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[AltWire Interview] Jen Ledger of LEDGER

Having now spent a decade performing with American Christian rock giants Skillet, from 2009’s Awake through to the band’s latest offering, Unleashed, drummer and backing vocalist Jen Ledger has become an essential element to the band’s widely recognizable sound.

Now opening a brand new chapter musically with the newly established solo project, LEDGER, and having just released her debut EP, Jen Ledger has been causing a lot of excitement among the band’s hugely dedicated following, now touring with Skillet as not only the band’s drummer, but also opening for the joy. UNLEASHED Tour as LEDGER.

While busy touring, Jen Ledger was kind enough to discuss her brand new project with us here at AltWire.

AltWire [Mark Stoneman]: First off, congratulations on releasing the debut LEDGER EP, and huge thanks for taking the time to answer the questions we here at Altwire have – Skillet seems to be the kind of band that is always working! I guess the best way to start is at the beginning; since way back to when you first started with Skillet, can you think of a specific time throughout that journey that stood out to you as “I want to do something as a solo artist?

Jen Ledger: Thanks so much! I feel so incredibly excited to begin this new chapter. It was about 6 years ago when I felt a serious stirring in my heart to write my own music. I had been touring with Skillet for 4 years at that point, and I had seen just how powerful music can be. From Russia to Japan to Australia, I had seen music change and even save people’s lives. It breaks all barriers, including language barriers, and is able to touch the heart like nothing else. At that time, I told the Coopers I would love to learn from them and start writing my own music. They were incredibly supportive and Korey immediately took me under her wing. She started writing with me and teaching me how to craft a song. I wasn’t necessarily sure back then what, if anything, would come of it all. However, I knew I had something in my heart that I needed to get out, and I was eager to express it through songwriting.

AltWire [Mark Stoneman]: From numerous social media updates to Korey acting as producer, and John’s guest vocals on ‘Warrior’, the band seems to have been incredibly supportive of the process to create LEDGER; how did you find approaching the idea with the band?

Jen Ledger: Well, there is nothing quite like approaching world-known, multi-million-single-selling songwriters and telling them you want to start writing your own music. Ha! I felt intimidated to bring up a solo career, but honestly, I couldn’t have hoped for more generous, open-handed people. I was more so nervous because of their success and talent. As it all panned out, the Coopers have been outstandingly supportive through every step of the journey. To begin with, the fact that they took a chance on me all those years ago when they chose me to be their drummer for Skillet still amazes me! I was a 17-year-old kid when I auditioned, I had no touring experience, no life experience, I didn’t know how to pay my own bills or even drive a car when I met them. They took the time to train me musically and help me find me feet as I stepped into being an adult, too. With their influence they have made me a better drummer, and a better woman, than I ever would have been on my own. And so, when it came to asking them to train me in songwriting, I knew they would be incredible about it. But it was still scary to ask, ha!

AltWire [Mark Stoneman]: Although you’re better known as the drummer for Skillet, it’s definitely exciting to hear more from you vocally. I remember when ‘Hero’ debuted back in 2009, since then the fans always seemed to want to hear more of you! Having now worked on three albums with the band, did you find you approached the process any differently to before when taking on lead vocal duties?

Jen Ledger: When I sing in a Skillet song, I do it in the middle of smashing the drums as hard as I can, and sometimes while spinning on a fire-shooting platform 20 feet in the air! So, I often feel like the pressure is off a little with my singing and multi-tasking. It’s definitely an adjustment and something I’m finding my footing in now being the front person of my own band. I’ve never been so aware of my own limbs. It’s a vulnerable feeling to step out from behind the kit because you have nothing to hide behind.

A wonderful part of writing my own music is playing to the weird strengths of my voice. I have a great shouty tone and I have a really soft and breathier high register. We experimented a lot with my falsetto and softer parts of my vocal. It was great because these are the aspects that wouldn’t be heard if I were doing it from behind the drum kit. I love experimenting and trying new things right now!

AltWire [Mark Stoneman]: We had a lot of fun hearing the EP for the first time, it definitely feels like there are hints of more than just the influences of working with Skillet in there; were there any specific musical influences that affected the way you approached writing the tracks?

