On Thursday night it was my pleasure to head to Velvet Underground to check out Jeff Eager. The set was energetic and consisted of all originals from his album Bonavista. I first met Jeff about 6 years ago through a mutual friend. I’ve seen him perform multiple times at multiple venues and I’m always impressed by his talent, versatility and as corny as it sounds, what a good guy he is. Jeff was kind enough to answer all of my questions so without further ado, the interview.
So first let me say again, congratulations on the new baby and the house. Things in your life have changed quite a bit since we first met. Can you tell us a little bit about what’s going on with you personally?
Trish – thanks for the congrats! And thanks for coming to the show on Thursday – great to see you! It’s been a minute…. Yes a lot has changed in the past few years. My daughter Ava will be 3 in December, the new one will arrive in April 2015, and we are relocating at the end of November. It feels great to get out of the city, honestly. I’ve loved living in Toronto, it’s an exciting place to be, but I’ve done it for 10 years, I’m ready for a change of setting.
Toronto’s used to having you playing around town, will the move affect how often you’re playing here?
Well that’s the best part – I will continue all of my regular gigs in Toronto (Joe Mama’s on Tuesdays, places like the Bier Markt and The Ballroom on the weekends), but my family and I will be able to enjoy the peacefulness of the suburban life. Not that I didn’t resist the idea for a while! Five or six years ago I think I needed to be living here to stay plugged into the scene, but as my career has grown, I’ve found I don’t need to be so centralized. (I spent every weekend this summer out-of-town.)
Originally from Calgary, you came to Toronto ten years ago. You’ve been playing music for much longer than that. Can you tell me a little bit about the first band you played with?
My first real band was Ultraviolet Catastrophe (UVC). We played a bunch of shows in Calgary throughout our years at U of C. It was a four-piece, then a three-piece, then a five-piece with two horns. Ever-changing. As amatuer as that band may seem to me now looking back, I have to say it is still one of the projects I’m most proud of. There was nothing like us, in Calgary at least, at that time (2000-2004). I don’t know any 20-year-old band that was covering Earth Wind and Fire’s “Shining Star” 15 years ago (followed by a Grand Funk Railroad song, then Extreme “More Than Words”, then the AWB horn-driven instrumental “Pick Up The Pieces”…. and our original songs borrowed from all these influences). It was a learning experience, and great training for being on-stage. So when I came to Toronto and started getting my ass kicked by some of Canada’s (and NA’s!) heaviest players…. I wasn’t totally unprepared 🙂
We talked briefly on Thursday about the distributor you use. I’d posted about an article on Vancouver Weekly which talked about iTunes and CDBaby as well as the online listening platforms like Rdio and Spotify. I was surprised by how little money artists are getting from the listening services. Can you tell me a little bit about the distributor and the flat fee?
Yeah this was all new to me. When I decided to release an album independently, I knew nothing. The learning curve was steep, from FACTOR funding, to online distribution, to CD production, to registering material with SOCAN. (90% of this job seems to have nothing to do with writing and playing music.)
I went with Tunecore as my online distributer (which puts your music into stores – iTunes and Amazon being the biggest of course – streaming sites like Spotify, and several other smaller stores and sites worldwide). While iTunes will take their cut of your sale, all the other online distributors I found were also taking a percentage. Tunecore has an annual fee of $20 to distribute your album, and takes no percentage per sale. I liked that. The numbers made more sense. (cents?) … 🙂
I feel like music buyers don’t really understand (it’s not even on their radar) what goes into the making and selling of music.
The costs of making an album can very greatly of course. Bonavista is my first self-released album, so I put into it everything that I could. I tried not to restrict myself too much by money or time (when you’re making this big of an investment in yourself, there really isn’t a point in taking it half-way, then being dissatisfied with the end product). Spend the time and money to get it right… up to a point. Realistically, it’s a balance. Us independents don’t have endless funds and endless studio time (I’m not making Chinese Democracy, here), so at some point you have to toss your hands up on each track and say “it’s done – let’s master it and get it out there.”
Do you have any advice for music buyers who want to help artists get the biggest piece of the revenue from their cds?
For music buyers, the best thing you can do, if it’s possible, is go to a show and buy the album from the artist. The money goes straight into the artist’s pocket, no one else has their hand in the pot, and you get to see them live and hopefully get to chat and make a personal connection.
What’s the last thing you listened to and what platform was it on?
