Eureka! Logan Ledger Finds a Golden State

When delegates to the California State Constitutional Convention gathered at Monterey in the fall of 1849, they had a packed agenda. Namely, crafting a constitution and applying for statehood. But also on the docket was the adoption of a State Motto. For this, the assembly agreed upon the one-word declaration, Eureka. It is an ancient Greek word meaning “I found it,” a term made famous by Archimedes, the esteemed mathematician and astronomer who is reported to have run through the streets of Syracuse shouting it the day inspiration struck and he discovered a way to measure the density of gold.

For the California delegates, it was a prescient choice. The discovery of gold a year earlier at Sutter’s Mill was already transforming California—and the United States. In just a few years, more than 300,000 people would flood the territory in fevered pursuit of the precious metal. It was a seismic event in American history that ballooned California’s population, decimated the Indigenous one, juiced the national economy, and lodged into the American psyche forever the belief that overnight wealth and success was one good break away.

For nearly two centuries, the stream of immigrants into California hasn’t let up. After the actual gold ran out, it was the rich agricultural lands and oil fields, then Hollywood, Sunset Strip, Silicon Valley. Today, one out of every eight Americans is a Californian. And even in our hyper-cynical culture, the state’s glow of discovery and possibility still pulsates.

Logan Ledger’s sophomore album, Golden State, released Sept. 8, is a powerful study of that California Dream. Born and raised in Marin County and immersed in the music of the region and state from a young age, Ledger knows the subject well. He’s fond of the subject. And maybe because he’s lived away from it for about ten years, mostly in Nashville, his perspective is enhanced by a sense of distance, and longing.

Ledger didn’t set out to write an album about California, but he did want to situate the album expressly in California. “I mainly wanted to write a record with good songs, but set it in California, to make California the snow globe that the songs live in sonically. Because I’m from there and I grew up listening to that kind of stuff, I have a certain amount of familiarity with it, and it comes natural to who I am. I wanted to embrace that.”

On the title track—and across the album—he’s not really chasing the gleaming, external, Golden State. He’s trying to reach an internal one.

“We did everything with a love of California,” said Shooter Jennings, who produced the album. “We recorded it at Sunset Sound which is where all those old California albums were cut. From CSNY to Purple Rain. Logan’s record is a blend of country, folk and rock, but California was the common connection, the binding agent.”

The album’s real power, however, isn’t generated from its California-ness. It comes from Ledger’s willingness to write a personal record at a moment when he was reeling from the pandemic. The Ledger on this album is experiencing a range of emotions, and grappling with the deep uncertainty of the moment. Placing these sentiments amidst glittering California offers a compelling, jarring contrast, and a glimpse into Ledger’s artistic maturity. On the title track—and across the album—he’s not really chasing the gleaming, external, Golden State. He’s trying to reach an internal one.

“I was definitely feeling hopeless,” Ledger said. “My record was delayed twice, and finally came out April 4, 2020, right after the pandemic officially broke. There was no touring. No one was listening to the album. I wasn’t on any playlists. I was like, what the fuck am I going to do now? It was pretty bleak. I didn’t have anything going.”

Then in early 2021 he got a call from Shooter Jennings. The influential producer wanted to work with him. “It gave me a reason to think that I might have a life in music again. It ignited me,” Ledger said. He started writing songs that would end up on Golden State.

“We talked for hours at the beginning,” Jennings remembers. “We liked so much of the same music, and I felt for him. He had the most unlucky run of all time. Then he sent me some demos of new songs. He’s so talented. His voice alone should make him one of the most popular artists of the day, and that’s on top of his musical gifts.”

Jennings is far from alone in his assessment of Ledger’s talents. His first record was produced by T-Bone Burnett. Fellow artists speak highly of him, including Vincent Neil Emerson. Ledger opened for Emerson on a recent tour and is doing so again this fall. “I really believe Logan Ledger is one of the best singers and songwriters I’ve ever met,” Emerson said. “We’re living in a time when sincerity seems to be out of the norm, and creativity has taken a backseat to business. Logan’s music is about as real and sincere as you could get. Solid songwriting and a voice of gold. Not only is he a great artist, but he also happens to be a great human being. I’m proud to call him a friend.”

