Discover more from Volatile Weekly
Interview with JEFF EAGER
What got you into music, and if you had not gotten into music what would you be doing today?
It was probably a series of things in life that put me on this path. My uncle gave me a Bruce Springsteen Born In The USA tape when I was five. I remember seeing Michael Jackson on TV a couple years later, and listening to my older brother’s Bad album.
In Grade 3 the school music teacher offered me piano lessons because she saw some potential in me. We didn’t have much extra money at the end of the month for extra-curricular things, so she taught me for free once a week at the school, early in the morning. We also didn’t have a piano at home for a few more years, so I’d truck over to the school several mornings a week to practice on the school piano. I was 8 years old. By the time I took up guitar, trombone in Jr. High School, then bass … I was well on my way to making music my teenage identity.
If I hadn’t gotten into music, I would probably be doing something with math, perhaps engineering of some kind. Not only am I good at math, but I have a passion for it; I enjoy it. I think it is something I will pursue further still.
What do you like to do when you are not playing music and how does that influence your creativity?
Music keeps me very busy, I’m usually playing live three to five times per week (and working on material at my home studio in between). So I need to be intentional about family time; having dedicated time to spend with my wife and daughters. In some ways, this career provides a lot of freedom and variety in life (for example, we can take family day trips and vacations at odd times of the week and year, when other people can’t), but you have to be very intentional about carving out that time. For someone working 9-to-5, it might be a given that evenings and weekends are for leisure and family. But for a musician, every day, every week, and every month looks different.
On a personal level, when I’m not doing music, I enjoy exercise, drinks with friends, 80s nostalgia, and like I said, math (I actually work through textbooks and online modules for fun).
How long have you been making music?
I’ve been playing instruments (piano, guitar, bass, and more) since I was 8 years old. The obsession got serious in my teenage years and I’d spend hours at home going through all the best classic rock albums, learning Hendrix, Aerosmith, Led Zeppelin, Rolling Stones, and more. The best part of growing up in the 90s was having no youtube, no content creators, no online tutorials! You had to sit and listen to music and try and get it by ear. Sometimes you’d be lucky to find transcriptions of songs you liked in guitar magazines, and you’d have to buy them and own them. The commitment of time and energy you had to make in the pre-social media and streaming era was amazing.
Coming into university, I started my first band and began writing original music and playing shows. By the time I had finished my degree at U of Calgary, I had decided to move to Toronto and give music a serious shot as a career. That was almost 20 years ago, so it seems to have worked out.
Where are you based out of and how did that influence your music?
I moved across the country from Calgary to Toronto in 2004. It was an important move as it put me close to some of the biggest Canadian artists, the working musicians, legendary venues, music institutions and media. I lived in Toronto for 10 years, learning from some of the best players in the country, getting my chops up, logging hours on stage with original acts and cover bands, figuring out what I do best. That 10-year education is irreplicable. As my family grew, we moved west of Toronto for a more suburban life. By then I had solidified my space in the music scene, and thankfully the calls didn’t stop coming in when I left the big city. You can still find me playing in Toronto a couple times per week.
Tell me about your most memorable shows, if you haven’t played live what is your vision for a live show?
There are lots of memorable shows - and for very different reasons. On the one hand, I very clearly remember the first gig I played after my daughter was born. It was in an empty bar on King Street, nothing glamorous. I plugged in as usual and started the set with Bill Withers’ Lovely Day (as I often do). But it was all different now, music felt different. It was my first time doing this as a father. This was coming from a different place for a new reason. I’ll never forget that.
I also vividly remember playing at an after-hours club, 4am probably. There are all kinds of characters at these underground clubs and groups would often keep to themselves to do, let’s just say, whatever things they wanted to do at 4am away from prying eyes. But I remember the vocalist started singing Sitting On The Dock Of The Bay, and I didn’t know the song back then. She continued to sing it acapella, and slowly the whole room joined in. Everyone stopped what they were doing and sang this entire song; a rag-tag mix of all types of people, singing together, acapella, at 4am in the belly of the city.. It ended, and everyone went back to their business.
