JD Reager ‘Back to the Light’ with new album, podcast and label
JD Reager is used to being busy. Over the years, the veteran Memphis musician has been a serious multitasking man, leading several local bands, helping guide the Makeshift Music scene, serving as a mainstay of the Shangri-La Records staff and helping to found the successful Rock for Love fundraising concert series.
Now, after a long period of calm after moving from Memphis to Chicago, Reager is back in full force. In addition to completing a new solo album, he also hosted his own interview podcast and built a network of other programs, while also launching a new record label.
All of these efforts – the album, the show, the podcast network, the label – work under the âBack to Lightâ banner. Reager will be back in Memphis this weekend for a pair of events and shows celebrating his various projects.
For Reager, the nickname Back to the Light is more than just a catchy name; it speaks of the personal journey he has gone through in recent years.
In 2017, Reager moved to Windy City after his wife found a job with the Art Institute of Chicago. He found work at a local record store but detached from his Memphis roots, and without his usual creative system in Bluff City, Reager began to get lost.
âWithout my friends, bands and everything I knew, I went through a major depression the first two years in Chicago. It was a pretty dark time for me, âReager said. “I mean I wasn’t very healthy and well in Memphis either, but it got worse in Chicago.”
Eventually, in 2019, Reager started working to correct himself.
âTwo years ago I finally went to therapy and quit drinking – now I’m over two years alcohol-free,â he said. âBut then the pandemic hit and I lost my job. It got to where I had nothing else to do but work on music and podcasts all day.
Find yourself and connect with others
As the world stopped, Reager sprang into action. He’d left Memphis with a handful of songs he’d recorded, but he quickly wrote eight new tracks and started cutting them âpandemic style,â as he puts it.
âI would record my basic songs at home and share songs with mostly musicians from Memphis, who would record their parts,â he said. “It’s a record almost entirely built on the Internet.”
While Reager is quick to note that this is not a “pandemic record,” the circumstances of the past 18 months have certainly shaped the album “There’s a little story in the record, by the way. of my recovery and, in a way, finding myself in the middle of all the madness in the world, âhe says.
âThe pandemic has also created an availability for other people to work with me who normally wouldn’t. I don’t know if nail people like Steve Selvidge [of the Hold Steady] or Dave catch [of Eagles of Death Metal] would have been possible if everyone were as busy as they normally would be.
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A few other stars on the album actually started out as instrumentals and were fashioned into spoken word pieces by Memphis trash-rock godfather Ross Johnson, guest on the record.
Although he just released a digital single titled “Back Off”, Reager’s full LP “Back to the Light” won’t be released until later this year or maybe early 2022 – like so many indie albums, the record is stuck in the current blocking vinyl production.
Reager also expanded his label efforts; he will be releasing a solo LP by longtime Reigning Sound bassist Jeremy Scott – possibly in late fall – and the new album from Loose Opinions (the local band with Graham Burks of Pezz and Sweet Knives), which is coming out this week, as well as projects from Arthhur, Blind Copy and others.
Hosting a podcast with a “low threshold for small talk”
In the meantime, Reager continues to record new episodes of his “Back to the Light” podcast. Another project launched during last year’s pandemic, hosting an interview show has been Reager’s lifelong dream.
âGrowing up, even as a kid, I was completely obsessed with radio shows and talk shows. I was a big fan of Johnny Carson, âhe said. âPlus, I was a music writer and my favorite part of the process was the interviews, and talking to people, the whole conversational aspect of it. I thought maybe I could do this.
Over the past year, Reager’s show has featured interviews with a range of notable guests including comedian Jon Daly, Nada Surf’s Posies Ken Stringfellow and Matthew Caws, as well as a host of artists. from Memphis, such as Howard Grimes and Elizabeth King.
While the main topic is often music or art, the podcast also regularly touches on health and mental wellness issues. Reager turns out to be an intense, albeit comparable, figure as a host.
âWell, I’ve always been accused of forcing unnaturally deep or personal conversations with people I know. I have a very low threshold for small conversations, âhe laughs.
âAnyone who signs up to participate in the podcast knows they’re signing up for more than just a conversation about their latest project. The good thing about the show is that I control the guest list. I don’t have any editor or anyone telling me what to do or what to focus on. Having that element of control and curation is liberating and really fun.
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“The pandemic saved my life”
Building on the success of his show, Reager expanded his podcast network. In addition to his own show, Reager’s network hosts the podcast The Shangri-La Records, an offshoot of venerable music retailer Midtown, and âThe Jack Alberson SongStory,â hosted by Memphis electronic music expert, who explores great songs with the artists who created them.
Reager also notes that he has another show coming to the network which he will officially announce during a live recording of “Back to the Light” at the Memphis Listening Lab Friday.
Just a year after losing his job and reassessing his life, both professionally and creatively, Reager says he’s found his place amid the workload.
âBeing forced into this situation taught me that I wasn’t fully aware of the amount of my creative mind, spark and drive,â he says. âIn a way, I feel like the pandemic helped save my life. I don’t know if I would have had the strength to take these steps on my own.
âBack to the Lightâ listening evening and live conversation
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