Jen Ledger: I think I have a lot of influences showing themselves in my music. The first thing people might notice is that I have a bit of a pop side mixed in with the rocker in me. I grew up listening to all sorts of things; thanks to my dad, I grew up on Alanis Morissette and The Beatles, but as a teenager I loved a wide range of artists like Pink, Avril Lavigne, Evanescence, Linkin Park, and Blink-182.  I even liked more emotive stuff such as Jimmy Eat World. I would say that my biggest influence vocally would have to be Lacey Sturm, the former singer of Flyleaf. I’ll never forget the first time I heard “I’m So Sick” at the age of 16, and thought, “I want to be her!”

AltWire [Mark Stoneman]: ‘Ruins’ in particular seem to come from a very personal place; can you tell us a little more about the influences that fed into the lyrical side of things on the EP?

Jen Ledger: “Ruins” is a song that will always be incredibly dear to me. There were quite a few songs that I wrote in the beginning with Korey 6 years ago, and Ruins is the only one to make the final cut for the EP.  Korey kept challenging me to dig deeper, to be more vulnerable and more real than I was really comfortable with. She pushed me out of my comfort zone and encouraged me to lay it all out there in a way I never had before. What I love about the song “Ruins” is that it’s not just a simple break up song, it explores all avenues of being ruined — the good and the bad..  It’s about being wrecked by love in both senses. On the one side, I’ve been ruined by a love that has hurt me; a love that’s let me down and left me wanting to stay guarded to protect myself from being hurt again. Alternatively, it’s also about the beauty in being ruined by something so good that your life can never go back to what it was before. When you find a love this good, it’s a wonderful and scary thing to fully lean into it. You’re ruined in the sense that life as it was before will never be as satisfying again. I love that “Ruins” deals with the battle within, trusting in a new love, and letting it ruin you in beautiful ways.

AltWire [Mark Stoneman]: There must be a lot of anticipation in debuting these tracks live for the first time, with LEDGER opening the joy. UNLEASHED Tour, were there any songs you’ve been particularly excited to perform live? Maybe even a couple that didn’t make the debut EP?

Jen Ledger: I have been super eager to perform ANY of my songs live! One that is particularly fun to perform live is “Warrior.” I wrote it with John and Korey Cooper, and the EP actually has John featured singing with me. It’s pretty special when he walks up on stage with me to make his guest appearance. In that moment, I have Korey rocking by my side on the guitar and John singing by me. It’s surreal and dreamy to perform my own songs with them. It’s almost like Deja vu in the best way. I don’t know how to describe it other than surreal and special.

AltWire [Mark Stoneman]: It’s always fun to see you and Seth share live drum/guitar solos together, you guys seem to have a really great time. Has it been at all tempting to ask him to throw a solo or two into the mix while recording for the EP?

Jen Ledger: Definitely tempting! We have a great time on stage! Korey produced a lot of the EP (along with Seth Mosley), and she definitely pulled Seth Morrison in to play some of the guitars. But overall, we were going for more of the emotive sounds and parts. She leaned into more of my Jimmy Eat World guitar influence and completely killed it.

AltWire [Mark Stoneman]: I actually still have the t-shirt from Skillet’s October 2014 gig at the UK Norwich Waterfront, any chance we’ll be seeing a little more of LEDGER supporting the band outside the US?

Jen Ledger: I certainly hope so! It would be so fun to take this same template around the world with LEDGER opening up for Skillet or being able to play the same events. I am super curious to see how LEDGER would go over in Europe and Russia. The rock scene is so strong over there. It would be a lot of fun to do that together in the future.

AltWire [Mark Stoneman]: Thanks again for taking the time to answer our questions, on one last note; it must be exciting seeing the LEDGER project already receive such a positive reception from fans, is there already an idea of where you would like to take things next?

Jen Ledger: Honestly, I have no idea, but I feel unbelievably excited to see what the Skillet/LEDGER team can venture into. In production, I would love to team up with Korey more for a full-length album; I’ve nicknamed her “World-Renowned” because her production is killer and I know she will have people knocking down her door after hearing this.

This week has felt like such a strange dream come true. I’ve been caught up in the whirlwind of it all. Songs that have been in my heart for so long are all of a sudden out there for the world to hear! And to have people respond so positively and already connect so deeply with the music is truly overwhelming. I couldn’t have hoped or asked for a better response. It feels like I’ve been on a journey, through highs and lows, and after all of these years people are all of a sudden on this journey with me. So, even though I’m not sure what lies ahead, all I can say is I am so freaking excited for what’s to come!

Mark Stoneman
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