Of course, these memorable moments are juxtaposed with bigger experiences: when I performed with Elise LeGrow we did a European tour opening for Rick Astley. Spending two weeks with him and his band, playing for his crowds of fans was incredible. Elise and I also performed on the international TED stage in 2018 in Vancouver.
I also was able to play with one of my musical heroes, Lenny Kravitz, twice in Toronto. I remember every second of those on-stage experiences!
Most recently, the album release show I had for 2070 was a very special concert. It was the culmination of three years of work and financial and emotional investment. To have an intimate crowd of my family, friends and local community come out and celebrate this album with me was wonderful.
What is your favorite venue to play at, and do you have any places you want to play that you have not already?
Unfortunately many of my favorite local venues closed during the pandemic. The Hideout in Toronto was a special place that existed for about 10 years on Queen Street West, and another 3 years on College Street, before closing. Live music seven nights a week. I really logged many hours of experience on that stage (and many after-hours in the back!). The Orbit Room was another unique legendary Canadian venue. I watched some of the country’s best talent there; I just studied and learned. Eventually I had the opportunity to play that stage myself somewhat regularly.
I haven’t had the opportunity to play the Calgary Stampede yet, that would be a treat. I grew up going to the Stampede, so I’d love to come back and do one of the stages in July. I’ve worked with various touring artists over the years, but never got the call to do the Stampede with any of them.. I suppose now that I have my album our, the best would be to perform my own show there, at the Calgary Stampede, my home town.
If you could play any show with any lineup, who would be on the ticket?
That’s a tough question, most of my influences and musical heroes have either passed on (Prince), retired (Grand Funk Railroad), or are on their last tour (Aerosmith). To open a show for Lenny Kravitz would be a dream, as my music is so heavily influenced by his 90s albums. If I had to go a little more current, I think Allen Stone would be a good act to share the bill with, he is so funky and soulful, I could see a fit there. (I would have to open, of course, you can’t sing after Allen Stone!)
What is some advice that you would give to someone who is just getting into making music and some advice that you would give to your younger self?
I do have advice for young people getting into live music. (I don’t have advice on maximizing spotify streams, increasing TikTok followers, or going viral). But if you love playing live music and are looking for a sustainable full-time job performing, I’ve picked up a few bits of wisdom in my 20 years.
To be a great live performer, I think you need to get 10,000 hours on a microphone in front of people under your belt. (Note that practice in your bedroom or rehearsal space, though important, doesn’t count towards these 10,000 hours. It has to be live in front of some people. You have to practice at doing things once and not being able to go back.)
To get all these hours logged, play covers. You’ll gain so much experience and get used to your voice in a PA system (good ones and bad ones), get used to your playing (while you’re too hot, too cold, too sweaty, not sweaty enough, etc). You’ll see how you do under pressure when a monitor stops working when your instrument is out-of-tune at the start of a song and you need to make it all the way through. When you’re sick and need to sing, you’ll learn how your “sick voice” works! Basically, all the things you could possibly experience will come your way. And once those 10,000 hours are done, I believe you will be one of those performers who ‘makes it look easy.’
Of your songs which one means the most to you and why?
My new album is a personal one, and each song has meaning to me. But the thematic anchor of the record is Audience of Three (2070). This 3-minute ballad lays out the reason for investing so much time, money, and effort into an album when you know it won’t “blow up” “go viral” or launch you into music fame. Why sweat over every harmony line, every auxiliary percussion part, every word, when millions of people won’t hear it? Who is all this hard work for? I needed some motivation to not only do an album, but do it at the highest calibre with the utmost care. So I made an album to leave for my kids. It’s a reflection of this moment in time, and is something for them to dig into when they are grown up. When I am old or gone, there’s a world of hidden gems for them to discover in this album, whenever they are ready to do so. Audience of Three (2070) is the mission statement.
Which songs are your favorite to play and which get requested the most?
