Published Aug 13, 2019Asked about his new album Hard Time, Jeremie Albino says he always comes back to the belief that being yourself makes the strongest art.
"When I think about music or image," the Toronto-based artist tells Exclaim! in an interview, "it all comes down to the same thing. It will just come out stronger if you do it as yourself."
The musician and farmer has a down to earth presence, especially for someone who's worked with Andrija Tokic, whose production credits include Hooray for the Riff Raff and Alabama Shakes, and Toronto producer Crispin Day (July Talk). Both worked on Hard Time, his rollicking debut full-length.
"When I started writing songs that I was really proud of and that felt like me, I thought, 'I just want to write Jeremie kind of stuff.'" As it turns out, "Jeremie kind of stuff" pulls from romantic imagery and day-to-day inspiration, honed while he worked the land of Prince Edward County.
"For many of the songs, I'd turn on a voice memo and be writing while I drove vegetables around. I'd have to try to hear over the rattling of a big truck full of veggies. Or I'd be out weeding and thinking about the song."
Albino thinks of songs as stories; when they come to him, he clings to the images that strike him and finds a tune as he goes. This leaves the songs on Hard Time with hooky melodies and strong impressions. Many build into powerfully layered tracks, while others keep the blues closer and more contained. But there is always a narrative thread woven through. For example, "Midnight Wedding" began when Albino stood under the stained glass window of a chapel in Montreal.
"I imagined these two small town kids, and this little world that they would be meeting up in," he says. "I pull from classic romantic images, like throwing rocks up at the window and sneaking out. Sometimes I just wish it was my own world. So I write it. 'Midnight Wedding' is about getting married at chapel with that window. I start a story and I keep working away. I go to bed thinking about it. While I'm working I'm wondering what they're doing in the story."
Hard Time was recorded in Toronto and Nashville, and Albino exudes gratefulness for both experiences — particularly his time with Andrija Tokic and Casey McAllister, who had previously worked on some of Albino's favourite records, including Hooray for the Riff Raff's Look Out Mama.
"Casey ended up coming down to Nashville and just ripped it on keys. He was probably the most amazing keys player I've ever seen."
While his influences are incredibly varied (when asked what he's been listening to, he laughs and says, "So many things, such a wide variety"), his creation method is rooted in the idea of trusting himself, as he did when he took on a dancing role for the "Hard Time" music video.
"After the fact I thought, oh, dang, I really put myself out there and danced. I love to dance, but it was more than I'm used to. By the end I thought, 'Wow, I did that.' Maybe I was a little self-conscious. That's the thing, though. This is really me."
With an ever-building fan base, an ear for melody and the ability to make old sounds reverberate anew, Albino will be embarking on his first North American tour this summer. But if he's worried about this new stage of his life, he comforts himself with the familiar.
"Sometimes when music is stressing me out, I think, well, I could always go back to farming," he laughs. "Even now, whenever I'm out there, I try to help out. There's always going to be work to do for my friends.
"But I'm so grateful to be doing this. I've learned a lot from making this first record. I'm excited to learn what the next record is going to sound like. I'll keep writing and figure that all out."
Hard Time is out now courtesy of Sleepless Records.