Leila Dey is on a Journey with her new EP ‘Detour’

12 October 2021 / by Demar Grant
Leila Dey wearing a milk chocolate coloured dress sits on a stool infront of a white brick wall

As you swing the door open to Lynx Studio a wall plastered with album covers confronts every visitor. Legends can be found here: Michael Jackson, his sister Janet, Daft Punk, Tina Turner, Beastie Boys, Gorillaz and even Bob Marley. And down the studio’s labyrinthian halls more artists can be found experimenting and refining their craft so one day they too can grace the wall. Down one particular hallway, on the right after your first left turn is a door that reads “The Tavern”. Inside the The Tavern is a red brick wall laden with provincial license plates, a purple brick wall with an inexplicable hockey stick hanging from it and two black walls with nothing. Seated in the middle of it all at the workstation is Leila Dey, bathed in light, sporting a crimson top knot, hoops and a grey sweatshirt with the word ‘Basic’ on the front of it.

On the computer monitor, tracks are already laid in Pro Tools, but when she presses play a Chief Keef-esque song bleats from the speakers, “Looks like someone was in here just before me” Dey said, letting it run for a few more seconds “I always wonder what other people are up to with their art.” She then loads her own stems into the software. Despite just releasing her latest EP Detour Leila Dey is already back at work, a departure from her previous workflow. Prior to Detour it had been 3 years since Dey’s sultry, 2018 EP Black Bouquet and a quality versus quantity question had been raised, not by others but by herself. Hanging onto music until it’s finely tuned is admirable but in a era where artists are dropping yearly (sometimes monthly), years without often equals years forgotten. And in an industry that skews extraordinarily young and prolific the pressure to be the same is ever-present for Dey when we speak.

Demar Grant: Wait are you already working on a new project right now, how is that possible?

Leila Dey: No, no no, I think people really underestimate the amount of work that artists actually undertake in presenting a project of any sort. An album is even worse than an EP, like, it’s even more work. Any sort of accumulation of music that you’re about to present to the world, I think is a lot of work. And a lot of people don’t realize that. For some people it kind of rolls over in a shorter period of time, but I’m also independent, so I’m doing everything brick and mortar style. So it just takes a lot more work, which is why I don’t know if I’ll be releasing another project for a while without some really serious funding or backing or both. I don’t have a lot of machine power behind me to get things done really quickly and it’s just been such a journey for me with the project. I’m happy that it is finally going to be out to the world to the masses for everybody to hear and listen to because it’s been a long time for me.

Grant: You said it was a journey. What do you mean by that?

Dey: I started writing these songs two and a half to like three years ago and some of these recordings were done two years ago then continually updated as we went along. One of the songs was written probably even four years ago. So yeah, I think it’s just been a journey for me to hear some of these songs really come to fruition because I wasn’t actually sure what would come to fruition. I didn’t know what people would actually end up hearing and what would be considered a project. I think I’m just happy that I’ve gotten to this spot, because not all artists get to this place with their music, of being able to actually package it and put it out into the world. It’s been a journey, because it’s just been really a lot of hills and valleys.

Grant: Is that why it’s called Detour? Why is it called Detour?

Dey: It’s been a lot of hills and valleys. I mean, the project itself really speaks to a relationship, a relationship that I was in. It was going well, and then it just took a really weird detour. It’s the idea of when you think you’re gonna be with somebody and then all of a sudden you’re like, “Oh, this actually probably isn’t going to be the person that I end up with.” That’s where the detour comes along. But I knew in creating the project, I ended up connecting with people who had their own detours and they had their own ideas of the songs and the project coming together. It’s more universal than I thought, where other people could relate to it outside of just the relationship aspect. For me, there’s a relationship aspect and that’s what I’m speaking to in terms of the project. But, we’re talking about the over arching idea of a detour and just the idea of when we go on detours. When life hands you lemons, you make lemonade. I’m just embracing the detours at this point and then riding the wave, seeing where life takes me.

Grant: What’s changed between this project and the last project, Black Bouquet?

Dey: I think what’s changed is maturity. I think you can hear the maturity in my voice, I think you can hear the maturity and the vulnerability in the content. I think you can also see the packaging of it all is just a little bit more mature and just a little bit more progressive. I would say for the most part Black Bouquet was my first project under leila Dey and I love it for what it did for me and the amount of doors that it opened for me. I feel like now I’m learning the music business side of it. The funny thing about Black Bouquet is I created Black Bouquet in maybe two weeks. The producer and I had a really cool connection, we got into the studio and at the time we had unlimited studio time. It was written, produced and then we got into mixing and mastering all this stuff. It was done in like two weeks, which is incredible. So, I had this preconceived notion that my next project would be done in one week and boy, was I mistaken. It was just not coming together the same way. It might be just like the access to unlimited studio time, but then again I spent so much time in studio that I learned how to record myself at home. So I think that’s a major difference, this time around I feel like this project is really seasoned, I put my hands and feet in it.

Grant: What changed about the process?

Dey: I have this thing about myself where I feel like I always want to do better. So in having this perfectionist complex, it motivates me to do better but it also stunts me. I think this time around I was just writing a lot of songs myself. I was getting production and whatnot but I was really second guessing and contemplating if this was better than what I had put out before. I think in the very beginning of this process with with Detour It was a lot of thinking this is not better. I would start writing a record and then be like, this is not good. I would get production and be inspired, then a week later I’d think it’s stale. When I did Black Bouquet I was in such a vulnerable place. My sister had recently passed away and I really didn’t care who perceived the project in any kind of way. I just wanted to speak my truth and put out a project that was a way of releasing for me.