Great question! If I’d done this interview a day ago it might have been a Michael Jackson live performance on Youtube or Prince from my iTunes… but I was just listening to my friend Tony Rabalao’s (Leh-Lo) album “Zig Zag” from 2006 ON CD IN MY CAR! Amazing…..
I’ve been listening to the album and I really like. It’s technically gorgeous and has a nice feel. I was expecting a harder sound but I like it. Did you want to talk about how you’ve moved toward a more groove/soul feel?
Thank you so much for the compliments about the album. Nothing compares to when someone says they enjoy your original music. You are not the first to say you expected a harder sound. (the last band I played in before going solo was called HAARD…. so, you know…..) Of my ten years doing music full-time, the first five were spent engaged on more rock and blues. The last five have taken a turn to more soul, R&B, ballads, etc. There are many reasons for this – my wife is a massive 90’s R&B fan; many of the musicians I currently play with are more funk and soul players than rock players; but I think the most important reason for the change was finding my voice (and I mean that vocally, and on guitar, and as a writer). While I can sing rock, and I love to, my voice is quite clean. I don’t have much rasp in it. (This is something that UVC-era Jeff Eager should have recognized as he tried to sing Aerosmith covers… but we all have to find our path 🙂 My clean voice combined with a strong falsetto just leant itself to lighter music. And as a guitar player, I still love shredding and cutting heavy solos, but it’s not my strongest attribute. I’m a very rhythmic player. My strength lies in layering rhythms and layering melody lines. As a writer, I’ve written some straight up rock songs, but never felt they were my best pieces. Half of the tunes on Bonavista were written from the keyboard, not the guitar. I was much more focused on creating songs of a certain vibe, creating a groove, more so than writing guitar riffs or 4-chord progressions. In the end I wanted to make an album that had a bit of everything about me on it. Rock, funk, R&B, ballads…. all under the umbrella of a good pop record.
There are lots of choices for recording studios in the city – why Riverworks Music?
I found Mike Rocha, the producer at Riverworks, through my wife (who went to high school with Mike). We had a couple of meetings and I felt he really understood what I was trying to do with this collection of songs. But before we hit Riverworks we spent three days at Toronto West Sound with my friend Cory Blackburn laying down drums (Kenny Neal Jr.), bass and keys (Milos Angelov and Anthony Wright, from the Matt Good Band). Then we moved into Riverworks for two months and worked out all the guitars, vocals, extra keys, aux percussion, horns, strings, etc.
The album design is cool and interesting, can you tell me about it?
It’s expensive making an album, so when family is available to help, you take it! The artwork was done by my sister in law, Bettina Carating – an amazing graphic designer and architect.
So what are your “next steps”?
The album was officially released in January and we’ve done some great shows throughout the year. I’ve got one more to go at IndieWeek (Oct 17th, 1:30AM at Round Venue), then that will be it for original shows for the year. I’ve got plans for a bigger stage show in 2015. I’m also toying with the idea of having some of the tunes remixed by a DJ friend of mine and releasing new versions. (Carl Allen – I’m looking at you! …. I haven’t asked him yet, so if he read’s this – give me a call 🙂 I’m also involved in a collaboration project with Kevin Brathwaite of God Made Me Funky – we’re bouncing around some ideas of an acoustic album. Always staying busy and creative!
And lastly, I can’t not talk about the Lenny Kravitz thing. I know he’s one of your major influences, I’ve watched the video a few times since Thursday and I get excited every time. Wow! How’d that happen, how awesome was it and what did he say to you when he leaned in at the end of the song?
It was a dream come true. Totally unexpected. He was playing an event in Toronto last November that I was shooting some video for. When he came out to headline the event, I wished I’d had one of my albums signed to him that I could have tossed to him. I had the idea to scribble a sign that read “I front an LK tribute band in Toronto – can I jam with you?” of course, never thinking it would actually lead to being invited on stage, I thought he’d just smile at it. Long-story short, he’s asking me onstage, handed me his guitar and counts the band into Are You Gonna Go My Way (for the second time). To play the song with his band was one thing, to then be called to the mic to sing it was a whole other level of incredible. I just really enjoyed the moment and took it all in, taking mental snapshots of everything. Funny, I’m not sure what he said when we hugged, it was quite loud on stage. I told him that he is an incredible guy to allow me to do this. After I got off stage, I’ll never forget Lenny’s comment on the mic – “I didn’t plan on that! Wow – I’ll get him a wig and sunglasses so I can stay home.”
Thanks to Jeff for answering my questions. He’s all over the internet go check him out or better yet, he’s playing all over the place, go see him live!