released pretty much consistently for each consecutive year following, to date. Not bad going!
Leeroy has toured with Modest Mouse, Ron Sexsmith and Tegan and Sara (to name a few) and will be touring the UK this May/June before heading to Denmark for a series of dates and then back across to Canada. He is a travelling, free spirited soul, and this shows not only in the stamps within his passport (we presume) but also in the heartfelt lyrics – with the similar world-weariness as Tom Waits and earnestness of Bob Dylan.
We had a quick chat with the man himself.
I’d like to start off by asking you about your time touring with the likes of the Pixies, Ron Sexsmith and Evan Dando – does touring really bring new ideas to the forefront of your mind, or when on tour, are you mostly immersed in the promoting of your latest material that you can’t fathom space in your psyche to think about new stuff?
It all depends on my frame of mind I suppose, I really like working while I’m on tour, I’m a people watcher so Im constantly snooping in on people’s conversations. I deal in the art of being human so that’s where most of my songwriting inspiration comes from. I try to come up with new concepts and new songs when I’m travelling.
Related to the above, have the aforementioned bands and artists been people whom you have felt personally inspired by over the years, and what was it like to tour alongside these people?
Yeah, for sure. I really get off on other artists. I guess like anyone you can run into jerks but I’ve been pretty lucky to have been around some pretty special artists. Hanging With Steve Earle is like sticking your finger in a light socket. He just makes you want to create and get to work. Evan Dando was a complete sweetheart, We sang Lou Reed songs all night on the rooftop at a bar in Vancouver called the Railway Club. It was one of those perfect nights.
Onwards to your music! Growing up in BC, did you gravitate towards Vancouver Island, to pursue your music and songwriting and to find gigs, in the earlier days – or was there a pretty good community of like-minded artists around your own town?
Growing up on the Island had its good and bad points, there was quite a scene there when I was coming up. There were a lot of kitchen parties at my friend Carolyn’s. Everybody would show up – Alejandro Escovedo, Neko Case…you name it. It was a good scene. I was playing lots of gigs in the early days with so many different types of artists. I’m really lucky. One weekend I would be opening for Modest Mouse and the next Kathleen Edwards.
Since playing professionally, are there a core group of musicians whom you have stuck loyal to, over the years – and what do you appreciate most about finding a band who you really connect with? Are you equally happy to play a solo show, and is composing a very insular thing for you or are you more likely to collaborate with other musicians to generate ideas?
Right now I’m into collaborating with other musicians in a live setting, I think it has a lot to do with the records I make, they are pretty band centric. Any of the songs translate to just me and a guitar but I like them to come alive with the band. I’ve more or less had the same cats for a while but that seems to be changing. We have a new drummer coming with us over there so that should be fun. For me, connecting on stage musically is the reason I do this, it’s such a high.What are your memories of the local music venues growing up, and the sounds that might play from the jukebox, the guys you would hang out with, and the musical education you received? Was there a record or a mix tape you were given, or a moment you recall that really turned you onto this way of life and pursuing music?
I could write a book on that question! I had some amazing mentors growing up. My friend and stellar songwriter Dan Weisenburger turned me onto The Joe Strummer Solo records in a big way as well as Little Feat and Lowell George. I think Discovering Ryans Adams Gold was a big turning point for me though with the combining of the ragged roots rock ‘n’ roll of The Stones with the punk rock swagger of The Replacements really resonated with me. There was lot of roots music coming out then that just hit me like a ton of bricks – Lucinda Williams “World Without Tears” was a big one for me. Then I discovered the Steve Earle record El Corazon and it was all over for me. I knew that’s what I wanted to do.
You seem pretty prolific – does this come in phases and are you really creatively inspired by travelling, new experiences and feeding these perceptions into your songs?
It really comes in waves now. I have two young boys at home now so I try to stay home and be a Dad above everything. It makes writing harder but it’s what I’ve done as a job my whole adult life so I know how to make the songs work. I don’t force it, I just let them in when they are there and ready. I still work on music most days and writing a record a year kinda deal. I’m not sure about travelling, it’s different now. The world is a weird place right now, kinda makes you want to stay closer to home until things shake down a bit.
Who (either past or present), has really inspired you lyrically, and musically? Have you had the opportunity to collaborate with any of your heroes, ever?
So many inspirations, I’m in a band with one of my musical heroes, Tim Easton, so that’s pretty cool. I’ve always loved the poetry of Lucinda Williams, the swagger of Steve Earle and the fearlessness of Neil Young.
Who did you learn guitar from, and is this an ongoing process that evolves organically from playing out live, and playing with different musicians?
I’m mostly self taught but I’ve learned little tricks along the way. My style is born of necessity of having a bed for the words to get out. Learn three chords and you’re off to the races.
Which one of your albums do you mark out to be the truest representation of who you are as person, and do you have a clear cut idea of the themes you want to cover at the outset, or are you much more open to what comes along in terms of influences, muses and intuition too?
I don’t really know who I am as a person yet! I think each album represents me at the time it was made. My last three albums I feel are probably my best and most real work. I’m always open to what comes. I try not to find the theme or common thread until after the album is made. I’ve just finished a record that will come out later this year that is by far my best, and most cohesive work to date.
Not giving in to convention, and carving your own path – how tough has this been, and are you thankful that you didn’t give up your values and remained true to yourself and your music?
It’s been tough to be honest. The music business is a cruel mistress. I’m stubborn and refuse to go away. My perseverance has done well by me. I don’t know what the answer is but I don’t know any different at this point. Just keep at it until you don’t want to anymore.
For more information: www.leeroystagger.com