By Kerry DooleLethbridge, AB-based roots-rock troubadour Leeroy Stagger is one prolific cat. He has just released his eighth studio album, Truth Be Sold, a mere 12 months since his previous and much-acclaimed record, Radiant Land. He's already started yet another cross-country tour to support the new record, to be followed by a three-week tour of the UK. Truth Be Sold comprises songs retrieved from the vaults alongside brand new material and it showcases the diversity of the Stagger sound. Punk and hard rock elements are incorporated seamlessly, and producer/multi-instrumentalist Steve Berlin (of Los Lobos fan) adds some subtly adventurous musical touches. Exclaim! tracked down Stagger for an interview on the eve of its release, and here's how the chat went.
You're back on the road, starting your Canadian tour I gather? I'm actually in Victoria, at my mum's house. Heading to Salt Spring this afternoon for a show. I've been here a few days, showing off my newborn baby to the family here. So you have a couple of new babies out then? Yes, this is number one for real babies. He's just over five weeks old now.
Will that make it hard to be on the road? Yes, I imagine so. He's coming on the road with us for all the Canadian dates. Then I'll head to the UK from Montreal.
Pleased with initial response to the new album? Yes. It's funny, I seem to get pretty positive reviews, for the last four records anyway. Sometimes you wait for one of those scathing reviews that calls you on all your BS. I don't know if it's just because we're Canadians and we're so polite. I'm happy also because my standard has gone way up for the last three or four records. It's a great record and has great players on it and I think the material is fairly strong. so I'd expect it'd get pretty decent reviews. We'll see. Just being an artist and constantly being a bit self-deprecating, at least on my part, you are waiting, "when is the jig going to be up?" kind of thing, but I think I have a little while longer. Just over time, I think the more hours you put into something, the better off you are going to be. I think naturally it has gone in that direction. It has been just a year since your last album, Radiant Land. I have been accused of being rather prolific. I wish at some points in my career I'd had a bit more of a filter to put the songs through. I still don't find it that hard to write 12 to 15 great songs in a year. If that's the case why wouldn't I release records? The fact of the matter is that I guess I've done this ten years now and I am starting to get a bit worn out from the process of putting out a record every single year then touring like mad, going through the press and promo side. It is a lot of work and a lot of expectation you put on yourself. I guess I did one self-release, Little Victories, which was probably the easiest of the bunch. But as soon as you start signing record and publishing deals, then all of a sudden you have expectations to sell records. that is a lot of pressure for somebody in this climate the business is in now. It's a lot of extra work. I think with a new baby and just getting that 7 to 10 year itch, you start thinking "maybe I should try something else for a while." It seems like I'm living six months into the future, so I still have commitments 'til the end of the year. That particular record, Radiant Land, we made two records that year. When I think about it, Truth Be Sold was made nearly 18 months ago, so there was certainly a lot of studio work I went through that year. There was a covers record we did that year also that probably won't be released. It feels good to work. I like to work, and I do have a studio at home to work in now too. Feels great to work from there.
How did you connect with Steve Berlin? Suggested by your label? At that point, I wasn't signed to anybody. I got a phone call one day from my friend Colin Nairne. He works for Macklam Feldman in Vancouver, and he said "I just had lunch with Steve Berlin." I guess Steve had heard one of my songs on the radio in Vancouver and really dug it, and on a whim said to Colin "Have you heard of this guy Leeroy Stagger?" Colin said "yes, he's a good friend of mine." Los Lobos were coming through Calgary, so Steve wanted to invite me to the show. So me and my mum, who was in town, and a couple of bandmates went to see them. They played with John Hiatt and it was a great show. I got invited backstage, where Steve said he loved my music and if I ever wanted to work with me, he'd love to. Of course I'd been a massive Los Lobos fan for a long time, so I was elated to be backstage there with Steve and David Hidalgo and the other guys, so of course I jumped at the opportunity.
I've interviewed Steve, and he told me he loves working with Canadian artists. It's a cool thing. The bass we used on the album was one that the Tragically Hip had given him as a gift, the bass that was played on "Bobcaygeon." I thought was pretty funny, though I heard it got stolen shortly after we made our record.