A few weeks ago I chatted with Canadian singer-songwriter Serena Ryder just after she wrapped up recording her debut full-length US album, due out later this year. Having worked with producer John Alagia Mayer, Jason Mraz) as well as collaborated with songwriters Jim Duguid (Paolo Nutini) and Mikal Blue (Colbie Caillat), Serena explained the recording process as “effortless” and “absolutely magical.” Serena talked a bit about her experience winning Best New Artist at the Juno Awards (Canada’s Grammy equivalent), her views on touring and performing and her hopes for the next few years. Check out the interview below and her MySpace for a listen.
How is everything going?
Everything’s going great! I just got back from LA. I was making my new record out there in Santa Monica and had the absolute best time of my entire life. It was so much fun. Making the record was absolutely effortless and an absolute joy to be a part of that process. My producer, John Alagia, and the band . . . it was amazing, so much fun. I stayed right by the beach, which was really nice because I live downtown in Toronto so I don’t get to the water that much. It felt just like a big vacation.
When are you expecting it to be released?
Well, for me, yesterday would be good. I was out of the edits and want to release the record as soon as possible. I’m hoping sometime fall or winter would be really great for me.
Is the record similar to your EP, Told You In a Whispered Song, which was released in the US?
Those songs were previews of what’s going on the record. The songwriting is kind of similar. Most of the songs that were on the EP are going on the record too. It’s more full band and it’s got a similar vibe.
How was the recording process?
It was effortless. It was amazing and inspiring. It was a lot of fun. It was absolutely magical.
This past year must seem like a whirlwind for you — getting signed to Atlantic right after SXSW last year, releasing your EP, touring. How has everything been going?
It’s been amazing. It’s been a really, really wonderful year. I’ve been traveling for quite a while and I’ve been touring and playing since I was a little kid and it’s a part of my lifestyle, but it’s been a lot more amazing now that I’ve joined up with family of Atlantic. It’s just such a great team of people. I call it family because they’re really, really an interactive A&R; based label, that’s why I chose them. I was on an indie label for five years, but Atlantic has been such a massive help for me. So, it’s been really good and also taking the opportunity to be able to record this record and do it the way that I wanted to with people I wanted to do it with.
In the last year I moved and there have been a lot of different changes that have gone on in my life. It’s been big changes, but they’ve been changes that have helped me be able to get stable and rooted and grounded enough to know where I’m metaphorically planting my seeds. I almost feel like I’ve been in training with what I’m going to be doing for the next, gosh, who knows how long. I’m still in love with what I do and I feel very blessed to be able to do what I do. I’ve been trying to be on the road, be healthy, eat right, work on my craft and my songwriting. I’ve been doing a lot of that in the last year with the new record. Different collaborations with people and learning from other people, it’s been fabulous.
Who have you been collaborating with for this album?
This album, I think is probably about four songs that were co-written and the rest of the songs I wrote on my own. I wrote with this guy named Jim Duguid in London. He’s actually Scottish. He’s Paolo Nutini’s drummer. He’s quite an amazing writer as well; he co-wrote and produced Paolo’s last record with him. I wrote with this fellow named Mikal Blue. He’s a really, really cool dude. He did all of Colbie Caillat’s stuff. It was so much fun. It was a great, great process.
You were on tour most of last year, how was that experience?
It’s been great. I’ve been touring for a long time so I feel very comfortable on the road. The last year has been really good for me because I’ve realized that is where my home is now. It’s not about going away from home and things need to change. I’ve learned that being on the road is being at home, so you have to treat your hotel room or your restaurant or the places that you eat at like, that’s your kitchen, that’s your room, that’s your house. And the more you treat it that way; you can really get some kind of normalcy or constant. Everything is different and everything is new. I just feel like I have a lot more respect for people who travel constantly. It can be really difficult to just to keep that home with you everywhere you go. I finally have the opportunity to really see it as that. I feel pretty blessed about that.
Congratulations on your Juno award for Best New Artist! How was the overall experience of being at the awards show? Was it everything you expected?
