Five Questions with J.D. Reager of Back to the Light Records

As you look over this weekend’s live music events, one thing becomes clear: Back to the Light Records is seemingly everywhere. The indie label, which was founded last year by native Memphian J.D. Reager, is hosting two notable events within 48 hours. Although he now resides in Chicago, Reager has maintained a deep connection to his hometown and continues to be active in the local scene, as this weekend illustrates. We sat down with Reager to discuss the weekend’s events, Back to the Light Records (and podcast), and his new single “Back Off.”

You’ve been deeply involved in the Memphis music scene for years now. For people unfamiliar with your work, give us a quick rundown of some of the projects that you’ve contributed to in the past.

Oh my gosh, ok! I have played with Pezz, Glossary, Two Way Radio, Snowglobe, Holly Cole, and even more bands that I maybe shouldn’t mention. I helped run the Makeshift Music label and Unclaimed Recordings studio for a time, and founded the Rock for Love festival with Marvin Stockwell. I also covered music for the Memphis Flyer and other outlets for over 20 years.

You’ve been quite busy over the past year, launching both a label and a podcast under the Back to the Light banner. Let’s start with the label. Tell us a bit about some of the artists on Back to the Light and what your overall goals are for the label.

The label idea actually started when I helped release the Tape Deck EP “One False Step” in 2019, but I wasn’t using the Back to the Light name yet. When I started the podcast and came up with the name, I just decided to use it for everything I do – label, podcast, network, etc.

Since last year, I’ve released music by myself, Two Way Radio, Loose Opinions, and Joshua C. Travis, and we have new releases by Jeremy Scott, Blindcopy, Loose Opinions, and of course me coming soon!

For fans of Memphis music, I think that the Back to the Light podcast has really become required listening. What have been some of your favorite interviews or episodes so far?

I think the recent run of episodes that I was able to record in-person in Memphis were really good: Jeff Powell (Big Star & Afghan Whigs producer/engineer), J.B. Horrell (Aquarian Blood), Sherman Willmott (Memphis Listening Lab) and Brian Venable (Lucero). There’s just naturally a higher level of intimacy and energy that you achieve in-person. The Howard Grimes (Hi Rhythm) episode was really fun, though – and that was remote.

As for non-Memphis guests: the Craig Wedren (Shudder to Think, Wet Hot American Summer composer) episode is really funny and introspective, that’s one of my favorites. Matthew Caws (Nada Surf) was great, Ken Stringfellow (the Posies, Big Star). . . actually, Ken is in the Memphis music Hall of Fame, so his episode counts in the Memphis column.

I could honestly pick them all. I love something about every single episode.

Back to the Light has two events going on this weekend: a listening party at the Memphis Listening Lab on Friday, followed by the Loose Opinions record release show on Saturday night at DKDC. I know it’s a lot to cover, but what should people expect from each of these events?

The Memphis Listening Lab thing is going to be fairly laid-back – we’re going to listen to lots of music in both rooms and also do a live Back to the Light podcast taping where I interview Graham Burks (Loose Opinions) and a special guest. Saturday night is a rock show with a loaded bill, including Loose Opinions, Jack Oblivian, and Marcella Simien. We’ll have records for sale at both events!

 You recently released your fantastic new single “Back Off.” Tell us a bit about the inspiration for the song and the recording process, as well as what we can expect from you next as a solo artist.

Thanks for calling it fantastic! I wrote it a few years ago, during a trip to St. Louis with my wife Jennifer. That line “just when it started healing, you picked it right back off” is about her picking at her cuticles. But in a larger sense, I think the song is about self-care and the need for openness about it. We recorded it at High/Low with Toby Vest at the helm, just me and my bass player Eric Wilson and drummer John Bonds on that track – I think it was the second take, I like to work quickly.

The b-side, “My Failure,” is a moody country song dripping with deep regrets and gorgeous pedal steel by John Whittemore. I have a new full-length album called “Where Wasn’t I?” in the queue at a pressing plant – and I’m really excited about it. Lots of amazing musicians contributed to it remotely, and the songs themselves are, I think, the best I’ve ever come up with. We’re hoping to make an announcement about a release this winter, pandemic willing.

Friday August 20th, 5-8 pm: Back to the Light listening party & live conversation at the Memphis Listening Lab. Proof of vaccination required. Free event

Saturday August 21, 8pm: Loose Opinions record released show at DKDC w/ Jack Oblivian and Marcella Simien. $15 cover

You may also be interested in: Josh Shaw of Blvck Hippie Talks Black Indie Rock 

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