After five years of steady touring and recording with the indie-folk singer-songwriter Angel Olsen—including a fifteen-month tour cycle behind 2016’s My Woman—Josh Jaeger is shifting gears. With Olsen using 2018 to focus on solo shows and writing for a new album, Jaeger is devoting his energies to Lionlimb, a project he started with former Olsen collaborator Stewart Bronaugh.
The duo released their second album, Tape Recorder, in February. It’s a collection of meditative and melodic compositions centered around Bronaugh’s just-above-a-whisper voice (similar to the late Elliott Smith) and sparse string arrangements. At times Jaeger’s drums provide a pleasing counterpoint to Bronaugh’s mostly downtempo songs. In other spots, his rhythms tumble across wide-open spaces, as he shifts time signatures gracefully and delivers fills that sometimes stagger but always land in a way that enhances the song.
“We’re hoping to maybe build some buzz around this record and get a booking agent and try to bring it on the road a bit more,” Jaeger says of Lionlimb. “I’m privileged to live in New York, where there are enough opportunities to play out with a band, so it feels like we’re making progress and fine-tuning the live show without stagnating. If we do get the opportunity to bring it on the road, our chops are up, and it’s not like starting from zero.”
Working the clubs to establish Lionlimb is much different from Jaeger’s road situation with Olsen, who consistently headlines theaters and enjoys prime slots at major festivals like Coachella. What’s similar is the gear Jaeger uses in both live and studio situations with Olsen, Lionlimb, and any other artist he finds himself working with. He says he tends to use the same tools “give or take a few drums or maybe switching out some cymbals.”
One cymbal that always ends up in his bag these days is his 22″ Sabian XSR Monarch ride. “I don’t go anywhere without that,” he says of the riveted cymbal, which is part of Sabian’s Big and Ugly line. “I feel like it really is an essential part of my sound at this point. And in New York, where you’re always struggling to bring as little as possible to gigs, I just use it as my one all-purpose, all-coverage crash/ride. What’s cool about it is that it opens up really beautifully if you crash on it, but there’s a pretty quick decay. So I like to use it behind singers—because I can make a statement, and then it gets out of the way.”
• 22“ Sabian XSR Monarch ride cymbal
• Ludwig Acrolite snare
• Snareweight M80
• hand coffee grinder and AeroPress coffee maker
• Headspace guided meditation app
Another must-have in Jaeger’s rig: his Ludwig Acrolite snare—which he says he kept going back to in favor of countless other high-quality drums while making My Woman—paired with a Snareweight M80. “I do tune [the Acrolite] differently depending on the gig,” Jaeger says. “You can get a super-good crack out of it, if you want something more like a James Brown vibe. Or you can tune it real low and gushy, and it’s at home in a ballad or a Fleetwood Mac–type tune. And the Snareweight, combined with my touch, provides this really soft, dynamic muffling that allows you to get a lot of tone out of the drum. It’s magnetic, and you can alter how much muffling you want very quickly. I use it as a way to get a lot of sounds out of one drum, especially live with Angel.”
Jaeger’s must-haves aren’t limited to his gear. A coffee enthusiast, he always brings a hand grinder for beans and an Aeropress coffee maker on tour. And clearing his head by meditating before a show is a priority, so he frequently uses the Headspace guided meditation app on his smartphone.
“I’ve found that even more than warming up my hands, meditating tends to get me centered and ready to go for the gig above all else,” he says. “You walk up on the stage sort of neutral or fresh. You’re not burnt out by all the worries of the day or by having listened to forty-five songs in the green room before you’ve gone onstage.
“Our job, above all else,” Jaeger adds, “is to listen really intently, really openly, and to be able to respond to whatever is being thrown at us by the people onstage. And if you’re distracted, or you have a million other thoughts or sounds ringing in your head, it’s difficult to do that. If you can find the time and space to [meditate], I think it’s a game changer.”