‘Leftovers’ by Le Ren: Looking back while moving forward
Lauren Spear contends with what is left after presence, after love, and after pain
Lauren Spear, otherwise known by her stage name Le Ren, first sprang onto Montreal’s folk and indie scenes early in the pandemic with her debut EP Morning & Melancholia, an intimate collection of songs about relationships and letting go of them.
“It was exciting to share it in a way where the music is permanent and out in the world for people to interact with,” said Spear. “It gave me a pep in my step to keep going.”
Now, a year later, similar topics are again contemplated on her first full-length solo project, Leftovers, which was released Oct. 15.
Many of the songs were written pre-pandemic, but she’s had time since to rethink and perfect them. Chris Cohen, the album’s producer, lauded Spear’s preparation.
“Lauren’s vision for the project was very clear and concise,” he said. “It was like a classic recording session from another era: a person who can really sing and play coming in with all their stuff ready to go. It was a real joy.”
After a few false starts, the pair decided to rent a house in Portland to lay the album down over the course of two weeks, all the while listening to country music and collecting fan zines.
The album begins with “Take On Me”. Spear sings, hymn-like, of the transition from a romantic relationship to a platonic one, with the words “take on me” acting as a litany instead of a chorus. While the song slowly settles into peaceful harmony, lonely guitar strums punctuate this plea for resolution.
Next comes “Dyan”, where through gentle metaphor and poignant detail, Spear celebrates her mother, and contends with the physical distance between them.
“I’m constantly reminded of her love—in seeing the sky turn a certain shade of blue, in silver-grey hair, in the music I make and listen to, because of her. I also recognise her in the way I speak and how I process certain emotions,” said Spear.
The roles are then inverted on “I Already Love You”, a tender ode to an unborn child. She sings: “You’ll grow taller than your mother; You’ll be stronger than her too; I’ll see you in time.” In the song’s music video, two women, young and old, frolic near the sea, mirroring Spear’s own childhood on the island of Bowen, in British-Columbia.
After falling in love with Montreal during a school trip, Spear moved to the city ten years ago to study art history at Concordia. She cites both areas as key influences in her songwriting.
“When I’m home, I learn a lot of songs that I don’t know from my parents and their friends. Whereas here I learn from all my friends that play music because they play different genres and have different songwriting backgrounds,” she said.
“I think growing up, trying to be more responsible, and seeing the full picture has changed my songwriting.” — Lauren Spear
It’s this new twist on folk that keeps fans entranced. “I’m from a really small town in Ontario,” said Eve Parker-Finley, a Montreal-based fan and collaborator. “I listened to a lot of Joni Mitchell and Dolly Parton. These women in song with really beautiful voices can command a room with so little, and I think Lauren is such a great example of that.”
Spear stays true to her influences on “Annabelle & MaryAnne”, a duet between her and Jess Shoman, from Chicago folk project Tenci. “I wanted to make a duet between friends. Often I feel like duets are generally a man and a woman singing about love, so that was something I hadn't really heard,” said Spear. “It just became an imagined dialogue between me and one of my best friends who’s going through a bit of a hard time. The story’s about mutual support and love.”
This type of love, radiant and indiscriminate, is key to Leftovers. Although loss, yearning, and disappointment are felt on tracks like “Was I Not Enough?” or “Who’s Going To Hold Me Next?”, their intensity is always tempered with understanding and reflection.
“In the past, I've written from my own perspective and not been able to see beyond that. I think growing up, trying to be more responsible, and seeing the full picture has changed my songwriting,” said Spear.
“I feel like being a person can be so weird and lonely,” she continued, adding that putting these feelings into music can help her see them differently. ‘It's a perfect outlet to take note of what’s going on and understand your own self through what you're making.”
The album cover, featuring Spear lying in a stripe of sunlight with her eyes closed, narrowly beat out an alternate version. The initial idea, which involved a quilt made from the clothing of various family members, speaks to the end result of the album’s introspection. On “May Hard Times Pass Us By”, the album’s final track, Spear sings “There’ll come a time when I’m many miles away; But I’ll follow you as evening follows day; And when the sky it breaks; I’ll raise my face to rain; I’ll love you in the sunlight or the shade.”
Although Leftovers is premised on change, the album is focused on what stays the same. It doesn’t deal in the overly dramatic, but rather revels in the pared down honesty of a quiet therapy session, leaving the listener emotionally exhausted in the best sense of the term.