“... a genuine musical performance.”
— Canadian Beats
It’s pretty much the protocol in today’s music industry: make a record and then hit the road. Bring songs and stories born in one place to somewhere new.
But Montreal-based singer-songwriter Sweet Roger took the opposite route, travelling the country, sharing and collecting stories and experiences, and finally returning home to appease his reinvigorated muse. The result is his first full-length record, You’ll Always Have Yourself.
Seamlessly spinning folk, Americana, and alternative influences into lush arrangements ripe with melodic hooks and poignant lyrics, Sweet Roger delivers a debut that betrays the term, sounding instead like the career-defining album from a road-worn artist. And there’s good reason for that.
The musician now known as Sweet Roger picked up the guitar as a teenager, inspired by his brother’s basement jams. Diving headfirst into the three-chord catalogues of early-‘90s Sub Pop staples, he soon started writing his own songs – admittedly rough but necessary precursors for what was to come.
Out of high school, he took to the highway and travelled across the country, free of any obligation. “I just took on a bunch of odd jobs and kinda floundered for a bit,” he says candidly. Consciously or not, he was collecting bits and pieces of the people and places he encountered – fodder for future songs.
When he returned to Montreal, he started an open mic night at a downtown watering hole and got back into writing. “I was absorbing a lot of music at the time,” he recalls, “and every new artist I came across would push my writing in a new direction.” From Elliott Smith’s mastery of melody to Ben Harper’s emotive energy, he was constantly adding new cutouts to his sonic collage, but eventually, he grew discouraged of continually wiping the canvas clean and starting anew.
Temporarily replacing songs with essays, he studied English Literature at Concordia University, earning his BA and Master’s degree. Now a late graduate without prospects for employment, he was drawn back to his instrument as an escape from discouraging circumstances.
“And then something started to develop,” he says, and that something took on the name of Sweet Roger. “It was a musical voice, a persona, that felt like something real.” And there it was. Out of humbling conditions, he was free to make inspired, imaginative art.
In early 2016, producers with La Voix – Quebec’s version of The Voice – came across a demo of “You’ll Always Have Yourself” online and reached out to invite him to audition for the show. After much contemplation, he decided to go for it. “I was flattered and intimidated at the same time,” he admits, but it ended up working in his favour.
He logged some screen time, turned some chairs, and ultimately left with an armful of new contacts and encouragement about his craft.
Enlisting the aid of engineer and longtime friend Paul Edwards (Simple Plan, Krief), Sweet Roger set out to record an EP with his top cuts, but even through the sessions, the songs kept coming. Eventually, they were sitting on an LP’s worth of material.
With a close-knit group of handpicked musicians, You’ll Always Have Yourself took shape. Sweet Roger’s dulcet vocals and cultured poetry are anchored at the forefront of the eight tracks comprising the album, and the collection sits perfectly balanced between traditional and contemporary, familiar but fresh. It’s the quintessential soundtrack to a day on a still dock or a night around a campfire with a bottle being passed around.
The lyrics are original, captivating, and yet intimately homespun. Sweet Roger wrestles weighty subjects in a simple, straightforward fashion. “That’s something you learn from great songwriters like Springsteen or Tom Petty or Ray LaMontagne,” he muses. “You can tackle big and complex concepts, but you don’t have to present them that way.” As a result, the social commentary isn’t condescending, the love songs aren’t plodding, and the raw emotions remain pure and powerful.
Even the album title sits between opposing poles. It’s true that You’ll Always Have Yourself, but that can be as burdensome as it is beneficial – and nowhere is that more clear than in Sweet Roger’s own story.
But now, with an impressive debut album to his name and an inspired outlook on his art, Sweet Roger is ready to take to the road and share that story and many others far and wide, with some newfound friends.