By his own admission, Victoria-based singer-songwriter Leeroy Stagger did not care much for spring when growing up in the city.
During his late teens and early 20s – “my partying years” – he experienced a few lost years. Since his recent return from Alberta, Stagger’s attitude has changed.
“The beautiful thing is, coming back to this city as an adult and as a father with two young children, is that I get to see the city through a whole new lens and also as a sober person (for 14 years), ” he said. Seeing magnolia trees blooming, for example, was not a priority when growing up. “But coming home … and to see it so vividly in a city like this, is a real treat.”
This eye for the environment – and its destruction at the hands of humans for motives of money – has been a big part of his music for the past decade of a career in which he’s toured and worked with some of the finest names in the indie music world in North America and beyond.
On May 18, he will be back on familiar ground, playing Sidney’s Mary Winspear Centre.
Stagger’s label as an alternative artist with 11 albums (including the latest, Dystopian Weekend) and two EPs to his name belies his membership in a far more historic and broader lineage of musicians singing about the state of the environment, a tradition that includes Woody Guthrie and Pete Seeger in the U.S. and Bruce Cockburn and Buffy Sainte-Marie in Canada.
The changing environment in the face of climate change can be an abstraction for many and often appear as something that happens elsewhere. Not so for Stagger. The effects of climate change, which he has witnessed on countless occasions while touring, turned very tangible, even existential last November when flooding caused by heavy rain destroyed countless, irreplaceable pieces of musical equipment and other artifacts in his home studio.
“(This) was the first time that it (climate change) has really affected us,” he said of the incident, which prompted outpouring of community support. “It (the flooding) was a traumatic incident and I’m still kind of grappling with that. At the end of the day, it is just stuff. But it is the stuff that I have collected over 20 years of touring. There is no pension in this line of work and … a lot of the gear that I collected was kind of my retirement fund. To have it all wiped away was traumatic. But at the end of the day, everybody is safe and we are rebuilding.”
The growing prominence of climate change raises the question of whether it will play a bigger role in popular music and whether the genre of environmental protest song will evolve.
“Eventually, you are not going to be able to not pay attention,” he said, adding he feels a “bit of disdain” for pop stars who do not see the environmental issues. “But I have also had a penchant for speaking up and putting myself in uncomfortable situations to try to get people to pay attention, or at least think about things on a different level or try to ask (questions).”
This level of conviction also speaks to one of the reasons why Stagger left Alberta: its environmental politics, or lack thereof, as many critics would argue.
Stagger wanted his kids to have a deeper appreciation of the environment on which humanity ultimately depends and he himself is not blind to the environmental damage that is unfolding closer to home.
“Especially where we live, right on Millstream Creek, the devastation of the natural world in the City of Langford is extremely concerning,” he said. “I don’t know how we are going to strike a balance, but something should be done and changed to balance out this growth.”
But Stagger also sees himself as an advocate for affordable housing and the Alberta-area code on his phone is not the only thing he has brought from the other side of the Rockies.
“There are a lot of great people in Alberta. It gets a bad wrap for a lot of things, but it is home to probably some of the friendliest people in the world that I have come across and also a lot of deep thinkers,” he said. “Obviously, there is the hyper-conservatism, but then you got this cross-section of people.”
Stagger said he always tries to smile at people when he is riding his bike near his house and going around Thetis Lake. “It takes some people aback a little bit, but then they remember, ‘oh, we are supposed to be kind toward each other.’”
For tickets to the May 18 show, or other information, visit marywinspear.ca.