Published May 25, 2020In 2018, Toronto-based actor and musician Noah Reid found himself at the centre of a big pop culture moment.
During the fourth season of CBC's incredibly successful series Schitt's Creek, Patrick (Reid), much to the dismay of boyfriend and business partner David (Dan Levy), decides to host an open mic night at their new store. To start the night off, Patrick performs an acoustic cover of Tina Turner's "The Best," which he dedicates to David.
The tender serenade made for one of the most romantic moments in recent television history, and fans went wild over Reid's performance, marking an unexpected turning point in his music career.
Two years earlier, Reid released his debut album Songs from a Broken Chair. He had that album's folk and soft-rock songs kicking around for years (Reid refers to the album as "an archival recording") before finally recording them in a whirlwind two days with Matthew Barber. In response to his performance on Schitt's Creek, a surge of new fans discovered Songs from a Broken Chair. The attention was so significant that Reid was on a nearly-sold-out tour until the current global health crisis forced him to postpone many of the shows.
"When ["The Best"] turned into something, people were able to find [Songs from a Broken Chair] and enjoy it in a way that I had never really anticipated," Reid tells Exclaim! from his home in Toronto.
"With the older songs, it's amazing how they change with you," he says about reconnecting with the album. "I think with a lot of those songs, the further away from the initial idea I am, the more I can explore it. It's not so close now."
Growing up, Reid loved to perform. As a child actor, he was most notably the voice of the titular turtle in the animated TV series Franklin. He took piano lessons, and he says that he has been making up songs for as long as he can remember. While enrolled in the National Theatre School of Canada, Reid started to take songwriting more seriously and often drew inspiration from the characters he played.
"I thought, if I was playing a character, I could explore their world a little bit through songwriting," Reid explains. "Eventually I started to explore my own perspective through songwriting, particularly with relation to the acting world. If things weren't going well or I wasn't feeling like I was getting parts or opportunities, I would put it into a song and then at least that would be some place to put it."
Reid is set to release his sophomore album, Gemini, on May 29. A few songs have been with him for a while — Reid recalls playing some of them at the release party for Songs from a Broken Chair — while others were written right before heading into the studio. Barber produced the record again, but this time they took a bit more time and recorded it in about two weeks, mostly live off the floor. The resulting record is a warm soft rock affair that smooths out and expands the sonic palette of Reid's first album while also illuminating his love of '70s singer-songwriters.
"I'm not the most current," Reid says about the record's vintage vibe. "My partner Clare said to me the other day, 'What's interesting about your music is that it pays very little attention to trends,'" he adds, laughing.
There's a synchronicity to Gemini, despite the extended period over which the songs were written. Across the record, Reid is worried and lost. It's an album marked by long highways and anxious thoughts that run on a loop. On a standout song, "Underwater," Reid sounds like he's hunched over the piano in defeat as he sings, "Here I am wasting my breath again, taking up oxygen, I'll never be president." But, an anchor for Reid during tough times, and something that he frequently returns to on the record, is love.
"These songs are often a celebration of love or about dealing with a quiet, reflective moment and trying to find a solution to an existential problem," he says.
"A lot of the songs I wrote when I was in Los Angeles, [filming] a TV show, and having a difficult time with that experience," Reid adds. "There was a lot of driving across America that was taking place and, as a Canadian going down to L.A., you're thinking, 'Am I staying here? Will anything happen? Do I like it here? How do I fit in? What's my day-to-day?' There's a lot of restlessness. Certainly, coming back from that experience, it was an adjustment to go okay, this is where I live now and I strongly identify as a Torontonian. It's difficult to shift gears."
With live music and the film and television industry currently on hold and a weighty uncertainty present, Reid says that he's been listening to his favourite records a lot and keeps busy playing piano and guitar. Music has constantly provided solace for Reid, and now his music is doing the same for others.
"[Music] has felt like a great comfort. I don't think of it so much as a career yet, I think of it as a beautiful little off-shoot of my performative and creative life," says Reid. "I know that it's reaching people, which is an incredible feeling. I never anticipated that people would be listening to my songs and getting something out of them."