- Words Ben Broyd
- Photography Aldo Filiberto
- Production Studio Notion
Canadian-born, London-based rising star, Leith, speaks with Notion about leaving her home country to pursue music, life in lockdown, new music, and her record label, Big Trees.
Some things just fall in to place at certain points of your life, and this is exactly what happened to Canadian-born, London-based rising star, Leith. At the age of just 16, Leith had a dream to attend the summer music programme at the prestigious Berklee College of Music in Boston. A brochure had been left at her school in Toronto, but after taking it home and carefully studying it, the tuition fee appeared to put her dream out of reach.
However, with a can-do attitude that she still carries with her to this day, Leith and her friends came up with an idea that would see her put on a series of shows at her local town hall, whilst charging an entry fee to save up to attend Berklee College. Through a magical stroke of luck, a woman attending was astounded by Leith’s natural talent and raw sound and sought out Leith’s parents offering to pay the tuition fee in full, and the rest as they say, is history.
Fast forward a few years, Leith had moved across the world from Toronto to London to pursue her career in music. Despite the dream move, unbeknownst to her, she would soon become very acquainted with her four walls she resided in as the pandemic hit the country. With that being said, if anything, the restrictions ignited Leith’s creativity and allowed her to knuckle down with the bare bones of a couple of songs that started life in LA where she lived after studying music at Berklee.
Moving to London allowed Leith to immerse herself in a new creative community, giving her the time and space to reimagine her sound, and finesse her gift as a natural born storyteller. Leith is an artist that simply grows stronger with each release.
Notion spoke to Leith about creativity during lockdown, her musical inspirations, the process behind creating new music, and her Canadian-inspired record label, Big Trees.
So, I saw on your Instagram that you supported Moza wild last night, how was that?
It was really, really fun. It was the second show that we’ve done since COVID, so yeah, it’s been really fun.
I read that your time in musical theatre helped you feel more comfortable on stage, how does it feel being back on stage after such a long time off during COVID?
It’s kind of weird but it’s great. It’s really fun. But I can’t quite figure it out, I feel like I’m nervous, but I don’t know why. It’s just confusing. It’s really nice to be playing again, and actually seeing humans. When people know the words, I’m like wow, it’s been so long, so it’s great.
You’re enjoying it?
Yeah, it’s so sick, I just want to do more.
So, I know you wrote ‘Headspace’ during the lockdown as well, but how do you feel lockdown affected your creativity? Or if anything did it enhance it?
It probably enhanced it, I think it was really good. I feel like because there was no live music and no touring, I was just around other artists more than I probably normally would be, and everyone was just writing and I just feel like it was a year and a half of listening to what my friends were making, and that was really cool. It just meant that everyone was writing tonnes and it was really inspiring because we just kind of go like ‘oh fuck, I wanna write too’, and then everyone was writing together, and that was really fun. So yeah, it was a good thing. It was kind of nice. Obviously, it was a terrible time, but it was weirdly productive for me. I wasn’t into the zoom sessions, but we just had a bubble of people that were able to keep working and that was sick.
And you recently released your single ‘cowboys don’t have friends’ all about the concept of having to do things for yourself. Was this inspired by your personal experiences?
Yeah, I think so. It was also an episode of Grey’s Anatomy that I was watching. But I guess it’s just that you have to have tough skin. That’s kind of what it means. Like you just you can’t always be everyone’s friend. And I’m quite guilty of wanting to people please and I have to just remind myself don’t. I guess it’s kind of that.
So, is all of your writing autobiographical?
Yeah, I mean, I think it’s nice like I’m excited the worlds opened up to have more shit going on so I can actually do more stuff that I can then write about, but before it was just anything that I could find, hence Greys Anatomy, anything that I can grab on to I just take it.
Talking of doing things for yourself, you’ve created your label Big Trees, a homage to your home country of Canada. How important was it for you to move away from Canada to pursue a career in music?
