Living in a small town just outside Belfast Ireland, Lee Rogers’ music sounds as resilient, gorgeous, and scarred as that legendary territory. The robust, resplendent songs on his new album Gameblood absorbs all the senses of the listener, with his open-hearted, lyrical storytelling evoking both tender wisdom and elegiac musical craftsmanship.
“My dad was a second generation settled Gypsy,” Rogers explains. “With black hair, swarthy-skinned, and green eyes (like me). He had gold hoop earrings and old Indian-inked tattoos. He was as hard as the road he walked on but had the softest heart for us and my mother, who he loved unconditionally. He had a fighting spirit, and that’s what I believe ‘Gameblood’ means. That’s where this album’s name comes from.”
On his fifth major recording and third official release, Rogers comes across as a tender yet macho Noir outcast, honestly giving musical solidarity to fellow wounded exile-pioneers holding similar relational and existential pain.
The first single “Life and Lies,” which Rogers describes as “a slightly cheeky, heartfelt ballad that everyone can relate to” is being released a few weeks before the full-length comes out, and it is about “finding love and just a little light in the darkest places.” The video was done by Jamie Neish in a bar in Belfast, “the perfect setting for this song. The fun part is I was genuinely drunk during the shooting, so there was little acting needed.”
Recorded at Sycamore Studios and produced by Gareth Dunlop (who has produced all of Rogers music for the past three years), with a group of musicians he’s been working with for over two decades, “Gameblood to me was a visit to those hard places, those places that most people put to the back of their psyche and build a wall around,” Rogers says. “Love, lust, life, death, addiction, and lots of spirits and ghosts moving around holding it all together. This album is a truer reflection of myself, my stories, where I’ve been and where I hope I am now.” He adds, “It’s music for the grown-up mind, those folk who has seen a bit of life, and can relate to the songs. Though I am hoping some of the kids love the vibe too.”
Rogers admits that he wasn’t in the greatest of places when he started this album, and its songs have themes of things hard to visit, but that he was able to harness and heal a little through the process.
For an aching example, “Uneasy Love” was written “about traveling all over Australia with this beautiful woman,” Rogers says. “She set me on lots of the better paths I took in life. She left the planet for her next journey a while back. I had a dream that I was in this old car I had out there, driving in the middle of nowhere and got excited when I looked round and saw her in the passenger seat, sun-bleached hair, tanned skin, bare feet on the dashboard. … Then she started glitching in and out of vision, like she was gonna disappear completely. I woke up, gutted, and went to my studio with tears in my eyes and wrote the song.”
Just as deeply felt, “Everytime” is about Rogers’ love for his wife, Nikita, “the person who helps fix my mistakes, never judges, and soothes me back to the human I am supposed to be,” as he marvelously describes the romantic anthem. “I can’t count how many times Nikita has painstakingly put me back together, held me when I was falling apart, and reasoned with me when I wasn’t seeing reason in anything. I know that if you find that person in your life, who calms your storms and puts on the fires, who helps you be what you are meant to be then you’ll get every word of this song.”
The tender-raw yet cinematically sophisticated instrumentation on Gameblood has everything from classic UK folk rock albums like John Martyn’s Solid Air, the soulful singer/songwriter craft of Keb Mo’s Blues Americana, and the glistening if lacerating baroque balladry of Tom Wait’s Mule Variations. A tattoo artist for many years, it’s that field’s attention to human vulnerability and creative detail that sets Lee Rogers apart from most musical artists today