Interview with Singer-Songwriter Jeffery Straker

by Makeda Taylor on June 24, 2017

For the sake of my readers who don’t know your work, how long have you been a Singer-Songwriter and what motivated you to embark upon this lofty path?
 
I’ve been at this as my full time work for about 10 years now.  The music business has been good to me – but(!) – that hasn’t been without working really hard.  Many many hours on the road, and many more at my computer doing grant applications, working on marketing plans & social meda, working with my agent to book shows, and my publicist to get the media work done.   I had a good job in Marketing in Toronto when I decided to make the switch to music.  I had played piano since I was 6 and had been writing songs for some time. I was singing them at open mics in Toronto and gradually I was seeing people come back to hear me.  Some were ok songs (a few I STILL sing!) and some were awful lol.  Ultimately I paid a visit to a great aunt who had alzheimer’s and I realized that day that there’s absolutely no reason why I shouldn’t attempt to pursue my dream of being a full time singer-songwriter.  Essentially my realization was:  we actually have NO idea what tomorrow will bring so just do it.  And it’s better to try and not succeed than to wonder forever: “what if I’d done that….”
 
 
Are there any other Singer-songwriters that you have found to be inspiring? If so expand on what trinkets they have offered to your work?
 
I find several artists quite inspiring.  I think Rufus Wainwright is inspiring as he really seems to not care about what else is going on in the singer-songwriter world in terms of ‘sound’.  Rather he just does what he wants and it’s really wonderful.    I find inspiration in Royal Wood’s career path as he’s a relentless touring man.  He shows that the way to build an audience is to be on the road.  He also happens to make great music.  There’s an inspiration that I take from artists like Stompin’ Tom, and that’s in terms of writing.  He was a chronicler of stories that fell within the folk tradition and many of them were really Canadian and people from other countries likely wouldn’t appreciate them like we do.  And he didn’t care – it’s what was in him to give.  And he proved (like Rufus) that if you express what’s in your heart, with conviction and do it well, that people will listen.  I take constant inspiration form Joni Mitchell. I think she’s a genius writer and I cover some of her songs from time to time.  I can’t sing ‘both sides now’ without those lyrics giving me the shivers.  Carole King is also a favourite that I listen to a lot. Sometimes I shake my head when I play through some of her songs.  Her musicality is enormous.
 
 
In your career how many albums have you recorded? Do you have a favourite and why?
 
7 to date.  My favortite is my most recent recording “Dirt Road Confessional”.   My latest album is always my favourite.  I really like the roots/folk sound this album has brought about in my music making and can see me exploring more in this sonic field.  I feel really rooted here
 
 
In your most recent album “Dirt Road Confessional” you deviated slightly from your Pop focused performances and took a folk/roots path. What was your motivation to do this?
 
It was pretty easy.  Between myself and all the producers we just simply saw that the best way to let the songs express what they needed to express, was via a folk-roots sound.  We all heard it.  It was reassuring to hear all of them (all separate from each other) offer up suggestions to approach the songs in a folk/roots fashion.  When working with a producer on songs that were written on only a piano, you’re essentially dressing them up.  You get to choose what the best clothing is for your songs.  Do you dress them in suits and ties?  In plaid shirts?  In jeans and t-shirts?  It’s a big decision and it’s fun to explore.  I’ve enjoyed doing something a bit different sonically with each album.
 
 
My favourite tracks on the album are Boom Boom and Deliver Me. What is your favourite track on the album and why?
 
Tough question.  I think my favorites are Bravery and Thousand Miles Away with Boom Boom being a close 3rd. Bravery is so fun to perform live and the structure is unique. It’s good to try different shapes and structures when writing to keep your muscles in shape.  The tune is a co-write with Royal Wood and Lawrence Katz (down in LA), and I love the foot-stompin folk feel that Lawrence brought about in the production.  I think 1000 Miles Away is just really really honest and when I sing it I feel something really deep.  I think that came through on the recording too. Boom Boom has proven to be a live show favourite for sure and it’s pretty fun as a sweet, light-hearted approach to singing about love.
 
 
With the album you worked with a multitude of Music Producers? Name them and share what you liked best about working with each of them.
 
Daniel Ledwell produced 3 songs at his studio in Nova Scotia.  He’s a really creative guy and I loved his out of the box approach.  His tunes likely have a bit more pop in them vs roots/folk which I like, and they sit on the album really well, providing good variety.  He’s a multi-instrumentalist and a complete work horse.  I also have a solid drive to get to work and stick at it so we got along very well.
 
Lawrence Katz/Royal Wood – we co-wrote and co-produced 2 songs in LA in 2 days.  The process of writing and simultaneous recording was a first for me and I really loved it.  There’s something really ‘imminent’ that gets captured in the recording I think, when you do it that way.  Both guys are able to set up a firm vision for a song’s production really quickly and stick to it.  It was incredibly efficient and I love the results.  There’s a real honesty in their writing too.
 
