Published Jul 17, 2019On the cover of her debut album what we say in private, Alexandra Levy (better known as Ada Lea) stoically looks into the camera while holding a lengthy braid of dark hair that has been cut off from the source; Levy's hair is long and blonde. The image is akin to a victor holding up the head of their victim after a bloody combat and, in a way, the sentiment is similar. The brown braid is a relic of Levy's former self — someone that she defeated in order to begin anew.
Following a break-up, Levy says she processed her emotions by writing in her journal for 180 days straight: "I have been writing everyday for a while now," she tells Exclaim! in an interview. "That's how I process things. I think it's the most economical way to go through your ideas."
This self-work was part of Levy's journey towards rediscovering herself, and laid the groundwork for what we say in private. The guitar's staccato rhythm on the standout track "180 days," where Levy recounts her journaling period, even mirrors the quick movements of pages being ripped from a Page-a-Day calendar.
"I love writing in the morning," Levy adds. "I'm reading Virginia Woolf's diaries right now, and that was her routine too. There's a calmness to the morning before the internal chatter begins, and that's always nice. To start the day by jotting down all of your ideas before you start judging yourself."
Initially the Montreal-based artist planned to make a concept record, with one side inspired by the sun and the other by the moon, but as Levy explains, she became unsatisfied with the creative limitations that put on her.
"I decided to explore what would happen if I allowed [the album] to breathe and allowed myself to move away from the initial idea," she says. "That's when a whole bunch of new ideas came into the picture and when finally it seemed like, 'Oh, this is what was supposed to happen.'"
What Levy moved towards was a panoply of sounds and emotions that mirror the chaotic nature of her journey. On "for real now (not pretend)," for example, Levy stacks layers of vocals, guitar reverb and varying sonic textures to create utter cacophony. The trippy following track, "just one, please," is an introverted folk song floats through a pet store, in which we hear Levy inquiring about a dove for sale.
"I had a specific sound in mind," Levy says about the sonic diversity of what we say in private. "I was lucky because [producer] Tim Gowdy is also interested in [field recordings], so it felt organic to go in that direction of taking outdoor sounds and layering those with a guitar line to place it in a room or time."
what we say in private's dénouement comes with closing track "easy," when among coarse guitar distortion, Levy ferociously repeats, "it's not easy!" It speaks to the hard work needed to get out of a dark period and to reconnect with oneself. And while Levy isn't fully comfortable with how public her personal journey is on what we say in private, the resulting album is encouraging nevertheless.
"I'm definitely naturally very paranoid. I went through a phase of feeling… this is embarrassing to say, but like people were spying on me. I am definitely worried about letting people in, but at the same time I think there's something so special about peering into someone's private life through a keyhole," Levy says. "You're eavesdropping and looking into someone's life without them necessarily knowing, or them knowing but only allowing a certain amount of information."
"Definitely having a character" — Ada Lea — "has been really helpful in that I can write songs and be separated from them and perform and be separated from [her]," she adds. "I'm just starting to really explore that."
what we say in private is out July 19 courtesy of Next Door Records.