Serena Ryder -- Mastering the Art of Falling Apart
Canadian singer/songwriter SERENA RYDER will be a few weeks shy of her 40th birthday when she takes the stage at the FirstOntario Performing Arts Centre this November, but she’s already received the greatest of gifts.
Now sober for nearly four years and having released the most personal album of her career – The Art of Falling Apart – during the pandemic, the staunch mental wellness advocate has found herself in the happiest of places, back on the road and touring what she calls the favourite album of her entire catalogue. That says a lot considering the 2008 Best New Artist Juno Award winner has eight albums to her credit, including a string of gold and platinum releases that included 2012’s brilliant Harmony. Having joined Canada’s Walk of Fame in 2021, Ryder has emerged as one of Canada’s leading musical artists. She took the time to speak with GoBeWeekly.com.
GoBe: I love the quote on your website: “Nothing stays the same, so if you stay long enough in the storm you might just see a rainbow.” What’s your view of the world these days? Rainbows and clear skies, dark clouds and rain? What’s on the horizon.
SERENA: I think the world is definitely in a lot of struggle these days. It is like that. If you stay in one place there will be change. It’s not an easy time for anyone right now. Politically, environmentally. There’s just so much going on all at once. You kind of have of look at what you do have control over. And this includes how you’re treating yourself, how you’re treating the people around you. I feel like the biggest way to make any sort of change is to change what you can, how you speak to yourself, how you treat yourself. There’ so much going on; you go online, it can get really overwhelming. It’s really the small changes that make the hugest different. I really feel like the world needs a lot of kindness right now. People need to be a little more gentle with themselves and more kind to themselves. That makes a big difference in the great scheme of things.
GoBe: That does seem to be true coming out of the pandemic. A lot of people are looking for hope. In talking to a lot of artists now that events are happening again there seems to be two camps: those artists that channelled all their energy into writing and recording and those that took the time away from the industry to recharge. What kind of COVID artist were you: the kind that channeled all that energy into writing and recording, or one who took the time to relax and reflect.
SERENA: I was a little bit of both actually. Having that space and time, there was a lot of beauty in it for me. I’ve really been kind of wanting to have more space and time because I have been touring the last 20 years of my life, doing a lot of go go go. For some it was like a forced stop. For me it was like a big gift, to be able to have that space, but then also revaluating where I feel my space is in the world and what shapes my goals. That’s kind of what I’ve been doing on my new tour and on my new record. I released it during the pandemic, but it really is a very personal story about my journey with mental wellness and learning how to treat myself well and the people I love in my life very well. It’s been a bit of both for me but I’ve been finding a really nice balance in it as well.
GoBe: It’s been about 18 months since the release of THE ART OF FALLING APART. Looking back with the benefits of hindsight, what’s your overall level of satisfaction with that project. How do you rate it or perceive in relation to other works in your catalogue?
SERENA: This one for me it felt like a very personal gift to myself. When I decided to put it out there were a lot of artists that were deciding not to put out their records because they wanted to be able to tour it. For me it was really, I felt like it was a really timely album to be able to put out. To this day it is still my favourite record that I’ve released because it was so authentic to my mental wellness journey. There were songs that I really did write for myself, so I figured putting it out during the pandemic was actually kind of a good idea.
GoBe: There’s so much introspection and self-awareness woven into the lyrics of those songs, I have to ask, using the song “Candy” as the lyrical yardstick. Would you say you’re “sweet and soft in the middle” or “hard on the outside.” What defines you more these days.
SERENA: I feel like I know the right time to honour myself by putting on or off the protection that we have. I feel that constantly feeling vulnerable isn’t really a safe place to be. Knowing when you have a choice that you’re safe to be vulnerable and who to be vulnerable around and knowing when you actually need to put on that armour. For me it’s a little bit of both now.
GoBe: The album is such a showcase of your vocal versatility. Is there a track on the album that completely satisfies the inner critic in you, the one that might be the voice of doubt or negatively that you have to chase away sometimes.
SERENA: There are a couple tracks for me that really satisfy that voice. I feel like “Better Now” is definitely one of those tracks, where it just kind of looks back on how I treated myself in the past and also how I decided to be sober. I’m four years sober as of two weeks ago which is a beautiful gift in my life. There’s a track called “Back To Myself” on the record. That’s another that kind of feels that I satisfy that inner critic.
