Photo by Joel Himmelspech (Portraits by JOEL)
Photo by Joel Himmelspech (Portraits by JOEL)

Cherryville artist J. Solemn talks about the Canadian song-writing process, his upcoming trip to Europe, and the last time someone tried to pay him in drugs.

In full disclosure, I must admit that I know Jim Lagerquist—also known by his stage name, ‘J. Solemn’—very well. When I first met him in 2014, he was a long-haired, guitar-playing Cherryville boy with a psychedelic room filled with Bob Dylan records, Hobbit-esque pipes, and James Joyce novels. Thankfully, not much has changed since then. However, over the past few years, he has contributed to the production of several albums, has completed his first tour of British Columbia, and has won the hearts of folk-rockers across the province.

Oh, and I’m the drummer in his band. It’s not an especially important position, but I thought I’d mention it. I contacted Jim over Facebook messenger to conduct an interview. I asked him about his new album, Always Good, and what he plans to do in Poland this month.

Daniel Greene: How are you doing, Jim?

Jim Lagerquist: I’m always good, Daniel. I hope you’re doing well.

DG: Always good—I thought so. I can’t help but notice you have an album in the works. What do you hope to do on this one that you haven’t already done on The Green Rush?

JL: My newest release marks the first time I’ve had a full band backing me up and that has been great for expanding on songs that started as acoustic tracks. With the full group we all add something unique into the mix and give new life to some of these older tracks of mine.

DG: I understand geography plays a big role in your song-writing process, especially the places you call home. On “Misery,” for example, you sing about dipping your feet in Sugar Lake. How has your experience of growing up in Cherryville affected your music career?

JL: The musicians from that area had a huge part in who I am and what I play. I don’t think I would have written certain songs unless I had grown up alongside Honeyslide or Crossfire. Those groups were playing the music I love and were an incredible inspiration on what I thought a great musician is. A friend of mine was recently saying how Canadian songwriters are moulded by our surroundings, and I strongly believe that has influenced me. Most of my early songs were written as I was walking through the woods while I was at work.

“Most of my early songs were written as I was walking through the woods while I was at work.”

DG: Where do narratives fit into your song-writing process? Do you consider yourself a story-teller?

JL: Outside of music I love telling stories, but I have only just begun to tell full stories in a musical sense. Most of the lyrical content has a central theme, but I often write songs that come from different places and inspirations and the lyrics reflect that. Some of my favourite story songs, like “Ode to Billie Joe” or “Ballad of the Yarmouth Castle,” are still very clear, whereas some of my songs are esoteric.

DG: Speaking of geography, you’re headed to Europe soon. What do you think this experience will do for your music career, not just in terms of exposure, but in terms of experience?

JL: Getting to play my songs for a new crowd in a place I’ve never been is going to be great both in relation to exposure and experience. So much of my music comes directly from the stories of my life and my surroundings, as I said before. I just can’t wait to see so many things and try to retell them in song.

DG: I hear you have a tour planned for this spring. Can you tell me anything about that?

JL: We are still in the process of booking shows, but we’re hopefully playing shows down on the coast, up in the Okanagan, and finally in Alberta to play Edmonton and Calgary. We’re probably doing some shows with Speak Easy as well as Volunteers, but we’re still trying to plan it for mid-April to early May.

DG: We were talking about story-telling earlier and, by this point in your career, you’ve got to have a fair number of stories under your belt. Tell me your favourite J. Solemn story, either from the road, or recording, or whatever.

JL: A few years ago I was in an alt-rock group called The Dead Yetis and a friend of ours was helping organize a music festival that I believe was called Hi Society. Some groups from Vernon were asked to come perform out there in the badlands of Kamloops. We were told that because the festival was just starting they could only offer us gas money, but we would get to stay for the weekend and food and drink would be provided. We drove on down and were excited to party and wound up in the middle of the woods. There were two stages that competed for the crowd all night long. The “Rock Stage” was a bunch of pallets that had a catwalk extending into the crowd. Eventually, The Dead Yetis took the stage and as we neared the end of our set a large crowd had gathered. I was playing guitar at the end of the catwalk and as I turned to come back, my foot went into the pallet and I fell down. I was fine and I tried to make it look like I had planned it, and it gave me an idea. At that point we were playing FIDLAR’s “Cocaine” and before the last chorus I put my guitar down, grabbed the mic, and jumped into the crowd and rolled in the dirt screaming “COCAINE, RUNNIN ROUND IN MY BRAIN.” People went nuts and were screaming into the microphone and dancing around me and that was our set. Afterwards, we found there was no food or drink, and instead of gas money, we were offered ecstasy, but we took the cash instead. I have played there once since then and I highly recommend it if you’re out in Kamloops this summer.

Watch for J. Solemn’s new album, Always Good, this spring. You can also find his first album, The Green Rush, on Spotify and at Milkcrate Records in Kelowna.