It was overwhelming and awesome. I was just trying to breathe and make it seem like I was calm and everything was normal. There is nothing normal about walking on red carpet in heels with flashes and cameras and blinding sequence everywhere. It was like being in a dream, or on TV. You only see that on TV. That’s not what your average Joe will experience and I really do consider myself a Joe.
I read you’ve been performing since you were 13.
Yeah. I started performing when I was eight. It was cover songs and stuff at legions and hotels, like Buddy Holly and Linda Ronstadt. I was the cute little kid with the band behind her with 40-year-old men. [laughs] It was fun. I started writing when I was 11 or 12 and got a guitar when I was 13 and I started playing up on stages and just anywhere I could possibly get my ass onstage I would get my ass onstage. I just had pure, absolutely unadulterated love for performing and singing and being able to communicate with people on a level other than conversation. Songs are like short stories, you have so much room to articulate and converse with people on a totally different level and I’ve always needed that, as a juice in my life, life juice.
Growing up, have you always wanted to be a performer? Do you remember the moment you were like, “This is what I want to do.”
Oh yeah, dude. I wanted to be on Star Search w
hen I was a little kid. I would
watch Ed McMahon and all those cute little kids and be like, “I want to do that!” I did initially want to be a performer, but now I think, for me, it’s not necessarily about performing. I don’t really like to call it that anymore. It’s more about being able to relate to other people, just to share it and to inspire is my main goal now. As a songwriter as well, I feel like I’ve had the opportunity with this record to really plant my roots in that I am a songwriter and I adore it as a craft and I have so much respect for it.
What is your typical songwriting process like? Do you carry a notebook wherever you go?
There are lots of different ways to write a song and I’m still trying to hone it as a craft. With this record, I actually for the first time consciously sat down and was like, “Okay, what do I want to talk about? What’s my message?” Most of the time songs would just come to me. Now I totally believe that there’s no ownership in art. You create something, it doesn’t belong to you. It’s like a child; your children don’t belong to you. They’ve chosen you to be their parent and they’re going to learn from you and they’re going to leave and they’re going to hopefully take something. I think music is like that as well, songwriting, everything really. There have been so many different ways…sometimes a song just comes to me, sometimes I sit down and contemplate, meditate on what I’m trying to speak about or trying to articulate or communicate with people.
Did you go into the studio having a concept for the album?
When I went into the studio I had all of the songs finished. It was definitely a body of work and a vibe but I also went into the studio knowing I was working with an absolutely phenomenal producer and band. I went in with an open heart and open mind and trusted they would bring a lot to the record. And they did. They took it places that I didn’t know it would go. It was better than I had imagined it would be, pretty phenomenal.
Do you have a favorite track on the album?
One song “Is It Ok” is one of those songs that was just written. Sometimes it’s difficult to write songs when you’re in the middle of an emotion. You need to step outside of yourself to see. It’s like writing a movie with your experiences. The lyrics came to me in this big burst of passion and the reason why it’s my favorite song is because the band makes me want to listen to it. The band was so phenomenal, they brought it to another level. The band made it so powerful. They brought this whole other life to it. It was the song that surprised me the most.
What are your hopes for next few years?
I feel absolutely satisfied with where I am right now. I look forward to really being at home wherever I go. I’d love to help people feel comfortable in their own skin, if that’s possible. Everyone has their own karma and their own lifestyle and their own choices in their life to be or do whatever they want to. I really would love to shed a little bit more light on the fact that it is a choice to some extent, especially to us who are very blessed to be in Western society in certain ways. There are always ups and downs and there are different things that are great and there are things that are horrible. I just really hope that I can make people realize that they are so huge and so wonderful and so capable of leaving so much greatness in the world.
What is your advice for singer-songwriters or aspiring musicians?
That’s the thing; I don’t think I could have heard anything. Even if I went back and talked to myself as myself, just time travel and go back and knock on my own forehead and say, “Hey, don’t do that, do this.” I don’t really think there is a place for that or people who would really actually be able to hear. I think the only way I know personally how to do that is by writing music and just being as honest as possible in the moment.
How would you explain your music or lyrics to someone who has never heard one of your songs?
I wouldn’t. I really wouldn’t. I would just let them listen.
Listen to Serena’s song, “Brand New Love” here and see for yourself. For Windows users you can listen here.