Roll the clock back to 2016 to 2006, Canada got “Weak in the Knees” for young, Toronto-based, newcomer Serena Ryder. Since her breakthrough album If Your Memory Serves You Well Serena has gone on to win six JUNO Awards, a Muchmusic Video Award and a Canadian Film Award. This past May Serena released her sixth, and highest charting, studio album Utopia.
Honing her craft from her teens and over the course of her many albums, EPs, and live releases, Serena Ryder has proved herself as a songwriting force to be reckoned with. Following the double-platinum success with her 2012 album, Harmony, Serena has returned to the top of the charts again with Utopia which debuted at #1 this spring and has already produced two Top 10 singles and awarded her another three SOCAN No. 1 Song Awards for “Got Your Number”, “Electric Love” and “Bend” (which she penned for Ria Mae), all of which hit #1 on CBC Radio 2. Over the course of the summer, she toured across Canada and performed at premiere events including the Canada Day 150 Celebration on Ottawa’s Parliament Hill, the 50th Anniversary of the Formula 1 Grand Prix du Canada in Montréal, and the Opening Ceremony of the Canada Games in Winnipeg.
Serena took the time to chat with me last week ahead of an ambitious 21 date Canadian tour which kicks off on Sunday December 10, and we felt it would be appropriate to post the interview today which happens to be Serena’s birthday. So Happy Birthday Serena, and thanks again for taking the time to chat with us.
HP – Serena I want to thank you for taking the time out of your busy schedule to have this chat. I’ve been a huge fan for at least 10 years now, if my memory serves me well 😉 with “Weak in the Knees” and “Good Morning Starshine” , see what I did there?
SR – haha I did
HP – I can’t pinpoint exactly how we first came across your music but there was something about that album, it was like the hook when you’re fishing and ever since then we’ve been following along with your career and musical progression. You have this ability to take each album unique in sound but still have that distinct Serena Ryder feel to it. What’s your secret?
SR – I’m just myself, I feel like I’ve never been one to try and reinvent myself on purpose. I think that, for me, it’s really, I think, life in general is just about getting to know myself as much as I possibly can. You’re only with yourself all of the time, and I think this process, ya you’re going to change, you’re going to grow and be different in certain ways depending on what’s going on in your life but that core essence of your soul always stays there. I think that’s the thing I’ve always been intrigued with, being as true to myself as much as I possibly can because that’s what makes my life and my relationships and everything else kind of more stable. If you have that root or grounding you’re able to go off in many different directions, it’s kind of like a tree. The deeper the roots are the stronger the wind comes you can bend you can go in all these different places but your strength is always going to be there.
HP – I do want to talk about Utopia but before we get to it I wanted to talk to you about one of your singles from the album Harmony, “Stompa”. Tim Hicks is a good friend of mine and he recently recorded a cover of that song for RBCxMusic, he took a song that I never ever expected to hear in a country form and nailed it.
SR – It’s sooo good.
HP – When I first heard it I told Tim “dude, you took one of my favourite Serena Ryder songs and turned it into one of my favourite Tim Hicks songs” So tell me a little bit about how that came about and your initial reaction when you first heard it.
SR – Well I didn’t even know he was recording it until it was finished. Anybody can go and record any song, you don’t need to get permission to cover somebody else’s song, the publishing will go to them anyway, unless you change something about the song. When I first heard the version I saw the video of it and I was totally blown away. I was like this is really really awesome. When I heard that Tim Hicks was doing a country version of “Stompa” I was like oh oh. You know when you take a version of a song that you created and it’s hard to put it into other genres, in your own mind, but he totally nailed it and made it his own and it sounds really awesome. It brought new life to it, I was honoured that he covered it and did such an amazing job, he fucking killed it!
HP – I definitely think it was a perfect fit for Tim Hicks and if anyone didn’t know your original they’d think, without a doubt, it was an original Tim Hicks song.
SR – That’s the great thing about music, people used to do that all of the time. Whitney Houston sang “I Will Always Love You” which was a Dolly Parton song, but no one knew that before Whitney’s version. It’s pretty amazing how that happens and I loved that he wanted to carry on that tradition.
HP – The great thing about covers, like this one, is that it will introduce fans of one artist to a different artist they may not know or may not have sought out had it not been for that cover.
SR – That’s right, especially when it comes to the genre crossing thing. There’s certain people who just listen to country music and they don’t hear rock / pop music, as much, so that’s pretty awesome, I like that.
