One of Canada’s most passionate singers is headlining The Kingsville Folk Music festival this year. Serena Ryder, the Multi-Platinum Canadian singer-songwriter isn’t actually touring and is only scheduled for three summer shows this season – one of them the Kingsville show on August 9.
The six-time Juno Award winner and multiple SOCAN No.1 Award recipient sat down with 519 to chat about new music, her last album Utopia and where she gets that famous rhythm from.
Is there something that spurs on this creativity of yours?
Well, I feel like that is the indescribable thing that I just feel really grateful for. I feel like every time I try and put my finger on it, it seems to go away. I just try and not figure out what it is. I feel like a big part of creativity is just being open to it and actually listening to what’s going on around you, instead of thinking about what you’re going to do, more about quieting your mind and being open to what’s happening.
Because a lot of the most brilliant things that happen are things that happen without you trying to put your mark on them. I feel a lot of the songs that I write and a lot of them were the songs that exist without me. If I’m there- I sound like such a hippie, it’s just hilarious- but it’s like if I’m just present, it kind of comes out, which is awesome.
Right from the beginning, there’s the rhythm and the beats, and it’s always been the backbone of your music. You must be a huge fan of rhythm?
Oh my gosh. My number one inspiration is rhythm, for sure. That was a really good segue on your part, because it’s like, okay, if there’s anything that could inspire me to write a song, it’s the beat. It’s the rhythm, because there’s no melody there. There’s no lyrics there, but there’s something that just moves your body, you know?
For me, that’s huge. I kind of discovered that on my second last record, which is called Harmony. That was the first time that I ever wrote without a guitar to begin with. I would just listen to the beats and the rhythm. I worked with a producer who was a really amazing drummer, and that was the most exciting thing for me because it was like you could base your song on how your body’s going to move, how people’s bodies are going to move, like the heartbeat, which is awesome.
Have you ever contemplated being a drummer?
All the time. I don’t think people would be very happy with it. But I do love bashing on the drums. I play for fun here and there, and it’s one of those instruments I feel like that takes a really long time to get really, really good at. But yeah, no, I love the drums. They’re my favorite instrument, actually. I have a drum kit set up in my studio.
So eventually we might see you playing?
It’s very, very possible because I just love it so much.
Lyrically, your songs seem very personal. Is that actually the case?
Oh, absolutely. I feel like it’s important for me to be speaking from the heart. I think it’s important for everyone to be speaking from the heart. I can’t really sing a song if I can’t relate to it. All of my lyrics are very much from the heart and very honest. I don’t necessarily write in actual timeline storylines, like this person, this thing happened. It’s really more based on metaphor and feelings in the moment. I’m a really big fan of poetry and using words to describe feelings and things that have happened to you in a larger, profound way instead of necessarily a story.
Electric Love is a little more further into the electronic music than you usually do. Is that something unique for that song, or are you going to explore a little bit more?
That was a song where I went into the studio and my producer just started playing this crazy drum beat and I was like, “Hey, let’s do a sexy dance song,” because I’ve never done something like that before. It’s definitely, a little bit more electronic, and even just the melody and stuff like that. It’s this kind of cool, almost froggy, rocky, weird ‘80s kind of sound.
But it’s funny because I just reworked a different version of it because I have this new stripped down band that I’m going to be touring with, which is just me playing guitar, my guitarist, and my drummer. We came up with an acoustic-y, rocky version of the song, which completely changes it as well.
It was really cool, because I always say that different styles of music are like different languages. You can say the exact same thing, and if you play it in a different style, then it’s almost like it’s a different language. Other people can hear it. There are certain people that are like, “Oh, I’m a country fan,” or “Oh, I’m a rock fan,” or “Oh, I’m an R&B fan,” but it’s all melodies and lyrics, and if you just change the style or the sound of the song, it’s like different people can hear the song in a way that they can relate to.
In Got Your Number, there’s an actual number in the song. Is that a real phone number, like Jenny’s in 8675309?
The 5346607, that literally just flew off of my lips. You know what? I’m sure it is somebody’s phone number, and I apologize to them. I’ve often wondered, I’m like, has anybody tried this number? Should I try this number?
How’s the new album coming along?
With the new album, I think we’re going to start working on it at the end of the tour, which will be end of November, beginning of December. But right now, it’s kind of just been a writing process.
Probably some of the places you visit or pull on that inspiration for the songs, then, too?
Absolutely! The people I meet, the things that I go through, everything is going on the record.
I hope Kingsville can inspire you with something.
Make something crazy happen and it’ll go on the record. Let’s do it!
With such a variety of song choices, how do you choose what to play at your concerts?
I wish I could play them all, but you guys would be there for, like, a week. My last record, I wrote almost a hundred songs before I put the 14 songs that went on the record. But I try and think about if I’ve been there before, what I’ve played before, what people are like there, what they’re into, what I know about them, what I know about the place. Also, if I know there’s been certain songs that have been played on the radio, I want people to be able to feel like they know the songs that I’m playing.
If I could figure out the songs that people loved and knew, I would just play those songs. I’ve thought about even having just little things where I send out messages and be like, “Okay, what songs should I put on my set list, Kingsville?”
Which maybe I should do like, “Hey, which ones do you guys want to hear?” Because now in a time of social media, it’s like there’s no guessing for anything. But I definitely like to play as many songs as people feel like they can relate to and know. Because there’s nothing better than going to a concert and being able to sing the words and know the songs that the artist is playing.
Yeah, because it feels so good. I know a lot of artists that are touring and stuff, they kind of get sick of their own stuff and just do a lot of covers or play things that people have never heard. I feel like that leaves people alienated in a way. I like to balance it out with the things that I want to play for myself and the things that are for everybody else as well, because that makes the evening really great for me. I’ll put in as many, I guess you could say quote-unquote hits as possible, ones people know, and then balance it out with a few little surprises, a few little nuggets there that people will be like, “Oh, what’s this? I haven’t heard this like this before.” So yeah.
Serena Ryder headlines the Kingsville Folk Music Festival from August 9-11. For more visit kingsvillefolkfest.org.