Grant: One of the songs on Detour, “Blessed” is labeled a freestyle, what exactly goes into an R&B freestyle versus a rap freestyle?

Dey: It’s similar, freestyle is the idea of like not writing it down. It started out in Scarborough, I was just vibing out with one of my close homeboys Hakeem and we started playing this beat from a beat pack. And I had on this shirt, it was from this company and it said “blessed”. So, the way that we co-write is that we just freestyle words like we’ll say something or do a melody and we just start going on the beat. Then I looked down and we just kept saying I’m blessed. And so the hook was the first thing we freestyled and literally, it just took off from there. When I left that session, that was the only thing that we had. Then I went home and and I set up my at-home studio, put headphones on and was like “what do I want to talk about?” I just started thinking about it and little by little just kept building on the record. That’s how it ended up really being a freestyle. I promised myself with this record, specifically that I wasn’t going to be so like controlling over it, I wanted it to be fun. I wanted it to be not what people expect Laila day to be. If you listen to the song, you hear it has heavy auto-tune on it. I’m not a heavy auto-tune singer, so I was like, let’s just do something fun. It was really fun. I didn’t even know if I liked it when it was done. I sent it to three people and I was like, this is not me, but do you guys like it? And they’re like, “Yo, this is fire!” So it ended up staying.

Grant: Okay, back to what you’re working on right now. Why are are you already back in the studio?

Dey: You always kind of have to be working on the next thing. It’s possible because for a long time I was the artists that would put something out and disappear. One of my biggest critiques is “I wish she was more consistent,” like dropping regularly. That’s really hard listen to and hear. I think sometimes I grapple with the idea of dropping quicker but then sometimes I feel like I’m losing quality. That balance of quantity and quality is really hard for me because I don’t feel like I’m the type of artists that produces like quality on the drop of a dime. I’m always the kind of person who wants to revisit this, or I want to hear this again, or think, “is this a song that if I listened to it today? Am I gonna like it two months from now?” So I think that’s something I kind of grapple with all the time when it comes to working on music. But I think this time around I’ve created a lot more of a catalogue. So, now that this project is out I’m working on the next thing because I don’t feel like I’m in this rat race of consistently trying to keep up.

Grant: I’ve heard that you’ve turned 30 this year do you feel an extra push to have your music out more frequently?

Dey: I do, I do. I don’t know if other artists feel this way but I think in turning 30 I feel added pressure to just deliver and do what I want to do. Like, if I want to be an artist the time is now. The industry presents to be very young, the artists that we all love are all 20, 21, 22, and 23, so in turning 30 it’s kind of like a wake up call. There’s an added pressure of “what is going to be your next move?” and wondering how you feel like you’re going to maneuver in an industry that is very young. You go to a label meeting and then their first question “is how old are you?” And then you tell them your age and then they proceed to let you know that the industry is very young so they don’t know how much they can kind of get from you, with you being a certain age. I think it’s important to know that people have so many different musical journeys and the industry is so strange that you never actually know anyone’s true age. I think in general it’s always this thing in the back of my mind where I’m wondering if I producing enough when younger people are producing songs daily. I think it is difficult for me sometimes, but I just have to remind myself like everyone’s musical journey looks different. I love the stories of people who made it into the industry at a more mature age. I can’t even imagine what I would be like in the music industry five years ago, not having enough musical business knowledge.

Grant: It’s funny that you’re mentioning that because I heard that your name was PG before Leila Dey

Dey: Yes, it was.

Grant: Explain PG to me, because I knew PG existed but other than existing as a name I don’t know anything about it. I heard it was related to basketball?

Dey: It was related to a couple of things. So PG is actually related to my legal name and growing up, everybody just always called me PG, that hat’s because I also played basketball. I was the point guard and a shooting guard. So everyone just said “PG” and and then my brother, Julian, we always used to kick it and like make music and he used to rap. He would be like, yo, your rap name would be PG and at the time I was rapping, kicking it with my bro and his boys so my rap name was PG. It just all made sense together because I was playing ball, it was the initials of my legal name and it was also my rap name. And I was really young at the time, I was like, 16, 17. So I was rocking with it and I did for a long time. I think PG as its own entity made a name for herself.

Grant: If you met PG, what would you tell PG now?

Dey: Oh my gosh, I love PG. I feel like PG would have to tell me some things now. I loved when when I was rapping, my confidence level was through the roof, nobody could tell me anything. I was like, “oh, I’m this sickest rapper.” I knew I loved to sing at the same time and I was thinking, people don’t even know I sing as well but I felt like I could do no wrong, I was so creative. I didn’t really care about industry stuff. I didn’t care about how things presented, how it looked, I was really just a raw artist. And I love that about PG and being PG at that time. At that time I felt like maybe I didn’t really know if I was gonna figure it out but I didn’t really care because I was just like really having fun with music and I would really tell my younger self to enjoy that more. I think the enjoyment piece of it when I was younger was so short lived. It kind of became more like, “what’s my next thing?” When it started out really fun. I think if some people search for PG on the internet, and they will find some videos that my homeboy Tim, my manager at the time, shot for me and we just had so much fun. Then somewhere along the way it just became a lot more business and I would just tell my younger self to enjoy that more. But for the most part, I think in terms of confidence, character and demeanor, I feel like young PG could really tell Leila Dey come on! you know?

Grant: Do you think your age is working to a benefit right now?

Dey: I’m very happy right now. I think it’s working to a benefit for me when it comes to me knowing my business, being at the front of the ship that I’m steering, knowing what my vision is, knowing what I want to say, knowing how I would like it to be packaged. Also, knowing some very general business knowledge is very, very helpful for me right now.

Interview edited for length and clarity