Red Deer musician Jesse Roads deals with a painful string of personal losses on his upcoming album, Good Seats at a Funeral.
But he sees this latest collection of original folk-rock tunes as much more than an expression of sadness.
“They are about being positive and hopeful, about getting over things and getting through things, and knowing you’re not alone…”
Roads lost four close family members between 2011 and 2016. While three of these deaths were health-related, they were almost all unexpected.
The demise of his niece was particularly shocking: She was murdered on a First Nations reserve in Saskatchewan. Roads recalled he and his siblings had to read personal impact statements in court after his niece’s partner was convicted for the crime.
By that point, his grief had almost a surreal quality, he admits. “It was a lot to process… I had to just shut down it all down.”
A few years before, his mom had died of cancer at age 47. Within a year, his aged grandmother — “she was like a second mother to us,” he recalled — also passed away.
The following year, Road’s 33-year-old sister died inexplicably from an electrical “short-circuit” in her heart. He recalls devastated family members eventually decided to take her off life support after she fell into a coma that she couldn’t awaken from.
By the time Roads was also mourning his young niece’s death, he felt he had to push his own emotions aside to help comfort others, almost as a matter of survival.
“I probably should have had some counselling at the time, but I didn’t,” Roads admits.
Performing on stage, “where I can scream my lungs out,” became an alternative therapy for him. The musician says it seemed to work until the pandemic shut down live music venues in 2020.
Then the depression and anxiety he had been struggling with worsened. And he realized, “there was a direct correlation to these past happenings in my life.”
When he couldn’t tour anymore during the COVID lock-downs, Roads found solace in sewing hats for his family and friends. After buying a sewing machine, he became a one-man production line: “I said, ‘Here’s a hat for you, and you, and you…’”
But after two months of this, his wife observed all the fabric draped over the kitchen table and enquired, “Are we going to get our table back?”
Roads then packed away his sewing supplies and picked up his guitar once again. He recalls the new songs came pouring out of him. “They are about letting go and putting my fears to bed.”
Ten of these tunes were recorded on the Good Seats at a Funeral album, which is expected to be released to streaming services by the end of next month. The title track is already streaming.
Roads said it feels cathartic whenever he’s performing and his fans sing the song’s chorus back at him: “I can’t wait here forever…”
He imagines this line being what his departed loved ones might say, if they could: “They would want for us to know we can continue to live our lives and do the best we can.”
Roads hopes the new songs will provide listeners with a sense of encouragement “and believing in yourself.”
He advises those who can’t move past grief to seek counselling, or at least find someone they trust to talk to. He also advocates checking out the Canadian Mental Health Association’s website — cmha.ca — for a wealth of resources.