Climate change is rarely addressed in mainstream music, but independent artists like Elizabeth Leslie are rising to the challenge and tackling the subject.
Awareness of climate change struck Leslie in 2016, while she hiked in the Scottish Highlands on a month-long visit to Scotland, expecting to find lush green hills. “It was 25 degrees (Celsius) in April and I was surrounded by yellowing grass. It was really sad because the land is dying,” she said.
Leslie, a dark-wave synth-pop artist, responded to the desolate Highlands by writing “To the Next,” an eerie impressionistic song about climate change. It was recently released on her debut EP, Brave Animal.
“Climate change is a byproduct of capitalism,” she said. “All of us are living in this time of materialism and spirituality has gone by the wayside. Our environment is crumbling around us and we just keep going through the motions.”
In “To the Next,” men are “fighting against this world,” suggesting they are responsible for the degradation of our environment. The narrator addresses a “little girl” several times in the song, giving her some hope, assuring her “we’re fighting for the next.”
She’s a metaphorical little girl, someone like Greta Thunberg, Leslie said. “All these younger kids, we’re destroying the environment at such an accelerated rate, that they have nothing to look forward to. I tried to give them some kind of hope. They need someone who’s older to at least fight by their side. Right now, all of our world leaders are not doing this.”
Brave Animal, a three-track EP produced by Matt DeMatteo, is a snapshot of different stages of Leslie’s life over the span of eight years, as a non-binary queer person in a heteronormative society.
“The truth is the world is vastly heteronormative and that’s great if you’re heterosexual and you don’t have to deal with discrimination based on your sexual orientation,” she said.
“When you’re a gay person and you also look sort of gender ambiguous, you walk through the world with a lot of shame and you go through it on a daily basis often, just being shamed for loving who you love.”
Along with “To the Next” the EP includes “You Don’t Know Me,” a song about judgments people make on the basis of instant impressions. “We have a tendency to put people in boxes. I definitely experience that quite often,” Leslie said. “They say, ‘You’re an angry lesbian. I don’t want to talk to you. You hate men.’”
She wrote the oldest song on the EP, the hypnotic “Slave Song,” 10 years ago, while she was breaking up with an ultra-Orthodox Jewish woman, a member of a band Leslie played with. “I was very much in love with her and so I was going through that kind of aftermath,” Leslie said. “(In the song) I’m saying I can deal with the hatred of the world, but what you did to me is so much more hurtful. It’s a mixture of a lot of things I was going through at the time.”
Originally from Nova Scotia, Leslie is a multi-instrumentalist who spent most of her 20s performing in local indie bands in Montreal. Now based in Toronto, she was exposed to Jewish culture in Montreal through the Jewish woman she was dating and eventually broke up with. Leslie said there was something about Jewish culture that felt familiar to her. “It was only after our relationship ended that I discovered my family was originally Jewish, centuries ago,” she said. Leslie converted to Judaism in 2013, when she was 28.
“I feel very inspired by lots of aspects of Judaism,” she said. “That definitely carries into my music and carries into the messages I try to put into it, in trying to leave the world a better place than what it is now.”
The single “To the Next” is on YouTube and Leslie’s EP is on Spotify.