It’s a weird one because if I could do it there, I probably would. But I also feel like I can’t. For some reason I just feel like I can’t be there, I have to figure it out on my own, and that’s probably partially why I’m in London, I also lived in the States before this. But I feel like it’s nice, like a constant reminder that it’s there.
Do you feel like maybe it was too comfortable? That’s why you had to remove yourself from there, or?
Yeah, definitely. And I think it’s too familiar. And I feel like I want to be able to go back there. I love Canada and it’s where I grew up, and I feel super lucky to have grown up there, but there’s something amazing about being uncomfortable, and being somewhere else. I haven’t lived there in eight years. I’ve got a thing for my suitcase, I guess.
Yeah, I get you. So, big question I know, but who are your biggest musical inspirations?
It changes all the time, but I grew up on a lot of classic Rock and Folk. So, like Carole King, I grew up on that, and James Taylor and Neil Young, loads of Canadian artists. But now I love Phoebe Bridgers, I love Lorde, I love HAIM, they’re all sick. There’s just a lot of alt-pop kind of left of centre, and Dora Jar, she’s so good.
So, is there anyone in particular you listen to for inspiration when you’re writing new music?
I mean I don’t remember the last session I’ve been in where Phoebe Bridgers hasn’t come up. I’m always just like ‘how can we make that more Phoebe Bridgers?’. I don’t know, I like a lot of different stuff, I’m really into Caroline Polachek recently and Christine and the Queens. I feel like we’ve done a lot of Indie stuff, and now I’m thinking how can we kind of make it a little more electronic, just trying something a little bit different and blend that together.
Can you give us a window into how you write a song? What’s the process behind it?
It varies, it’s usually like concepts that we’ll start with because I feel like you have to know what road you’re going down. That could change, but usually, it starts there and then some kind of hook first just to get a bearing of what’s actually going on. Sometimes I really like writing just with guitar and vocal first and then producing it, sometimes it goes the other way around. It depends on producer to producer as well, some people I work with just love to start on a loop and some producers just want to start on a guitar.
Do you like to be with a group of people when you’re starting a new song, or do you prefer to do it individually?
It kind of depends. I feel like if I’m going to go into a session, usually I’ll go in with something that I’ve started. And like nine times out of ten I did that in the shower. Like, I have no ideas anywhere else except for when I’m in the shower, it’s so random. Or I’ll just go and be like ‘I don’t know what I want to do today’. But I feel like I can’t go in half-hearted, we have to know what we’re doing or we’re just going to fuck around till we figure it out. Some people hate that, but some people love it, it just depends who I’m with. If I’m writing with my friend Dylan, he’s kind of like, ‘Dude, that stresses me out, don’t do that, bring me something’. But if I’m writing with John, he’s so down for that.
So, your lyrics and ability to tell a story are really quite compelling. How special is it to you that your fans and listeners can confide in these stories and perhaps help them through their own struggles?
I think that’s probably the most important thing, I kind of can’t really comprehend that anything I write can relate to anyone. But I think that’s probably because it’s like just the beginning of putting out music, and it’s a really weird ego thing. I feel like I can’t really grasp people understanding it. But yeah, I think that’s really important. I feel like other people got me through my teenage years, so it feels really cool to be able to do that.
Do you have any songs you’re super excited to release in particular?
The next one that’s coming out I’m really excited to release. It’s called ‘Big Trees’, it’s a song about home, but I definitely didn’t write it thinking it would ever get released or anyone would hear it, it was really weird just because it’s so personal. It’s so specific to my life but I feel like it’s kind of nice to do that and just like be like, ‘here you go’, and it’s about home and everyone back home so it’s just kind of nice.
Is it a bit scary to be that vulnerable, to open up that much?
Yeah, but I’m more afraid of anyone who knows me, it’s my interpretation of where I come from, so, it is definitely scary but in a good way.
So, 2021 has been pretty incredible for you, but what can we expect from Leith in 2022?
I hope just like more music and an EP, maybe more shows. All the good things.
Have you got any shows planned?
Not at the moment, but I’m hoping at the end of January we’ll start again and then just won’t stop.