Hard Drugs is a labour of love that was initially conceived so that singer-songwriter-guitarist Jeffry Lee might make beautiful music together with his then-girlfriend and now wife Jenni Lee Nelson. The rootsy, ramblin’ project has since blossomed into a sunset-hued, love letter worthy of addiction. Recently invited to display his ink drawings at Vancouver’s Project Space art gallery, wily frontman Lee struck upon the idea of creating a 52-page book of his artwork. This in turn triggered the burgeoning multimedia performer to intertwine his tome of black-and-white portraits with the semi-autobiographical songs he had been amassing.
“I was offered the opportunity to do the book and from that I came up with the whole sort of art project that is a twofold journal of reflections upon the experiences we had living for a couple of years in Brooklyn,” Lee explains. “The title of the album is a take on the idea of partying beyond forever. I think it’s an apt description of the New York scene. There’s always so much to do and see.”
Grounded by the emotional weight of the married couple’s trials and tribulations while straddling a bicoastal relationship, Party Foreverer takes a sobering look at the consequences of an overindulgent lifestyle. Panged by a career-related separation, Hard Drugs’ first new release since their four-year-old self-titled debut spills out of the partners’ heartfelt musical correspondence between Vancouver and New York.
“The time we spent apart was definitely a low point for our relationship,” Lee says. “It was tough, but in the process we did garner some good art and music out of a bad experience. I would never trade that even if I knew what I know now going into it.”
Lee translates rebellious fracas into imaginative harmony, conjoining his penchant for creating visual art with his ongoing musical dalliances. Refined by perspective and softened through the travails of love, the compelling vigour of his former band Blood Meridian still pulses through the poignant core of the rocker’s bedroom project.
“In some ways, I see more parallels between late Blood Meridian and my earlier works than compared to what I’m doing now,” he says. “It was strange recording with a producer, because I’ve never worked with one before. Michael ‘Mama’ Tudor made a big difference as far as the process went. Even though this is in no way a commercial it’s probably the closest thing to a pop record I’ll ever write.”
Recorded with the aid of his “New York crew” of local musicians, Party Foreverer became the Hard Drugs album that wasn’t supposed to happen. Rather than moving on to formulate a fresh ensemble after returning to the black-and-pink peaks of their beloved British Columbia, Lee has rallied a cross-section of the original ragtag rotation of Hard Drugs players to perform their new material under the old banner. Blood Meridian’s Shira Blustein chimes in on vocals and piano while guitarist Pete Dionne (Lord Beginner) and bass player Jake Goodman string up organ arrangements by Colin McKill. Meanwhile, Lee’s better half has taught herself a new trick — playing the drums.
“I feel like we’re moving backwards through the catalogue of music history as we start branching out into stuff we haven’t gotten into before,” he says. “Party Foreverer, for all intents and purposes, is a punk rock album that retains a lot of country influences. There’s a lot of CCR in there, but also a lot more Ramones and Black Flag. The songs talk about the polar opposition between the East and West Coast, between Canada and the U.S., and between New York and Vancouver. Some of those differences are subtle, others are black and white. I certainly dig the contrast.”