Toronto-based singer-songwriter Alex Southey delivers raw emotion on sophomore release

Alex Southey is a 27-year-old singer-songwriter based in Toronto. You’re Not Just a Body to Me is his second independently released album. He recorded and produced these songs in his bedroom in the fall of 2019.

Being a DIY album, there is very much a live feeling to many of these songs. Southey isn’t afraid to include background noise; it’s even intentional at several points.

You’ll hear a snippet from a recording of him sleeping in “Angel at the Bed.” You can hear his roommate washing the dishes during his single-take recording of “Up We Go.” “The Fall Positive (And Goodbye)” includes a recording of a subway station with crowd chatter, and Southey sounds as if he’s busking on the platform floor.

The music consists of acoustic guitar and synth strings with dashes of keyboard throughout and hardly a trace of percussion. The sheer rawness of the album, the vacant percussion, and the soft-sung performance, bring up similarities to Washington artist Phil Elverum (Mount Eerie).

You’re Not Just a Body to Me was made in tandem with Southey starting both therapy and medication for anxiety/depression. Southey was battling a failing relationship with himself, and the album’s title was chosen as a reflection on his issues with dissociation. The title serves as an olive branch to anyone who can relate to feelings of dissociation and a loss of identity.

Southey sings with a heavy heart. His breathy, hoarse, yet soft vocals, feel weighed down by a burden that he is working to shed throughout the album.

While currently based in Toronto, Southey originates from the Vancouver area and a couple of the songs reflect his BC roots.

“Running Into the Water, Nelson, B.C.” opens the album with a beautifully somber key and string arrangement. Southey wrote the instrumental on his grandpa’s keyboard shortly after his passing and it’s the same keyboard you hear in the recording. Nelson is where his grandpa was laid to rest and this opening piece acts as a tribute to Southey’s family.

Southey went to UBC and he sheds some light on memories of that time with “The Inside of My Head When I Think of University in Vancouver.” Coming in at under two minutes, it feels like an interlude, Southey reflecting on a broken heart. As heavy-handed as some of this album is, the song has a feeling of serenity in the soft and comforting melody.

The album includes a bonus demo at the end in “Crowsnest Highway, Some Time at Night,” inspired by the very sensitive subject of the Highway of Tears. Recorded as a voice memo on his iPhone, Southey sings from the point of view of a predator offering someone a ride.

The fact that the song was literally recorded on an iPhone just adds to its cutting impact. It’s a frightening song as you imagine the intentions behind the predator’s seemingly innocent offer. Southey’s unfiltered delivery is so potent and earnest and it adds to the terrifying reality behind the lyrics.

Mental health is the surrounding theme of the album. The meditative state of “And This Too Shall Pass” feels like letting the sun in after being clouded in a state of depression. The following “Leaving the Place” is a bit of a contrast as the song crawls along as if Southey can barely get the words out. It culminates with a pained cry as he tries to rid himself of what feels like a mind-numbing emotional turmoil.

The whole album carries the weight of depression and even seems to flow like the mind of someone struggling with it; showing glimpses of hope before sinking into despair yet again. Like the best of sad music though, it’s ultimately here to heal, rather than add to, the pain.

“You’ll Never Wink Again” is a strong reminder of what a simple melody can do for the heart. The inclusion of the “da da da da da da” refrain as Southey sings about the beginning of a new relationship, works like a shot of serotonin.

It’s moments like this along with the cohesive flow from one song to the next that makes this album well worth the journey. Alex Southey has shown what he can do with so little; creating an album that is thick with emotion and with a musical structure and continuity that is able to fully immerse the listener.

With two DIY albums under his belt, Southey is already looking ahead to his third album, this time with a producer on board. He’s teamed up with Juno and Polaris winner John Critchley (Dan Mangan, Elliott BROOD) and is taking his sound in a different direction, while still exploring emotionally nuanced situations and thoughts.

Speaking of the album, Southey says, “This album is me stretching my legs…I really shot for the moon on this…If what I’m making isn’t interesting to me then why should anyone else care?”

The album will be titled …And the Country Stirred and is set to release this fall.