The Serena who came out of the depression is a vibrant, spiritual songwriter who composes in fits of inspiration. Her 2012 album Harmony contains songs that are more suitably categorized by element (earth, fire or water) than by genre. The lead single, the earthy "Stompa," not only gained heavy airplay on rock radio stations across Canada next to artists like The Black Keys and Billy Talent, but was prominently featured in ABC's hit show Grey's Anatomy.
Growing up in Peterborough, Ontario, Ryder honed her songwriting skills listening to some of Canada's most notable artists, including Leonard Cohen, The Band, and Paul Anka. She began performing solo as a teenager and hit the stage with many other well-known Ontario bands, including Thousand Foot Krutch and Three Days Grace. At 17, she released her first indie album, Falling Out, through Peterborough label Mime Radio. Since then, she's released four major-label records and has scored Canadian radio hits with the songs "Weak in the Knees" and "Little Bit of Red."
Serena, in love and with her spirit resuscitated, spoke with us about creating the songs on Harmony.
Trevor Morelli (Songfacts): Good. Where are you?
Serena: Chillin' out in my studio right now.
Songfacts: Do you always write or is that something that you just do for fun?
Serena: I really like hanging out in my studio. It's a really, really cool vibe. But I usually do interviews here. Being in the space where I work making the records kind of helps.
Songfacts: So the new record's called Harmony. How's it been going over with fans?
Serena: It's been going over really, really well. People have been pretty stoked on the record, which has been awesome. I've been getting really good reviews and a lot of my older fans have been pretty excited about the sound of the music. There's a lot of stuff that I've done before that's familiar to them that's on the record, but then there's lots of new stuff that keeps it fresh for them. And then there's been a lot more of the younger demographic that's been really getting involved. It's pretty cool. People are signing up on Twitter. It's like 13 year olds that think I'm cool. [Laughing]
Songfacts: Now, I've heard that when bands go on tour they kind of live in a bubble. Is that how you are? You don't really read reviews on the record?
Serena: Yeah. I ask friends and they'll send me certain things and my manager will send me certain things. I think it's important to not really look outside of yourself for approval in a sense, but it's hard not to read stuff when someone sends you something that's about you. It's something that interests me, but I also would like to one day feel like it didn't matter. But what are you going to do?
Songfacts: So the first single, "Stompa," I've been hearing that on rock radio stations a lot. Is it weird to hear yourself in between artists like Black Keys and Jack White?
Serena: I think it's rad. I think it's really awesome. I'm pretty excited about it.
Songfacts: The riff in there is kind of in that vein. I'm a bit of a gearhead, so I was wondering what guitars and effects you use to make that distorted riff at the beginning?
Songfacts: That's got to be a pretty cool.
Serena: Yeah, it sounds really rad. I'm a huge fan of T Rex. A lot of people say Black Keys, but T Rex are the originators of that kind of vibe and that kind of sound. That's more of the vibe I was thinking when I was writing the riff.
Songfacts: Nice. So there's a song on the record I really like, it's called "Heavy Love." The imagery in it is a lot like rain storms and thunder and things like that. I was wondering how you came up with that.
Serena: That was a song that we were working on in my studio in Toronto. I have a studio in my backyard, my garage has been converted into a studio. It was like a two car garage and we just built it there. This was a song that just really, really organically came about. Jerrod had this really cool piano riff that he had been working on and the song just wrote itself.
As I was singing "fire," and "coming from above" and "nature" and all of those things, those sounds just kind of came out when I was writing. It was something that was perfect for me, because this record is based on the elements of earth/fire/water. And so this song's like a super, super fire song. Like how you feel when you're in that passion and you're in love, and it feels like fire, that passion. That's how that imagery started coming into my head.
Songfacts: So that one came easily?.
Serena: All of them did. All of them came very, very easily.
Songfacts: Oh, I was going to ask you if there were any that you kind of slaved over.
Serena: No, not at all. This entire record basically wrote itself.
Songfacts: Even the lyrics? So are you the type of songwriter that sits there and ponders over lyrics and rewrites things over and over?
Serena: Not at all, no. I don't like to break my back when it comes to music, when it comes to creating. I feel like it's really important to let things flow and let things come to me. If it's not natural, then you can tell that it's been forced. And this entire record was very natural.