As an original artist, right now I’m loving a song called Figuring It Out. This is one of three songs I perform from the keyboard and getting off of the guitar (my primary instrument) is really satisfying. The song has a “Benny and the Jets” -style pulse, sits perfectly in my vocal range, and feels great to perform live.
In terms of cover songs, I always play songs I love, I don’t take requests or learn music that doesn’t get me excited. Some songs I’ve played three times a week for 15 years, and I never get tired of: The Way You Make Me Feel (Michael Jackson), It Ain’t Over Til It’s Over (Lenny Kravitz), Kiss (Prince), Shining Star (EW&F), Just The Way You Are (Billy Joel), to name a few.
At original shows, people are most familiar with the first single off of the new album, I Don’t Dance Anymore, as well as the biggest hit off of my previous album, Thanks For The Music.
What is your creative process, and what inspires you to write your music?
Unlike most songwriters, I don’t crank out a lot of material. I don’t write 50 songs and pick the best for an album. I’ll gather ideas over the years - voice notes on my phone, garageband demos, lines scribbled on paper - and when the time is right (as it was in 2020) I start putting together ten specific songs for an album. It’s very intentional. I often write music away from my studio, away from the guitar and the keys. There is more creative freedom in my mind, unbounded by the limitations of what I know how to play on an instrument. I imagine music, I play in my head what the perfect melody line would be, or horn line, or build-up, etc. I’ll find a way to get the general idea down on paper or ‘tape.’ Then when I go back to the studio, I’l take an instrument and try to materialize that idea in terms of chords and notes and music. This process really kept me from making ‘a guitar player’s album’ … it’s much more well-rounded and the songs all have their own sound and occupy their own space.
Do you have messages that you like to get across in your music, if so please tell me about them?
Yes, there are important messages in this music, but none of them speak to our specific time or any particular issues of the day. There’s no social or political opinions in these songs. I’m not trying to change the world (unless it’s through the individual). The messages are fairly universal, timeless and human. A few examples:
Figuring It Out tells us that everyone, your heroes, the people you’re jealous of, the people you are intimidated by, the people that seem the most down and out, and the people who seem to have it all together … everyone is trying to figure out how to do this life. No one is an expert.
Downhill From Here is a reflection on middle-age and asks, why is downhill considered a bad thing? All the work and sacrifices and investments made in life and relationships up to this point, I think you can start to see these things come to fruition, and that will continue as you get older. From the top of the hill you can see where you’ve been before and how far you’ve come. It doesn’t mean there isn’t more work to do, but if you get to run downhill for a bit, that’s pretty fun!
I Don’t Dance Anymore is literal. I don’t dance anymore. It’s about being less carefree and more self-conscious with age. I used to dance a lot when I was younger, but the ‘weight of the world’ has changed me. “Carefree” is hard when you get older, because you have so much more in life to care about.
Source of Love comes from a concept in my kids’ kindergarten class, that love and kindness towards others fills their bucket, and if someone has an empty bucket they have nothing to give to others. It’s a passing around of love. But where does this water come from? What’s the source? God shows us love, so that we know how to love others. He is the source. God pours into us, and gives us people in our lives that we can pour into.
What are your plans for the future, and do you have anything that you want to spotlight that is coming up?
You can continue to see me playing around Ontario for the rest of this year (check out my website and socials for dates). Come out, pick up a signed copy of 2070 on vinyl. I’ll be doing the festival circuit in 2024 to promote the album.
This fall I will be sharing some of the live footage from the album release show, stay plugged in for that.
How can your fans best keep up to date with you, any socials you want people to check out?
I am most active on instagram: instagram.com/altereager
I post all long-form content on youtube: youtube.com/jeffeager
And you can visit my website for upcoming shows, merch, photos, articles, etc: jeffeagermusic.com
Order a vinyl copy of 2070 here: jeffeager.bandcamp.com/album/2070
Stream the new music on apple music: music.apple.com/ca/artist/jeff-eager/691476552