“Midnight in L.A.” is one of the songs on the album where that sincerity clearly rides in the front seat, and where Ledger uses the California mythology to supercharge the emotional resonance of his personal torment. It is one of the record’s creative peaks. The song feels like a cautionary tale about that California Dream, narrated by a failed dream-seeker looking down on Los Angeles and realizing, “for every dream that’s born, another has to die.”

Ledger appreciates and accepts that interpretation, but the song is more autobiographical. “It was the last song I wrote for the album. And when I wrote it, I was thinking about the old self that I was, the person I’d constructed. My career, whatever I thought it was, was over. I was already envisioning Golden State as a re-birth of myself, my life in music.”

On this song, Ledger wasn’t content to merely situate the song in California. He went for the snow globe inside the snow globe—the studio itself. “I initially had the phrase, ‘Midnight in L.A. and I thought it sounded evocative, and I had a melody, but didn’t know what to do with it,” Ledger said of the song.  “Then I started thinking, what if I wrote a song that sounded like it was being created on the spot, while it was being recorded, like a letter from the studio.”

In the final verse, he breaks a musical fourth wall and sings, through a heavy heart, “Hey Shooter I gotta go, while I’ve got time left to spend//And take this show on the road, hope that I come back again.”

“That is some wild songwriting,” gushed Jennings. “I was floored when I first heard the song with that lyric. I never would have thought to do something like that.”

Ledger likes albums that are stylistically eclectic, but that “all fit together.” In our conversation he cited The Kinks Are the Village Green Preservation Society and George Harrison’s All Things Must Pass as among his all-time favorites. Those records came out in 1968 and 1970 respectively; Ledger’s strong connection to the music of that era is evidenced throughout Golden State, as is his interest in constructing an album that is stylistically eclectic, but all fits together.

It is, as Jennings described it, a country-folk-rock record—already sonically dexterous. But Ledger explores even further. On “Court of Love,” Ledger says he was inspired opening for Richard Thompson to write a “folk surf rock song with a more expanded harmony, and with some really crazy chord shit happening.” Ledger chose to record “Obviously,” in the tradition of Bobby Charles and swamp pop New Orleans music.

Perhaps the musical diversity is another expression of Ledger’s restlessness, a prominent theme on the record. All throughout the album he is yearning, feeling trapped, trying to escape, seeking a way out of the crippling anguish and uncertainty.

The first words you hear on the record are, appropriately, questions, the kind asked by someone completely lost. “Where are we going? Where have we been?” On the song “I’m Not Here,” Ledger is seemingly trying to will an out-of-body experience to separate himself from the pain.

Nothing captures this sentiment more concisely than the album’s final number, “Where Will I Go,” another one of the record’s creative peaks. It begins in a somber tone, “I think about leaving, at least not hanging on//A quiet exit, walking not running from//Some early morning, or maybe late at night//Whatever feels right.”

Here Ledger’s restlessness is marked with ambivalence and uncertainty. It’s not the seeking kind of restlessness, the restlessness that leads you to Sutter’s Mill in 1849. It’s the aimless form, the version that hears a clarion call to move, but lacks a clear direction. On the chorus he laments, “Time ain’t my friend, it just won’t slow//But where will I go? Where will I go?”

And yet, there’s a hopefulness to it as well. On the final verse he sings, “I’m talking backwards, I’m thinking sideways//No good ideas, not yet//I guess I’ll get there, I guess I’m moving on//Maybe I’ll wind up where I belong.”

Maybe I’ll wind up where I belong. Ledger understands that the California Dream is more idea than reality, that it is more like the lost love he sings about on the album—a lie. “Must be some illusion, moving through the night.” The pot of gold almost surely never existed, and either way, overnight wealth, success, celebrity, is decidedly not Ledger’s dream. No, the grand expectation is something more basic to the human condition: belonging. In this, he’s speaking for a generation.

But perhaps the Eureka moment on the album, the golden state Ledger is trying to reach, is best captured in the lyrics of “Midnight in L.A.” It’s accepting the uncertainty of the moment, and knowing, that despite the anxiety and aimlessness weighing us down, re-birth is always ahead, good break or no.

“And don’t the morning feel so far away?//But I know it’s coming anyway//Every long lost moment has to end.”

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