Dean Drouillard – 2 songs at his studio in Toronto.  I love what Dean did with ‘get what you give’.  It’s sparse and beautiful.  Dean has a knack for feeling what a song needs as support and executes that very well.  He’s also awesome to work with as he’s so calm and collected.  As a contrast the full sound of “sweet nothings” that Dean produced, with its horn section is wonderful on the album.
 
Brad Prosko/Murray Pulver:  did 4 songs in Regina.  Between Brad’s work in country music and Murray’s brilliant guitar playing the roots/folk sound really came out here.  These songs came together quite quickly and sit well with the others as a collection.  Brad and Murray had a great synergy of ideas and worked really well together. They really got what I was doing
 
Robin Del Unto:  she did the last song, at her studio in Toronto:  “Queen of Broken Souls”.  She did a great job at adding her twist to the roots/folk sound.  I think she captured a wonderful vocal. Her attention to detail in what a vocal should be, was really awesome. 
 
 
On this album you worked with Singer-Songwriter Royal Wood. What was it like to work with him?
He’s a total gent and co-writing and producing with Royal was a great experience.  We have plans to do more for sure.  I found a really relaxed creative chemistry with him.
 
You are very gifted from a social media perspective. You also have a great email newsletter. How can people sign up for it? Do you like being up close and personal with your fans?
 
Thanks!  People can sign up for the newsletter on my website homepage.  There’s a prominent “sign up” box there. They get a free song when they sign up too.  I love interacting with people on-line and a lot of people have come to my shows after finding me on social media.  Part of the joy of doing live shows though, is actually meeting people in person afterwards.  Social media is a good way to interact but nothing beats the in-person experience.
 
 
You tour extensively. Do you enjoy live performance? Do you ever get nervous?
 
To me, a large part of the joy of being a singer-songwriter lies in the live performance.  Writing and recording your tunes is obviously important, but if you don’t like heading out and touring and playing the songs live I think you’d be missing out on a large part of what this crazy business has to offer.  Songs are emotions and thoughts you express, that you want to share with others — as the reason you release them.  It’s great to surround your songs with production (thick or sparse) on a recording but taking them on the road and performing them live, often arranged differently than they are on the recording is a really wonderful exprerience.  Hearing people talk about certain lines of songs in the merch line is great feedback.  You can also ‘feel’ when moments of your performance maybe aren’t working as hard as others and it’s all good to take note of.  As for nerves:  I think every performer has even a small amount of nerves.  I don’t get hugely nervous but the nerves that are there are usually from the question “is this performance going to connect with this audience”? vs, “am I going to remember the words”.
 
 
How have you found it now that people are no longer very interested in purchasing CDs? Have you found that people have transitioned to purchasing online formats?
 
Lots of people still buy CDs at shows.  People want to take home a little part of what they experienced and often, that’s a CD.  They know they can buy the songs on iTunes for less but in the moment, when a performer has done something that made a listener feel a certain way, I think there’s a willingness to support the performer.  I’ve started offering a box set of all my 7 CDs, at shows, for 75 bucks.  It’s amazing how many people are opting to buy that.  Lots of people are buying multiple copies of my new CD too, for their friends as they really want them to hear it.  Of course some people go buy the album on-line or just stream it and that’s ok too.   This is the first recording I’ve also released on vinyl, and I’m amazing at how popular it is.  I’ve had vinyl orders from the USA already and vinyl isn’t even listed in my webstore yet.  People have just seen it on facebook and emailed me asking to order it – pretty cool.
 
 
Do you ever regret your career choice? What would be your advice to anyone thinking about embarking on a career as songwriter?
 
There are no big regrets about the career choice – no.  There are fleeting moments of regret though.  Those happen when I see friends who I worked with in my job back in the day.  Some  of them now have sailboats, and huge houses and all the bells and whistles of financial success.  I don’t have that lol – BUT – I’m very very happy. I’m also not living in a fridgebox in the ditch – I’m earning a good living.  Those fleeting moments of “oh god, did I make the right choice” exist for a reason.  They serve to remind you to do a check-in with yourself and pause and consider your path.  The opening track on my album “Beauty in the Grey” speaks to this actually.
 
 
Share something personal that you fans would be interested in knowing about you?
Oh lord…. Hmmmm……
I’m a runner.  I run about 8kms 3-4 times a week.  Through running I discovered that my brain moves into brainstorming or unedited free-thinking mode, when I’m in motion.  It’s a strange and exhilarating feeling.  I’ve written many parts of songs while out running once I’ve learned how to tap into it.  I think it might be connected to the endorphin rush I get from running, I’m not sure.  I just appreciate it for what it is. 
I love craft beer and as I tour, I try my best to sample new brews, everywhere.  There’s a brewery from Swift Current Saskatchewan (Black Bridge) that I’m enjoying right now – both their IPA and their Milk Stout.   
 
 
Jeffery thanks for your time. Please share your contact details and a link to a recent Youtube video that you would like to share with this interview.
 
Twitter:  @jefferystraker
Spotify:  Jeffery Straker
Instagram:  jefferystraker
Youtube channel:  climbinquick
 
Youtube link:   Beauty in the Grey (official music video)  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cz1CRnNuUWA 
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