Climate Crisis And Catastrophic Capitalism Are Prime For Canadian Darkwave Pop Artist Elizabeth Leslie

Canadian indie darkwave dance-pop artist Elizabeth Leslie

Canadian indie darkwave dance-pop artist Elizabeth Leslie releases “To The Next” and Brave Animal, a searingly insightful EP calling attention to a world grappling with problems of man’s making.

“To The Next” is one of three bewitchingly packaged in Brave Animal. The release stands as Leslie’s (she/her) monument to the contemporary ennui of living through climate change and capitalism as a non-binary queer person in a vastly heteronormative society.

“I wrote this song a few days after returning from a month-long trip to Europe,” Leslie explains for “To The Next” and its origins. “I went to the UK, where my family is from, and Germany.

“I had always expected the trip to be as enchantingly foggy, rainy, and temperate as everyone always describes it, but it was spoiled by constant sun, above average (hot) temperatures, bleached yellow grass, and blatant tourism — everywhere. On returning, I realized what is truly at stake: not only is our ecosystem, precious wildlife, and ability to live as a race on this Earth being compromised, but so are our dreams. And dreams are what save us from intellectual death… Figuratively, they’re what keep us alive.

“We are destroying everything that is beautiful in humanity and nature. We are destroying our history, our present, and our future all for empty, capitalistic gains… The illusion of ‘having it all’ while destroying it all. We are a highly delusional, self-destructing, patriarchal society on the brink of collapse. Living in our current age is anxiety provoking and depressing, which is why so many of us are experiencing mental health crises. We know something is wrong.”

Scenery is something Leslie would know; originally from the picturesque province of Nova Scotia, Leslie then spent most of her 20s interwoven through the Montreal music scene, playing in various local indie bands. Her career start was marked by assisting Chromeo, followed by composing with French duo françoise on the synth-pop project, Jesus Poster.

“Brave Animal is a tiny snapshot of different stages of my life over the span of eight years,” she reflects on the EP as a whole. “I made the album mostly on a shoestring budget in my home studio with the help of Gregory Takacs, a film editor and composer I met while working at a visual effects studio in Toronto. Being constantly pushed beyond our limits, we both quit within a month of each other and quickly agreed we’d much rather be working on music.”

Produced by Matt DeMatteo (Esthero, Hawksley Workman), Brave Animal’s production as a whole captures Leslie’s deep contralto vocals standing solid on a vibrating foundation of dark electronic rhythms and industrial drum machines.

“Shortly after, I started working at a music retail store,” she continues on the album’s earliest aughts. “There, I met Greg Hounsell, the guitarist of Brutal Youth. He listened to a few of our demos and was our first fan. He ended up introducing me to legendary music producer, Matt DeMatteo, who I shared instant creative chemistry with. Every version of a song he sent us was fantastically orchestrated… He took the songs to a whole new level. We’re currently collaborating on new material.”

When you’re writing, how do you block the world-weary subject you write about so you can focus on actually writing about them?

I don’t try to block out the world-weary subjects I write about. I envision them as much as possible to compose music and lyrics that truly represent and express the emotions they evoke.

When it comes to creative blocks, do you push through, or walk away and come back?

I used to try to push through but often the results yielded little substance. There is nothing worse than a song that sounds too forced. I like to follow a song through to its full expression, or give up and try again later. Emotions do not follow the same rules as logic. You have to put the time into writing a song while you feel inspired or wait until the feelings come back, if they ever do.

Are there other lesbian artists you admire who you feel have paved the way for you? Were there any out lesbian artists you looked up to growing up in a small town?

I find K.D. Lang inspiring with her outwardly Butch persona. It’s an identity that’s hard for some people to swallow. In our society, what is considered male or female has become so polarized that it is a threat to the very idea of gender to exist on a spectrum in between. It takes guts to be who you are when it is in direct opposition to what can be easily defined. You’re constantly faced with the question– do I betray myself to get through another day, or do I exist as I am and see where it takes me?

Who would you love to collaborate with?

Probably Grimes or St. Vincent. I’ve always collaborated with heterosexual men. It could be interesting to see what would result in collaborating with another woman. My partner (Samra Habib, author of, We Have Always Been Here: A Queer Muslim Memoir) and I are also recording an album next year. She’s a really intuitive, insightful person with a refined musical ear. I think that our collaboration, in the context of being in a relationship, and being of different cultural and artistic backgrounds, will be provocative and mind-expanding. I’m looking forward to this unusual creative journey.

As a songwriter, are there certain tendencies that you have to fight against? Bad habits that you have to try and keep in check?

I have to fight against the inclination to move onto writing new songs when I haven’t finished the ones I’ve already started. There’s a thrill at the beginning of writing something new. Many songwriters lack the initiative to finish and are spurred on by this impossible frontier of writing the perfect song in a ‘flash in the pan’ moment. If you have a good gauge for what is worth saving, it’s hard but carry on with what you’ve got. If not, save it for when the time is right. It’s like dating. You can’t force meeting the right person when it’s not the right time. Timing is everything.

Do you find that your process for making songs has changed much over the years?

I started out in my teens/early-twenties singing and writing songs on guitar. When I moved to Montreal and joined a few bands, I began co-writing with other band members. It yielded better results. I love the synergistic process of co-writing. Each person brings something original to a composition. Nothing turns out quite as you expect. My main writing partner (Gregory Takacs) and I work really well together. We have telepathy sometimes about songwriting or production choices. He has a more technical approach and I tend to approach things more conceptually. If a song we’re making doesn’t resonate with a deeper idea or emotion, I usually can’t follow through with it.

Do you have a dedicated day-to-day creative practice? Are you disciplined about the way that you write or work on music?

I ‘let the wind carry me’ when it comes to the actual composition stages of a song. The emotion can’t be forced. When it comes to producing, and drum programming, which are more technical, I am more disciplined as they don’t require as much creative energy. So, that is to say, I am disciplined sometimes, sometimes not.

For someone who has balanced art and activism throughout your career, what do you think about artists who, because of the current political climate, suddenly feel this urge to get political in their work?

I respect them for putting themselves out there to achieve some sort of social or environmental awareness where it is lacking. The only time I wouldn’t is if these artists were doing it solely for selfish gains. We’re all a part of this one world. We need to fight together– otherwise, what’s the point?

How do you engage in this way, and still protect some part of yourself? How do you not burn out?

Not burning out is hard. I have a tendency to be a workaholic in everything I do. Saying “No” to things that don’t move you is really important, whether it be social or work-related. My social life has certainly taken a toll, but something needs to give somewhere. Nothing is ever achieved without sacrifice.


“To The Next” and Brave Animal are available now.