Songfacts: There's another song called "What I Wouldn't Do." And that one sounds like it's either written to yourself or to another specific person. I was wondering where the idea for that one came from.
Serena: That song's a song about falling in love. I'm super, super in love, and it was a song that I was writing for my partner. So it was a very easy song to write.
Songfacts: What other songs tie into those themes of the elements of fire/water/earth?
Serena: All of them do. It's funny, because when I was writing the songs I wasn't really thinking about it. But four years ago I had this concept album idea, which I had never done before. I've always just written a bunch of songs, put it on a record and figured out what the record was called. And four years ago I was like, Hey, it would be great to have a record that was based on the elements of air/fire/water. So I could play around with different vibes and different sounds, different energies, things like that.
And while I was writing for this record, I realized that was what I was doing, and I didn't even realize it. It was so subconscious - like when you talk about something and realize you're doing it. I'd go into my studio, and it was like, holy cow, this song is an earth song, this song is an air song. "What I Wouldn't Do" is a water song. "Your love is a like a river that I'm floating down." It's all about water, the imagery's all about water. It's all about surrender. And then "Heavy Love" is a fire song. Burning like fire. And "Stompa" is an earth song. So all of the imagery with each song ties together.
Songfacts: I was watching you here in Calgary when you were playing the New Year's Eve show. Are those situations a little weird, where you're playing to an audience that are not necessarily your fans or haven't heard the record?
Serena: Why do you always ask questions that are like, "Is it weird..." [Laughing] "Does it feel bad?" No, it's totally fine. I find that a lot of situations are weird, like just in general. Like, it's weird that I get to be a musician and do this as my living. I think it's really weird that this is my job. [Laughing]
When it comes to getting on stage and comes to performing, that's something that always feels really natural to me. Feels really fun and I enjoy myself all the time. It's been really great. I love playing a gig on New Year's, because I'm doing my favorite thing on New Year's. You know how people build up their New Year's, "We're going to have the party, this is going to be so great!" A lot of times I feel like New Year's parties are let downs. You just wake up the next morning all hung over and whatever.
Songfacts: Not even remember what happened?
Songfacts: All right. I think we only have a few minutes here. I'd just like to squeeze in a couple of old songs, if that's okay.
Songfacts: I love the song "Little Bit of Red," what is that one about?
Songfacts: Does he know it's about him?
Serena: Oh, I'm sure he does. It's fine. We're cool.
Songfacts: It's not weird to think about that over and over when you play the song?
Serena: No, because that's not what the song really means to me anymore. I feel like you write a song in the moment about something and then a lot of times the meaning of the song changes after a while.
Serena: So that song, it's like, "You're black and white, he's a little bit of red." Really the essence of that song is about a balanced life, about not always seeing things as black and white. It's about allowing yourself to feel. And those lyrics, "you're black and white, and he's a little bit red," the imagery of blood or pain or allowing yourself to bleed emotionally and actually feel things. And to know that things aren't just cut and paste and cut and dry. Things don't have to be black and white. There can be middle ground. And you can be a lot of things. And that's what the song is truly about.
Songfacts: What about "Stumbling Over You," can you explain that song a little bit?
Serena: I have to remember that song. I haven't played that in so many years. "Stumbling Over You." Holy cow. I haven't even thought of it. I know it, I wrote "Stumbling over you, caught in the fire lines." It's like, "Bobby was the one who could pull you out of love, it's the one you didn't care..." That's a song about putting yourself out there into the world and not taking responsibility for your own feelings and your own emotions and how that feels, kind of letting yourself do that.
Songfacts: Which songs on this new album are you the most excited to get out there and play live and have been getting the best reactions?
Serena: Well, "Stompa" has been getting the best reaction, because it's the first single.
Songfacts: Super high energy.
Serena: Super fun to play. I love playing this entire record. I think it's really fun. I'm pretty stoked. I really like "What I Wouldn't Do" a lot. I think that's really fun to play. My favorite one to play live is "Baby Come Back." I love playing that one live because I get to do a few different things, I get to play drums.
Songfacts: So what's the plan for the rest of 2013? More touring? More recording for future?
Serena: World domination. Yeah, lots of touring, lots of playing shows, taking over the world.
February 20, 2013. Get more at serenaryder.com.
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