July 05, 2016
Rock and roll has always been about expression, not competition. But for Leeroy Stagger, it doesn’t hurt to be a winner.
As champion of the 2015 Alberta Peak Performance Project (before it was remade as “Project Wild” to reflect the sponsor radio station’s genre shift to country music), Stagger beat out the rest of his regional counterparts in the Top 12 to win $100,953 towards furthering his musical career.
But let’s be clear, this accomplishment was no overnight sensation. More than a decade into his career, Stagger’s success is better described in the words of AC/DC, “It’s a long way to the top, if you wanna rock n roll.”
The 2015 release of Dream It All Away marked Stagger’s tenth studio album, firmly placing him into the category of established, rather than emerging artist. He sings this story on “Ten Long Years” which reads like a tour diary of darkness, pain and self-indulgence, but acts as a cleansing ritual to propel him forward into his next phase of his career.
Though he may be getting long in years on the road, this doesn’t mean he’s lost the energy and determination of his youth. Coming from the punk dive bars of the west coast, Stagger thrashed his way through the scene in bands that seemingly imploded as quickly as they formed. However, it was the sage wisdom of Canadian songstress Carolyn Mark that can perhaps be credited for focusing him on the sound that has earned him a career.
“She stuck a guitar in my hand one night at a hootenanny. I’d never played guitar in front of anybody before and it was the most nerve-wracking thing I’d ever done. It was pretty embarrassing, but I’m so glad that she did that because it got me to where I am today,” Stagger recounted to MapleMusic back in 2005.
He built enough of a name for himself in the early 2000s with his first two independent releases to earn opening slots for big name acts like The Pixies and Modest Mouse. This success introduced him to veteran troubadour Danny Michel, and the two built a bond, which led to Michel producing the full-length effort Beautiful House in 2005.
This was Stagger’s first release for Vancouver’s Boompa Records and led to two more pumped out quickly in 2006 for the boutique label, the Tales from The Back Porch EP and the full-length Depression River. It was the latter release that began to earn him comparisons to elder statesmen like Steve Earle and Neil Young, with its country-rock sound and raw, personal lyricism.
The title track deals with a heart-breaking experience from Stagger’s youth, where the river running behind their rural British Columbia home became a tragic location after his brother fell in and drowned when they were children.
“Most of what I write about is real life experience, sometimes mine, sometime not.” Stagger told Chart Attack in 2006. “Either way, they touch on life and death and pain and happiness—real things that each one of us experiences almost every day of our lives.”
At this point in his career, Stagger was doing great professionally, but personally his life was going off the rails. Success had brought him all the trappings of the scene, and with the recession hitting hard in 2008, he found all the people supporting his career suddenly laid off—leaving him alone to pick up the pieces.
Thankfully, he got sober and got back to work, putting out Everything is Real in 2009, which became a turning point. It spurred on a creative period that saw him release five albums in five years, and develop new creative partnerships, including the ongoing Easton Stagger Phillips project and production work in his new home base of Lethbridge for local musicians such as John Wort Hannam and Matthew Robinson, among others.
Stagger then found inspiration in a new way of working—woodworking, in fact. Starting his own furniture company called Hatch & Thicket, the songwriter found a new focus also brought him renewed musical inspiration as well.
Which brings us back to the start of our story. More than “Ten Long Years” later, Stagger is on top of his game—$100,953 richer, writing a new album, and working in a beautiful new backyard studio he built himself.
A photo posted by Leeroy Stagger (@leeroystagger) on
Rock ‘n’ roll might not be a competition, but in life, Leeroy Stagger has definitely found his own little victories along the way.