By Tyler Stewart
LETHBRIDGE — “I always figured that in this business you just have one shot and I had already blown it,” Leeroy Stagger explains. Winning last year’s Peak Performance Project earned him a $100,953 pay cheque, and gave him a second chance to revitalize his musical career. You could hardly blame him if he’d spent the money foolishly. Instead, one year later, things look brighter than ever.
“I feel like now my career is having a resurgence and this time I’m able to deliver the goods,” Stagger says. In addition to the pressure of his big victory, his second son was born shortly thereafter. Like an iron forged in flame, Stagger used these forces to focus on the next step and built a beautiful new studio on the back of his house.
“It was really born of this idea of not wanting to be on the road quite as much and I was going through a bit of an identity crisis where my career had stalled out,” Stagger says. “I had a great little studio before, but when Ewan came along it was obvious we needed the extra space.”
We snake our way through the kitchen, down the stairs, through the hall and finally exit the house into the studio – the two connected by a thin portal. It’s clear that Stagger has made the most of his little space, explaining that the studio is actually bigger than the house.
The past few years had seen Stagger shift more towards a production and engineering role, and his Peak Performance win allowed this transition to ramp up, enabling construction of the new studio this past spring. Of course, he’s still a performer at heart, and was in there to record his upcoming album the day after construction was completed.
“We were really crossing our fingers,” Stagger says. “Two days before the band showed up we were still wiring the studio, but it all came together.”
A new recording contract with True North Records will see his upcoming album released next spring, with Stagger pushing his sound into new directions. Featuring producer Colin Stewart at the helm, sonic boundaries were broken, giving the album a different, though familiar edge. “It sounds like a Leeroy Stagger album, but not like anything I’ve released before,” he says.
Now that the Peak Performance Project has been reshaped into Project Wild, focusing on only country music after the sponsoring radio station changed formats, this opportunity is more limited than before. As artist development opportunities keeps shrinking, will the next generation of Alberta musicians get the same chance Stagger has? Being a long-term music industry veteran, he certainly doesn’t take this second chance for granted.
“It’s really a drop in the bucket in terms of what I’ve invested in my career over the years, but it just changed my perspective on things,” Stagger reflects. “It gave me some validation after 15 years of slugging it out, sleeping on couches and playing to empty rooms.”
Maybe you can teach an old dog new tricks. In Stagger’s case, he’s certainly bucked the trend of that worn-out cliché.
“I almost didn’t do it,” Stagger laughs. “I thought I’d be the old man in the group.”
Leeroy Stagger is on tour in Alberta and BC for pretty much all of November. Stops include Southminster United Church Nov. 2 (Lethbridge), Max Bell Theatre Nov. 4 (Calgary), and the Vogue Theatre Nov. 26 (Vancouver). Head to leeroystagger.com to find other dates nearest you.AB, Alberta, BC, British Columbia, Leeroy Stagger, Max Bell Theatre, Peak Performance Project, Southminster United Church, Vogue Theatre