GoBe: You’re so aware of mental health issues through your advocacy work. You started your musical journey at such a young age, playing, writing, performing in coffee houses. You hear the horrors of child Hollywood actors but rarely musicians who get started performing young. Looking back, do you feel being so fully immersed in music and art at a young age was a good thing, or maybe a root cause of challenges later in life?
SERENA: For me, I found that there’s a big difference music and the music business. And so, the art of music has always been such great medicine. If you enter into the world of art and you become successful, it puts you into the music business. It then kind of becomes, the medicine of the music helps you deal with the poison of the industry (laughing).
Gobe: You wrote your highly successful HARMONY album when you were in love, penning 65 songs! Would you say you’re more inspired when in a state of emotional chaos or happiness? Which fuels the creativity more?
SERENA: Well, your brain doesn’t actually know the difference, your body doesn’t know the difference between good stress and bad stress. If hundreds of amazing things happen to you in your life or 100 really terrible things happen in your life, there will be the exact same amount of stress on your system. So I wouldn’t be able to say one or the other is better or worse. But when it comes to being able to articulate emotion, I feel like when I’m in a state of joy it’s much easier for me to connect to the poetry that I would like to write. For me, I understand that the music and songs that I write are going to be out there for a really long time. They’re going to be things I repeat over and over and over They’re almost like mantra. The things you repeat over and over and over again create an energy in your life. They can create truth in your life. So I’m very aware of the words that I write, that they’re going to be creating a space and a feeling in my life and in other peoples lives for years to come.
GoBe: You’ve released eight albums and six Eps, which is quite prolific by Canadian standards. What has been the primary driver for that level of production?
SERENA: I feel like the mystery of life that will never ever be solved. For me the more that I’m alive the more I get to experience being human. The more a sense of real awe that I have with this world and myself, I feel like that has really fed me and keeps feeding me. There’s one thing I know for sure and that’s that we never really know anything for sure. And I think that is a really beautiful gift and I’m a really big fan of surprises.
GoBe: Well it's no surprise you’re going to be busy for the next little while, performing 11 shows in 19 days after your St. Catharines show. What luxuries do you afford yourself o help you maintain your sanity while touring?
SERENA: It’s really the simple things. I can liken it to any one’s life because being alive and being human regardless if you’re a touring musician or whatever your job is can be intense. For me the things that I do that really nourish me is make sure I get a good sleep, make sure I drink enough waster, make sure to move my body. That’s really important. Luckily I get to do that on stage, dancing is part of it for me. Being able to allow myself to feel what I’m feeling when I feel it rather than putting it away for later, because I feel like all those little thoughts and feelings and emotions that we put away for later end up just exploding on us and we don’t really know where they come from. For me it’s presence. Also just having a really great friend circle, people I can talk to that are really great therapists.
GoBe: You’ve achieved some incredible milestones and picked up countless awards including a place on the Walk of Fame. What do such achievements mean to you at this stage of your musical journey?
SERENA; The milestones are I feel like things to look back on and be really proud of. I feel like I’m at a point in my life where I feel the biggest gift is the gift of health and feeling at peace in my life. A lot of the time in the past I would look at those milestones as things that I should be projecting into my future as well. I feel that that kind of takes away from the mystery of what can be possible. I have so much gratitude for all the things that I’ve accomplished. When you’re honoured for what you would be doing anyway and what feeds your soul it really is the greatest honour.
GoBe: What can fans expect to see when you take the stage at FirstONtario PAC?
SERENA: They can expect a super interactive show. It’s got a lot of different levels to it. I’m going a little bit solo in the beginning. Then I have this amazing bass player Brian doing some duo stuff. Also, there’s a really cool part of the show where I get the crowd really involved. It’s really more of a hang out and a party near the end of the show. It feels like really kind of personal in a way. I try and get rid of the stage metaphorically because I feel we’re all pretty much in the same place together now we’re able to experience live music together. I get to do this part of the show where playing a whole bunch of different instruments. That’s something I’ve always wanted to do, kind of rock out in a way I haven’t been able to rock out before. It’s kind of a party.
Looking for things to do in Niagara? Need Niagara event listings? Searching for Niagara’s best entertainment, music and theatre? Want to search Niagara concert listings? Before you GO out, BE informed. Log onto https://gobeweekly.com/