An Interview with James Meger

“As a leader… I’m trying to investigate things that I don’t really get to explore in other contexts.”

Video still, credit: Jo Hirabayashi

We missed you at the Festival this year—how was your summer/what did you get up to?

I missed the festival big time, it’s been a while since I’ve missed one. Summer was great, when the pandemic hit I took a friend up on an offer to go work on a commercial prawn fishing boat on the Sunshine Coast, so my partner and I upped and moved kind of last minute in May 2020. We thought that we’d only be there a month and then we’d come back and everything would move on as normal, but obviously there was no normal and we kind of fell in love with the coast so we’ve been there ever since and I went fishing again this year. We’ve been extremely lucky to be over there through all of this, close to nature, quiet, darkness, horses. The fishing was also a great distraction to break things up a bit, out on the ocean every day for a while, using your body and your hands, it’s kind of intense compared to my normal life, but I enjoy that.

Coastal Jazz regulars may mostly know you as a side player—in previous years you have done a lot of playing at the Festival in other people’s bands, but this is one of the first projects we’ve seen from you as a leader. Can you tell us more about any differences in your musical approaches as a side person vs. leading a project?

Well I suppose as a leader, for this project anyways, I’m trying to investigate things that I don’t really get to explore in other contexts. That doesn’t necessarily mean it’s radically different from other things I do, it might just be a little slant or a 45-degree angle. Basically just the idea of trying to make the music that you’d like to hear or feel like you haven’t quite heard yet while also being honest with yourself and your experiences. Whether or not you’re successful at that is another story and of course you and your collaborators are always bringing things that are familiar along with you, but that’s the seed of it.

The name of this project—“How To Do Nothing”—feels quite timely and relevant given recent… events. Where did it come from, and is it reflected in the music at all?

Well it was “borrowed” from the title of a book by Jenny Odell, but it isn’t so much in reference to the material in the book, just a name that seemed to work. I rolled it around for a while and more and more connections started popping up in the music in non-obvious ways, which I like, it feels like a name the music could grow with for a while. And yes it does feel very of this moment of course, which is what spurred on the creation of this project.

What about this show are you most excited for?

Tim’s introduction. Obviously so many things in the music, specifically that thing with a new band where you’re discovering the possibilities in the music and between the people involved for the first time on stage, in rehearsal, in the studio, I love that.

What have you been listening to lately? Is there any music or other media that has felt particularly important to you during the pandemic?

I saw a painting at the AGO recently by a Canadian painter, Ben Woolfitt, called Light in Darkness V that’s really stuck with me and I kept going back to while writing. For music,  Clipping, Blake Mills, Bill Callahan, Evilyn, Dead Rider, Coltrane, Latin Playboys, Big Thief, Led Zeppelin, Nahawa Doumbia, Black Midi, Keith Jarrett (American Quartet and Solo Concerts), Charles Bradley (music that could get you through anything), Larry Grenadier’s solo record, Eddie Bo and The Soul Finders, Lana Del Rey, Autechre, Tim Berne, Lester Young.

last night so little… by Ben Woolfitt

What gig, other than your own, are you most looking forward to at IronFest?

Well Handmade Blade is one of my favourite bands in town, but I’m really looking forward to Jodi Proznick’s New Horizons project. Jodi was a teacher of mine early on and also just a huge influence at an important time, she’s probably one of the first bassists I got to see in person playing jazz. I remember being really moved and excited by the deep groove aspect of the music, despite not really knowing anything technical about what was happening. That’s something that Jodi always talked about FIRST and it’s something I still think about often. It’s also super rare that we get to share an evening on the same stage so I’m excited for that.

James Meger’s How To Do Nothing will play at IronFest on Saturday, November 20 at 9:30PM. Tickets are $25, and you can purchase them here: