Finding Wisdom in Words: Serena Ryder is Meant To Be Heard
After a whole lot of hoping and a whole lot of rocking out to her album, I finally had the opportunity to have a conversation with Canadian singer-songwriter Serena Ryder. An avid disbeliever in solid truths, Serena is a very philosophical and honest artist who acknowledges and accepts change and difference along every step of her journey. My favorite thing about her is that she's not afraid to sing it like it is. If you've listened to her latest album, Is It o.k, then you know exactly what I mean.
I caught up with Serena on a lovely June day on which both of our portions of the sky were overcasted even though we were in different countries and on opposite coasts. You probably don't know this but, on gray days like this one, Serena loves to cook big breakfasts (she also home-makes tamari almonds!) and enjoy them with the company of a friend. For Serena, days like this don't happen too often - especially now that she has been spending the majority of her days touring with artists like Howie Day and The Barenaked Ladies - but that's okay with her because she's learning how to feel at home while she's on tour for several months out of the year. "I find that it’s a lot easier if you try and find your home inside of yourself," she explains, "which has a lot to do with staying healthy."
Just after she says this, she's careful to explain that the idea of being healthy is one of those ever-changing liquid truths that she's continuously recognizing. "It's about definitions and what you define to be true for you. Sometimes drinking is good for certain people. Sometimes eating cheese pizza is really good for somebody. It just depends on what you think about it."
At the end of July, Serena will be playing a few shows on the east coast with several other brilliant female artists for Lilith Fair before hitting the road with Ray LaMontagne and David Gray in August. I hope that this finds you at a time when Serena Ryder's words can ring true to you. She continues to inspire me everyday! Is It o.k is in stores now! Below are some highlights from our conversation, enjoy!
Hi Serena!I bet you’re excited for Lilith Fair!
Serena: Oh yeah! Huge. That’s a dream come true for me, literally. I remember getting the Lilith Fair compilations and everybody being freaked out by who was playing and always wanting to go and always wanting to be a part of it. I remember when I was 16 I tried out for the “up and coming, new young voices” thing that they used to have at Lilith Fair and I was one of the runner-ups, and then the year after was the year it got canceled. So this is very exciting for me to be going now.
The other dream come true is touring with Ray LaMontagne…Amazing. I’m doing a tour with him and David Gray.
How do you get set up with that?
Serena: It’s magic! It’s alchemy. It’s like this little hot air balloon pops down in front of your house and drops off this letter that you have to fill in and put a little red stamp on. And if you put the wrong red stamp on, then sometimes you only get half of the tour, but if you put the right red stamp on then you get the whole tour…but it depends on what day of the month it’s delivered.
It’s pretty much like that. The reason why anything happens in the entire world is all about what’s meant to be and what’s not meant to be. Even things that you think aren’t meant to be and when everything goes wrong – it’s even more meant to be than some things that go normally.
What has touring taught you about yourself?
Serena: It’s a pretty concentrated way of living life. Most people in North America have a house and live in it and sleep in it everyday. So they have this sense of cellular sameness – a sense of home – in the very literal sense of the word and also in the emotional sense of the word. In a sense it’s really amazing and really wonderful that those people have that, but then there’s also an opportunity for things to become monotonous or go even as far as stagnant in certain people’s lives. That isn’t always the case, but it happens sometimes.
With my lifestyle and the lifestyle of other touring musicians, we have also the opportunity to be able to constantly be conscious of our changing surroundings and changing internal conversations going on inside of us. With all of the things we’re seeing all the time, we have to relate ourselves to different surroundings all of the time. In a sense we have to learn how to become chameleon-like. There’s a perfection inside of that, but there can also be a real chaos to it if you don’t allow yourself to find your home inside. As long as your insides stay the same, you’ll be alright. There are a lot of things that happen out there that can be really confusing if you let yourself get caught up in holding onto your surroundings.
I have so many favorite places – Seattle is one of my favorite places…Seattle, Austin. I love certain parts of LA, I love Topanga Canyon. The only struggles I’ve had on tour have been when I’ve tried to hold onto a place or if I’ve tried to push a place away. I find that it’s a lot easier if you try and find your home inside of yourself which has a lot to do with staying healthy. There are so many different ways to be healthy and it’s so relative to who you are in the moment. It could have to do with eating; it could have to do with drinking lots of water; it could have to do with not consuming alcohol. I stopped drinking alcohol like 5 months ago and I never thought that I would ever, ever do that because I was so good at drinking. I was really good at partying and hanging out and all that stuff. It’s about definitions and what you define to be true for you. Sometimes drinking is good for certain people. Sometimes eating cheese pizza is really good for somebody. It just depends on what you think about it.
So for me, where I am and where I’m going in the future, it’s all about finding a home inside of myself. Because if you do that, then you’re at home all of the time and there’s no struggle. Now wouldn’t that be awesome?!
