Interview: Serena Ryder — "Technically, Neil Young taught me how to play guitar"
Mon, 05 Apr 2010 08:46:37
Serena Ryder Videos
"I'm really focusing on interaction with the audience members for this new tour," Serena Ryder says with a smile. "After I play, I will be available every night to hang out and talk. I just want to make the tour as interactive as possible."
However, the best way to really interact with Serena Ryder is to listen to her music. Her latest album, Is It O.K. functions as a window into a myriad of tangible and universal emotions. Serena paints a vivid and personal picture with each and every track. With her soulful strumming and hypnotic voice, she perfectly blends a classic folk style and a modern blues delivery. Think Neil Young meets Norah Jones, and you've got Serena Ryder. Still, she's got her own style that shines brilliantly across the soundscape she's built on Is It O.K..
Serena Ryder sat down with ARTISTdirect.com editor and Dolor author Rick Florino for an exclusive interview about her upcoming headlining tour, learning a thing or two from Neil Young, Lilith Fair and the sign outside of the small Canada town she hails from.
You've got a classic folk vibe, but you keep it very fresh and modern at the same time. Would you say that's what you're going for?
I love how you just said that [Laughs]. I haven't thought of it that way, but that's awesome. I've always been really inspired and influenced by folk music. When I was a kid, I used to steal my parents records from the basement one by one, thinking they wouldn't notice. I'd slowly bring them up to my room. I was really influenced by John Prine, Kris Kristofferson, Leonard Cohen and my mom was a big Rita Coolidge fan. I loved Linda Rondstadt, and I became a big fan of Neil Young too. Harvest was one of the first tapes that I ever bought. That was a really big influence on learning how to play guitar for me because I got my guitar when I was 13. I started playing Harvest over and over again to learn how to play what Neil was playing because I was so enthralled by it. That's also how I learned to play the harmonica. Technically, Neil Young taught me how to play the guitar [Laughs]. That's cool, right?
That is cool…there's nothing wrong with that!
So Harvest was your musical awakening?
Huge! Harvest and Tracy Chapman's self-titled record…"Talkin' 'Bout a Revolution" was really big for me. Hank Williams and Ella Fitzgerald were really big for me too—a lot of the roots of music.
In order to create your own sound, you really have to understand everything that's come before you.
For sure! You definitely need to have a space for it, a respect and a certain amount of awe when it comes to the roots of music and the beginnings of things. The beginning is where things are the least complicated. The simplistic start of any story or any art is really the seed. That seed is where it all starts. It deserves respect and consideration in every way. That holds true for all art.
Do you feel like folk and soul share the same roots?
Absolutely! I'm not a musicologist by any means, but I know that folk music and soul music have definitely been affected by the roots of music, which were blues and country. When you put those two together and bring about a social consciousness of what's going on in the world, then you have folk music. When you bring folk together with an emotional, societal consciousness about what's happening in the world, then you've got soul music. People were really affected by what was happening in the world and their lives, and soul would deal with not only racial issues but class issues and revolution, the Vietnam War and all of these different things. People were crying out and they were starting to stand up for themselves, therefore there was a social commentary and emotional passion that was portrayed in the music. I think it's really exciting nowadays too because I feel like that's starting all over again.
In terms of songwriting, do you typically begin with lyrical ideas or does the music dictate the lyrics?
They always help each other out. It's never been a really conscious process of what comes first. For me, the first thing that has to come is a very strong emotion regardless of it's that translated through guitar, voice or another instrument. A very strong emotion or a very strong truth needs to come first. If you have a very strong emotion, that means there's a very strong truth behind that. Following that feeling and translating it subconsciously into whatever musicality happens is what needs to take place first.
Do you feel like there's one overarching vision for the whole album?
This record was a very concentrated experience for me and the thread that ties it together was very thick because I was feeling really big truthful emotions. I was going through a very intense time in my life, and it was very pivotal, transforming period of my life as well. I wasn't at a place in my mind or my heart to consciously create a cohesive record in that kind of way, but I was very blessed in the process to have in fact created that. I can look at it now from more of an unbiased perspective being outside of what I've learned and having incorporated that into my life now saying, "That was cool! It actually all made sense! I make sense some times [Laughs]."
If this record were a movie what would it be?
Maybe something with Serge Gainsbourg in it? I think he'd be part of it. It might be co-directed by Quentin Tarantino, but somebody would be co-directing it with him. Maybe, it'd be Quentin Tarantino and Michel Gondry! Let me pick a producer because this is very important…they do a lot of work in all aspects of life and they don't get any credit. I think it's insane. It would be produced by Martin Scorsese!
I'm going to be touring with the Lilith Fair this summer, which is a dream come true for me. I grew up in a town of 2,000 people. It was literally a village so I wasn't trekking to Lilith Fair as a kid. "Welcome to the Historical Village of Millbrook" is the sign you would see as you drove down from this crazy long highway and dirt road down into this village in this valley. You'd see that sign. You know who painted that sign, Rick?
My mom [Laughs]!
Are you going to check out Serena Ryder at Lilith Fair?
We lived in this little house on the corner of this little road./