HP – I personally am not a fan of genres, to me there should only be one genre and that’s music. My greatest passion when it comes to music is hearing and seeing it live, because it is so raw. It’s almost like being in a studio session all over again. Gord Downie once said that a recording on an album is like a family photograph, that song performed live is how it’s meant to be heard because it’s grown and evolved since the recording was completed. much like a photograph. Take a photograph today and look at it again in 20 years and the people in that photo have changed and grown. To me that was the perfect way to describe the way music is meant to be interpreted.
SR – Absolutely.
HP – You’re currently promoting your latest, and 6th, studio album Utopia which was released in May. The lead off single “Got Your Number” has already been certified Gold by Music Canada your fourth single to achieve a certification. The latest single is “Ice Age” and it’s been paired with a very powerful video, inspired by the short film “Alive Inside”. Tell us how this came to be, did the documentary inspire the song or did you see the documentary and immediately think it fit with one of your songs?
SR – “Ice Age” was one of the first songs I wrote for Utopia, and it was a song that kind of wrote itself. It was really really joyful and really really exciting. I wrote it with my friend Simon Wilcox and it was produced by Thomas “Tawgs” Salter (Lights, Dear Rouge, Chantal Kreviazuk), who’s an unbelievable producer. We got together in LA when I was living out there and just had this really, like, symbiotic awesome relationship. The song came out of a place that’s like, you know when you’re going through a rough time in your life and kinda just breaking through and having the ice thaw in your life and coming back to yourself. One of the people that works in my management’s office, came to me and she was like you know I have this idea for a video treatment. It’s about this woman who has some form of alzheimer’s or dementia and she’s remembering, this song is making her remember, her past life and breaking free. That whole idea of breaking free from the chains and the power of music to bring you back to yourself again, it’s so phenomenal and the whole video was inspired by that documentary. It’s called “Alive Inside”, as you mentioned, it’s unbelieveable and I would recommend everybody to watch it. It’s about how music can really really heal people in a way that no medication can or ever has.
HP – Big thanks to you for taking the time out of your, certainly busy, pre-tour prep to talk to me. I look forward to catching up with you in a few weeks in Ottawa.
SR – Can’t wait, it’s an early start too like 8 o’clock.
This weekend, Serena begins the December leg of her Utopia headlining tour – over half of which is already sold out. Before her Ottawa show on December 17, she will be performing the Canadian National Anthem at the 2017 Scotiabank NHL100 Classic which will be broadcast live on Hockey Night in Canada, TVA Sports in Canada, and NBCSN in the U.S. on December 16. After wrapping her Ontario dates with two all ages shows at the Danforth Music Hall on December 21 and 22, Serena will be hitting the West Coast for her run of shows in February. See the full list of tour dates below.
Utopia Tour Dates
- Dec 10 – North Bay, ON @ Capitol Theatre
- Dec 12 – London, ON @ London Music Hall
- Dec 13 – Parry Sound, ON @ Stockey Centre for the Performing Arts – SOLD OUT
- Dec 14 – Burlington, ON @ Burlington Performing Arts Centre – SOLD OUT
- Dec 15 – Peterborough, ON @ Showplace Performing Arts Centre – SOLD OUT
- Dec 17 – Ottawa, ON @ Centrepointe Theatre – SOLD OUT
- Dec 18 – Belleville, ON @ The Empire Theatre – SOLD OUT
- Dec 21 – Toronto, ON @ Danforth Music Hall
- Dec 22 – Toronto, ON @ Danforth Music Hall
Just announced 2018 Western Canada Dates
- Feb 13 Vancouver, BC @ Vogue Theatre
- Feb 14 Campbell River, BC @ Tidemark Theatre
- Feb 15 Courtenay, BC @ Sid Williams Theatre
- Feb 16 Victoria, BC @ Capitol Ballroom
- Feb 18 Calgary, AB @ Jack Singer Concert Hall
- Feb 19 Grande Prairie, AB @ Better Than Freds
- Feb 21 Edmonton, AB @ Francis Winspear Centre for Music
- Feb 22 Lloydminster, AB @ Vic Juba
- Feb 23 Medicine Hat, AB @ Esplanade Arts & Heritage Centre
- Feb 24 Saskatoon, SK @ 3rd Ave United Church
- Feb 26 Winnipeg, MB @ Burton Cummings Theatre
- Feb 27 Thunder Bay, ON @ Thunder Bay Community Auditorium