Some past spirits got a hold of Jerry Leger. In a rush of fascination, the Toronto-based singer was on a mission to explore old Canadian ghost towns. Inspired by the writings of geographer and historian Ron Brown, one particular old copper mining town, Burchell Lake, in Ontario’s Thunder Bay District, was stuck in Leger’s head. These “ghosts,” and others, guided him through ninth studio album Time Out For Tomorrow.
Part introspective, part retrospective, Leger’s lyrical dive into Time moves through the transience of life and love, inspired by some ghosts of the past, particularly early inspirations like Roy Orbison, Lou Reed, and Gene Clark.
“Sometimes it does feel like there’s a supernatural energy when writing or playing music,” Leger tells American Songwriter. “I’m a contemporary artist but the past is important to me, and it’s important in my writing and the direction I like to take musically, just like some of my favorite songwriters like Tom Waits and Dylan who gravitated towards music and writers who lived in previous generations. I also grew up in a haunted house, maybe that has something to do with it.”
Even the album’s title was a blast from the past, a take on some 1960s dime store sci-fi stories given to Leger by a friend. “Everything around me seems like science fiction these days,” says Leger. “The phrase ‘Time Out For Tomorrow’ fit these songs and my mood in one way or another.”
Returning to the studio with Cowboy Junkies’ Michael Timmins, who also produced Leger’s breakout release, 2014’ Early Riser and double album Nonsense and Heartache (2017), the duo reunited for Time Out for Tomorrow, Leger’s third release off the Junkie’s own label Latent Recordings. “It’s great working with Mike,” says Leger. “We both write and make records for ourselves and not according to trends or what someone else expects of us. That’s why it works so well and we’ve basically made four albums together that are all naturally different from each other.”
Leger, who debuted with 2005’s Jerry Leger & the Situation (2005) at the age of 19, has steadily arrived at Time Out for Tomorrow. Etched through lush lyrics and unwavering guitar, all moves fluidly through Time. Opener “Canvas of Gold,” is a pure Americana tale of the realities of the working and traveling writer. “Some things that haven’t changed since Woody Guthrie in beauty and also in struggle,” says Leger. After “Canvas,” Leger, perhaps left in a ghost-derived stupor, admits he doesn’t remember writing tracks “Survived Like a Stone, “Corner Light,” or “That Ain’t Here,” while slower driven “Justine,” Leger says, directly benefitted from the ease and lyrical prowess of Lou Reed’s Coney Island Baby, one of the first albums that connected with Leger—along with Nick Lowe’s The Impossible Bird (1994).
“Coney Island Baby was the first solo Lou Reed record I heard, probably around age 14, and I’ve always loved it,” he says. “The production just glides along and really puts the focus on the words.”
Latest single “Read Between the Lines,” takes a different turn and was written like a “bolt of lightning.” Originally penned for Leger’s side project The Del Fi’s, he decided to keep the track for himself. “It’s rock ‘n’ roll the way I like to hear and play it,” he says. “Also, [it] has a bit of that early soul influence. Smokey, Garnet Mimms and anything from the ’60s era of Stax, which I love like William Bell.”
Max Fleischer’s 1930s cartoon Betty Boop doesn’t seem a likely tie-in to “Read Between the Lines, but the animated jazz flapper is where Leger wanted to go, visually, with the song using rotoscoping, an animation technique that traces over film, frame by frame, to produce realistic action sequences. As a child, Leger says he would watch a tape of Boop cartoons, and one particular episode, which features Koko the Clown getting turned inside out by an evil queen then crooning “St. James Infirmary,” was forever engrained in his mind.
“I figured out years later it was Cab Calloway singing and they had used a technique called rotoscope to accurately animate his dancing and movements,” says Leger. “He had a real swagger. I feel like Tom Waits was probably influenced by that aspect. It’s still one of my favorite clips of all time, and I always wanted to do something using that technique but not a lot of people do it anymore.”
To bring “Read” to life, Leger pulled in Toronto-based artist and moving image expert, Karly McCloskey, to create an animated, rotoscope video to get the moving picture around the song out of his head and on screen. McCloskey’s end result is a hybrid video moving through a journal scrapbook with mixed analogue and digital animation.
“The song ‘Read Between the Lines’ is very dynamic and it feels visual at times, I wanted to have a creative video to go along with it instead the same old same old,” says Leger. “It’s a different kind of animation than Betty Boop [since] the video isn’t cartoon animation. I like working with artists and seeing what they bring to it.”