Three Great Things: Ada Lea

Alexandra Levy on her morning routine, plant rehabilitation, and going to sleep at 5 PM.

Three Great Things is a new feature in which artists tell us about three things they absolutely love. Alexandra Levy, aka Ada Lea, chose some great ones — not your typical choices. Her new album, what we say in private, is out now on Saddle Creek.
—Josh Modell, Executive Editor, Talkhouse

1. Daily rituals / creativity

I’ve been obsessed with routines for about 10 years. Making lists, keeping journals, trying to find the most efficient way to organize my time and keep productive. The possibilities are infinite. How to best spend the day? What I’ve learned over the years is that none of that really helps, or matters. I’d always end up deviating from the plan, because we move at the pace we move at, and no amount of planning or strategizing can really, truly help. Things come up, then suddenly the minute-by-minute plan you had planned is gone.

That being said, the one thing I have been able to stick to daily is the morning routine. The most important way you can begin your day is by doing a couple of things you love and enjoy most. Doing those first, and then tackling the rest. For instance, journal writing, coffee, and reading, for me. 

For the past three months, my morning routine is to wake up at 6:30, sip my coffee as I write in my journal and read whatever book I am working on. Even on tour it is easy to keep to this schedule. The key to being creative, for me, is to feel a sense of freedom.

It’s hard to carve out time to write music or paint, especially if there are other tasks to attend to. I try to get started on a song first thing after my daily routine. This helps me feel like I am accomplishing something, that I am being productive. Working is really the only thing I enjoy doing. Constantly working towards something artistic is what keeps me alive. Either a painting or a song, or some project.

2. A White Bird of Paradise

I love taking special care in watering the plants around my house. Last summer, I rescued a white bird of paradise that was going to be thrown out because its leaves were torn and almost completely non-existent. I brought it home, transplanted it, and put it out in the sun. Within the next three months it had completely transformed. I’d spend long periods of time just watching the plant. I can’t explain it without sounding quite strange, but there was something so therapeutic about going out every day, inspecting its leaves, looking for new chutes, watering it. It really just touched my soul unlike anything had before. 

This year, I made a plan to start a garden at my parents’ place. Their backyard runs long with plenty of room for herbs and plants. In the spring, I planted seeds of coriander, zucchini, tomatoes, and lettuce. I love going out multiple times a day to check on how they’re all doing.

3. My bed

I love staying in bed. I don’t know if this has to do with the fact that I have been depressed for the better part of this year, but staying in bed was pretty much the only thing I could do for a while. Still to this day, I feel a safety in my bed, a comfort, a peace. Dreaming wild dreams, solving problems, thinking up ideas, traveling places, it all happens from my safety and comfort of my bed. I could sleep the whole day through! 

Even on tour, this is one of my favorite activities. On days off, especially, I couldn’t be bothered to visit the sights. For instance, on our last tour in Australia, we had four days off, and I spent each of those days hanging out in the hostel, falling asleep at 5 PM, sleeping right through until morning. I loved it. I’ve always kind of been a homebody, and feel a particular sense of anxiety leaving my house, so I can understand why I love this so much. 

(Photo Credit: Bao Ngo)

As with so many artistic endeavors, Ada Lea’s debut album began as one thing and ended up as something else. The commonality of that process doesn’t make the story any less interesting, however, especially in the case of what we say in private — a beautifully colorful collection of profound pop songs that will be released later this summer via her new Saddle Creek home.

The Montreal, Quebec-based Alexandra Levy — who records and performs as Ada Lea — is also a painter and visual artist, and traces of her many creative abilities run throughout what we say in private. To her, music and visual art are different vessels for communicating similar ideas. Levy’s appreciation of female artists — including the writer Sylvia Plath, visual artists Frida Kahlo and Eva Hesse, and musicians Karen Dalton and Nina Simone — provides inspiration and guidance, informing her use of multiple artforms as tools for self-expression. Through all her work, Levy explores the concept of womanhood as it feels and looks to her, as well as love and how it transforms over time. She doesn’t shy away from exploring uncomfortable and painful emotions, either. With the brightness of love, strength, and hope contrasted with the darkness of loss, suffering, isolation, and abandonment, what we say in private is a varied and vivid record that constantly seems to shift in the light, bringing together all the intricate influences she’s collected over the years.

Levy delivers something very special on what we say in private. Bold and daring, but also gentle and vulnerable, the album finds new ways of presenting its vision from one inspired idea to the next, a big leap into the wider world with passion and exuberance.

(Photo Credit: Bao Ngo)