Serena: ...And there’s where I’m finding the inspiration for all of my songs…how I write, how I live, how I sleep, how I get up in the morning, how I talk to other people – it’s all based on where I am inside myself – what part of my internal world I’m living in. You can use your body as a microcosm for the world. There are different places, different feelings, different climates depending on how you feel or where you decide to put your consciousness.
Does your writing process change while you’re touring?
Serena: My writing process is always in a constant flux of change because I am as well and I’m always touring so, yes, of course – it changes when I’m touring, it changes when I’m staying still and in one place because my internal world is changed as well. When I’m on the road, the things that I become inspired by when I’m touring have to do with having to constantly bring back that awareness that my home is inside because you can get pretty fucked up if you think your home is outside, you know? It’s like “everything’s changing, I’m in a different city everyday, it’s driving me insane!”…that’s like the little voice that’s inside of the head screaming for some sort of stability, some sort of home.
But then there’s so much beauty and excitement out there too. There’s a never-ending possibility. You can learn by going really fast and you can learn by staying really still – it just depends on how much you want to pay attention to yourself. And sometimes nobody don’t want to pay attention to themselves, and that’s fine. It’s a part of their process too.
Do you usually tell people if you’ve written a song about them?
Serena: Oh, I’m sure they know! If I were to write a song about somebody, they'd have to be so in my life, they’d have to be so in my skin, they’d have to have so affected me. I’m sure they know, but if they don’t…then thank goodness! Haha.
I’m willing to share everything in song, I don’t need to go out and take my words out of that song and put them into an everyday conversation that is so fleeting and so useless a lot of the time. I feel really blessed to be able to write songs because I am able to create something that is undying in a sense.
Do your songs change meaning to you over time?
Serena: Absolutely! My songs change meaning for me all of the time because songs are mantras; they’re chants and they’re words that are, for the most part, prayers that are sent out there. They’re repetitions of a certain truth or a certain lie, wherever you wrote the song from.
When you’re chanting something over and over again or saying a prayer, a mantra or an affirmation – it’s in itself a microcosm of what we need as human beings in the world. We need to hear the same things over and over and over again. And sometimes we never really hear it in our lives. But for me, when I write a song from when I’ve written to five, six, ten years later, sometimes a light just clicks and I say “ooh that’s what that songs means…<em>now</em>.”
It’s all about how it relates to who I am and who the listener is in the moment because we’re all changing all of the time. We’re never the same person and that’s where we get fucked, is when we try and hold on to this identity or this person that we thought we’ve always been. We get into these big fights and arguments and things get really fucked up in our lives. You know when people say something like, “oh, you’ve changed,” or you have a friend that all of the sudden thinks that you’ve changed and they say “well that’s not something <em>you</em> would do.” …And it’s like, well no, it’s not something I would’ve done but now I want to do this and this is who I am at this moment.
I think we need to be a little bit more forgiving and open to change. For my entire life people have always been asking me, “are you ever going to make up your mind? You always change your mind.” Recently I’ve realized, “yeah, fuck, I always change my mind and I’m always going to change my mind, isn’t that amazing?!”
What do you think about on stage?
Serena: It’s funny that you ask that, because lately I’ve been sharing that to the audience while I was on stage. I just got off the road with Barenaked Ladies and it was AWESOME and the audience was AWESOME! I was on stage and two or three times every night I would tell the audience what I was thinking about. I recently read this article about multitasking and how there was a study done where they took two different groups of people and they each got to do three things. In one group, they got to do the three things all at once for thirty minutes and in the other group they got to the three things in separate blocks of time for ten minutes each. At the end, they found that the people who were multitasking’s IQs went down something like 10 to 15% and they did the things worse than the other people. I became fascinated with this because, in our generation, we’re constantly told that we need to get a billion things done at once and that’s so much better.
When I was on stage I was thinking about that during one of my songs and I realized that I’m actually multitasking when I’m singing. Sometimes I’ve sang the song so much and so often that I’m thinking about the audience member that just sat down and I closed my eyes while they were walking down the isle with three of their friends because I didn’t want to make them feel self conscious because they were walking in front of me while I was singing. And then I would start thinking about what I was going to say after I finish the song and whether or not I should go out after the show and meet people. Then I was just thinking about the story of when I first wrote that song and that person that I was with in my hotel room, who was my tour manager, and we were talking about what was going to go on the next day and the meal that we ate…and then I started thinking about my favorite restaurant in Toronto... But the smallest and the biggest thing are just as important as a good love song. I'm a big fan of letting your heart take you where you want to go.
What are three albums or songs that you think everyone should own?
Serena: Fleetwood Mac Rumours, of course.
Sandro Perri’s song “Double Suicide” from Tiny Mirrors. It’s life-changing.
And Feist’s album, The Reminder.