As an actor, Noah Reid (Schitt’s Creek) plays a part; with each new role, he adopts a character and follows a script. As a songwriter, the 33-year-old creates songs from his heart. No acting. No script. Honesty and life experiences drive these narratives, though many reflect his acting experiences. Summing up his common approach to both acting and songwriting, he asks, “If I’m the character, how do I explore that world?” It’s a rhetorical question, posed from his Toronto home, just two weeks after his wedding, attended only by close family, socially distanced, on a beach overlooking Lake Huron.
Reid grew up in Toronto, but these days the dual citizen splits his time between T.O. and L.A., depending on where his work takes him. From a young age, he took piano lessons, and recalls enrolling in the annual Kiwanis songwriting competitions, always making up songs at the keyboard. Acting overtook his life, then became his chosen artistic path, but his love of creating and playing music never waned.
“For a long time, I was writing songs and not doing anything with them”
In 2015, Reid met JUNO nominee, industry veteran and fellow singer-songwriter Matthew Barber at an event in Stratford, Ontario; the pair clicked. While Reid jokes that he was just a “hobbyist” at that point, Barber convinced him to make a record. The pair spent two days in the studio together, resulting in the Songs from a Broken Chair album (2016).
“I was like, ‘Wow’ I want to do more of this,” says Reid. “For a long time, I was writing songs and not doing anything with them. They were just places to put my thoughts and feelings.”
The success of the award-winning TV comedy Schitt’s Creek’s – on which Reid plays David’s boyfriend Patrick – left little time to put out another record. But with the show coming to an end in 2019, Reid called up Barber and returned to the studio. On May 29, his sophomore record Gemini was released. The dozen songs on it are arresting, piano-driven compositions that show the other side of Reid’s talent. Unsurprisingly, the balance between his two passions, and other dualities, is something the songwriter thinks about more, now that he’s in his 30s.
One of the most poignant moments on Schitt’s Creek came in Season 4, when Reid, playing Patrick, serenaded David (played by Dan Levy) with an acoustic version of Tina Turner’s “The Best.” A digital single of the performance reached No. 3 on the iTunes Canada Top 10 singles chart. What’s more important to Reid is the lasting legacy of that made-for-TV moment. “I never expected it to be so impactful for so many people,” says Reid. “I knew we had an opportunity with the audience that watches that show, and knowing moments like that are few and far between in the LGBTQ community… It was incredibly rewarding to be part of that moment for a community that doesn’t feel represented much on TV.”
“I’m not as concerned anymore with being cool, and all the ‘social stuff,’ as I was in my 20s,” he says. “Balance is something I’m striving for now, as the dualities in my life are being made known. There’s a sweet spot between letting it happen and making it happen… a lot of the songs find equilibrium between two things, and show that two things can exist at the same time, and that’s OK.”
For Reid, the songs and songwriters he’s drawn to are those that show a human side: a rawness and “realness” often lacking in some of today’s auto-tuned pop. Touchstones include singer-songwriters of the 1970s like Tom Waits, Bob Dylan, Neil Young, Carole King, and Paul Simon.
One of Gemini’s most earnest songs is “Underwater.” It’s one of Reid’s favorite compositions, and received an early rave review from a certain Schitt’s Creek co-star.
“The recording feels super-dynamic,” he says. “When I wrote that song, it was a step up for me in terms of songwriting… I hadn’t heard that sound coming out of me before. It just felt so honest. The world of the song expands as it goes along. I remember playing an early mix to Catherine O’Hara at an airport somewhere. She took her headphones off and said, ‘Noah, that is amazing! The lyrics are very sad, but the arrangement is so hopeful.’”