ZAC STREVENS – Montreal
The Acoostic Sessions: Musicians performing live in places with personal meaning.
Physically, Lea Keeley has slowly been making her way across Canada. Born in Edmonton, Alberta and raised in Stratford, Ontario, Lea moved to Montreal after seeing Stevie Wonder at the Montreal International Jazz Festival. The 25-year-old has been playing music for as long as she can remember, and singing for the last 15 years. Being accomplished at piano, guitar, alto saxophone, ukulele, and flute, her talent is starting to see her name travel across Canada too.
While not wanting to put herself in a “box of sound,” Lea’s style leans towards that of soul and R&B. Her debut EP, “Just Go,” was released in 2012. She played an original song, “Ain’t The Way,” at the 2014 Pan Am Games in Toronto. Along with “Devil’s Play,” the track she performed for the Acoostic Sessions, “Ain’t The Way” will feature on Lea’s upcoming debut LP, to be released in spring of this year. Until then, she can be found playing regular monthly gigs at Montreal’s Brutopia and Ye Olde Orchard Prince Arthur, as well as gracing the stage at La Sala Rossa, La Marche A Cote, Les Bobards, Le Cagibi and more.
We spoke to Lea about her musical life, performing, and “Devil’s Play.”
You come from such a musical family. How has this influenced your music?
I grew up in a very musical family, my mom being a pianist and musical director, and my dad a singer/songwriter and actor. The arts were always a huge influence on my life, for as long as I can remember. My parents would always have old records playing, and I started dancing before I really even knew how to walk properly. My mom was a rehearsal pianist before becoming the musical director, so there would always be people over at the house singing and practicing their pieces for the musicals. My mom has a baby grand in the house, and my house is full of other instruments as well – an upright bass, cello, guitars, keyboards, you name it. My dad released a couple of albums back in the day as well, so I gained inspiration from him also. My brother also is very musical, he plays piano, guitar, bass and sings.
What do you get from writing and performing. Is it simply a creative buzz or something more?
Well, writing and performing are two different things for me. Writing is a much more intimate, creative process. I never plan what I’m going to write. Sometimes I have lyrics written beforehand, or just a flow of thought, and no melody or actual music written yet. Then maybe a day later, or even months, I’ll be jamming and come up with a cool lick that I fit my lyrics to. Other times it will be reversed. I’ll have the melody and chords come to me, and then later fit in lyrics that I’ve written. It’s never the same writing process though. As soon as I force myself to try to make a song, it never works (laughs).
Performing is something completely different. It’s still intimate and personal, just in a different way. You’re sharing a part of your soul with multiple people; whether just one person or thousands, we’re all experiencing the same moment together. That is something special in itself.
But if you don’t feel the music when you’re playing it, then what’s the point? I feel like sometimes I can get detached when performing, or distracted, in trying to cater best to the audience and what you think they want to hear. But you have to remind yourself that you are the only person that will truly know what you’re feeling inside, and if that feeling is not true to you, then the audience will pick up on that. You have to get lost in yourself when on stage and give it your everything. Performing can give you the most magical moments, you just have to you lose yourself completely to your music.
But getting lost on stage would require a large degree of comfort, right? Was being comfortable on stage something you had to work at?
For sure. It became easier, after doing it over and over again. The first few times I performed I was terrified. There’s no barriers, just you, completely stripped down, showing a part of yourself that only you know. It helped when I would be performing with other musicians, you didn’t feel as ‘in the spotlight’ but it was still terrifying. I only became more comfortable with performing over time. But even now, I still get those butterflies before getting up on stage. I don’t think playing music would be the same without those feelings. It pushes you, and makes you come into yourself and into your music, and just let go. You need that when performing.
You’ve achieved quite a bit in your young age. What else do you hope to achieve?
I want to be able one day to go on tour and share my music around the world, in hopes of having other people relate to what I’m singing about. I want to meet other musicians, push myself to where I believe I could be with my music. Give my everything, and remind people to never give up on your dreams or passions. I want to bring out feelings that maybe some have lost inside of them, or maybe didn’t even know existed within themselves. If my music even affects just one person, then I have done what I hoped to achieve, and I am happy.
Tell us about filming your Acoostic Session. It was pretty damn cold, right?
(Laughs) Oh yeah. I had to warm up my fingers after each take under my boyfriend’s sweater and drink a cup of tea. They were going numb near the end of it. It was a really cool experience though. We filmed it on top of my old rooftop at my old apartment in the Plateau. I always wanted to do a video there, so I’m really happy that we were able to make it work. Even though getting up to the top in the snow with all the gear and my guitar was kind of sketchy, it was worth it (laughs).
What inspired the writing of “Devil’s Play”? What’s the song about?
When I first wrote the song it came to me all at once, which rarely ever happens in my songwriting process. The melody, lyrics, chords, everything just flowed out of somewhere. I was in a lonely and frustrated place, going through a rough time with my boyfriend (now ex) at the time, and was just tired of arguing all the time. I felt we were going in circles and not getting anywhere. We had forgotten who we really were and what we meant to each other. So I guess my inspiration came from a dark place of love.
Why did you chose that particular song for your Acoostic Session?
I chose this song because, even though I wrote it a couple years ago, it still hits me true to the heart. I have almost a deeper and new appreciation for the song and the way it makes me feel. That’s when you know it’s a keeper. I also just really dig the vibe of the song over some of my other ones, I thought it would be fun to record a more upbeat R&B tune, especially on my rooftop with that setting.
What have you got coming up in preparation for the album release in spring?
Oh things are exciting! There are lots of things I have in the works, but can’t give too much away! I will be playing more shows around the city, and releasing some more sneak peaks of the songs that will be on the album. Doing cover videos as well with other local Montreal musicians, and shooting promo videos. There’s still lots of work ahead. The album isn’t even close to finished yet, still lots of time in the studio to be had, but I am so beyond thrilled to be sharing this album with you very soon.
Hear me from Lea via SoundCloud