by Graeme Houssin
Above all other emotions, Leith Ross is feeling curious. Tomorrow, they’ll release their first-ever single “Everyone I’ve Never Met” on Winnipeg-based label Birthday Cake ahead of their debut album in October.
“I’m so excited to see how it hits people’s brains!” Leith says over the phone from their hometown of Manotick, Ontario. “I’m really, really fascinated in what parts are going to hit home, or if they’re going to feel similar things to me, or if it’s going to spark something completely different.”
Growing up in Manotick, a conservative town near Ottawa with a 4,500-or-so population, Leith often felt at odds with themself. Without much in the way of IRL queer role models and a lack of 2SLGBTQ+ representation in the media, Leith found it difficult to understand and express their own identity.
“It’s so taboo that I didn’t really know what was happening, and I didn’t know what it meant, and I didn’t have any words or language for it,” said Leith. “I was very much in this little world and didn’t have any access to anything outside of it.”
Then, in the middle of one of Leith’s “good YouTube browses in the early days,” the algorithm gifted them a music video starring two women in love.
“It was this huge moment for me where I was like, this can be beautiful and happy and gentle and normal,” Leith says. “Ever since then, I’ve wanted to be that for another person. I’ve wanted to be the sound that can accompany someone through a huge moment in their life, because it was so helpful for me when I was young.”
And they’re off to a good start: “Everyone I’ve Never Met” is suspiciously resonant during COVID-19. On the track, they lament the little interactions with strangers they’ve missed out on by staying home all day on a screen, ordering books online, shipping groceries to their front door, the works – an anthem for self-isolated loneliness.
Yet “Everyone I’ve Never Met,” and the whole of Motherwell, was written nearly a year ago, and recorded back in December of 2019 as a project for college.
Recording an EP was Leith’s final project for their Jazz Voice degree at Toronto’s Humber College. After a fruitful rehearsal with their bandmates just two weeks before the final recording session (during which they were set to record only three tracks), Leith changed plans last minute and elected to record the entire eight-track record live-off-the-floor.
Four hours later, Motherwell was complete.
“I’d even turned in a little assignment thing, detailing the plan for the session, and I had to change it last minute!” Leith recalls. “It was very spontaneous.”
Post-recording, they sent the album to a new friend: Joey Landreth, half of JUNO Award-winning outfit The Bros. Landreth, co-owner of Birthday Cake, and “angel on Earth,” as described by Leith.
A few days later, Joey called over FaceTime, offering to sign Leith and release Motherwell through the label.
“As soon as Leith started singing I was moved to tears,” Joey said in Leith’s biography, provided by Birthday Cake. “There is an incredible honesty in their singing and writing that I find so refreshing. To listen to Leith’s music is like being a fly on the wall in their head and heart. You get a vivid picture of who they are and what they’re about.”
The album, Leith says, is a narrative, tracking a “very, very hard time” in Leith’s life. The songs appear on the record in chronological order, as they were written; “Everyone I’ve Never Met” is the opening track.
“It’s kind of this story of a bit of a deterioration, and then rediscovering what it is about all this that I want to stick around for,” Leith says.
Above all, Leith hopes listeners are left feeling a little less lonely with “Everyone I’ve Never Met,” and Motherwell at large.
“I have had this little analogy in my brain since I was little,” Leith says. “Whenever I listen to a song and I’m going through something, and the song is talking about what I’m going through or something similar, I always feel like I have this little blue line going from my chest, to whoever wrote it, to everyone else who’s also experiencing that thing. It makes me feel very not alone.
“That would be the ideal emotion – making someone feel like they’re understood by someone they don’t know.”
“Everyone I’ve Never Met” is available for pre-save on all major streaming services, including Spotify, Apple Music, TIDAL and Deezer. Motherwell is set to release on October 16.