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:: Spotlight :: Serena Ryder - Musical Belligerence and Beauty

By: Carmine Pascuzzi

Serena Ryder loves coming to Australia. The Canadian performer is young and dynamic, having touched people’s hearts in 2004 in her first Australian visit, before touring earlier in 2005 as support for Missy Higgins. Her album “Unlikely Emergency” is one of the most inspirational CDs of the year and she couldn’t wait to return to Australia for further performances. Serena sings with passion and honesty, displaying her youthful flair. She has a strong voice and a fusion of styles. This was strongly typified at the performance she gave at Ruby’s Lounge in Belgrave on this recent tour.

I had the pleasure of her friendly nature when we met in St.Kilda for a chat during her recent tour. She has fond memories of the St.Kilda area from her previous trips. “I came to the Esplanade Hotel last year and really loved it. After I did the gig at the Palais Theatre with Missy Higgins I zoomed across to the Espy for a gig there. I love the Front Bar”.

Q. Maybe you should spend more time here…

A. I always feel safe here and it would be good to escape winter and live in Australia. I like to drink red wine and I’d like to go to vineyards, learn about wine, and how to taste it. I can then look all smart and articulate. Maybe I’ll base my next tour on wine tasting.

Q. Tell us about your musical upbringing?

A. I’ve been singing since I could make any noise. It came very naturally and it wasn’t a conscious decision. I always knew that I wanted to be a singer and performer. When I got a guitar at age 13 I started to write songs. I used to sing cover songs at a really young age and I’d pick out my parents’ records to play. My mother was a go-go dancer, back-up singer, and played tambourine. Music was always in the family. She used to come to my old school dances and I’d say, “Mum, don’t dance.” She was doing the old 60s dances. Now, I think it’s cool. My biological father, whom I never met (he dies when I was 11 years old) was a musician. He was from Trinidad and in a Calypso band. He played guitar and percussion. So, I guess music is in the blood.

Q. The music scene in Canada seems to get great support from the Government…

A. Yes, you get grants from the Canada Council for the Arts. I’ve received many grants. They have been amazing for me and really supportive. I wouldn’t be in the position today if it weren’t for them.

Q. You toured the United States for the first time this year…

A. I toured the States earlier this year. It was hard because I went out on my own, playing solo. I’d be going to venues with just a few people there. It’s good to keep your chops up, just playing shows without too much promotion.

Q. You must have enjoyed touring with Missy Higgins…

A. It was a dream come true. It couldn’t have been any better. Missy is a natural performer who will only get better and better. She is a great writer and her grasp of the English language for songwriting is amazing for her age.

Q. As a young person in the music industry, how do you see things in a business sense?

A. In a business sense, it has met my expectations. I’ve been doing exactly what I’ve wanted to do and have great people working with me. My manager Sandy is amazing. I’m comfortable with the people around me. I’m building my shows and my songwriting and I’ve got a buzz from seeing this growth as I’ve travelled and played. It’s probably the only way to have longevity – do it slowly and have these gradual steps. I’ve never wanted to be famous straight away. You miss those steps in between. It’s been going at the right speed for me so far.

Q. The “Unlikely Emergency” album was written some time ago now. Have you prepared much of the next album?

A. I have a bunch of songs ready but I don’t know when I’ll start recording. I do have a very clear vision of the production of the album and what songs to put on. I’ll be coming back to Australia to do some writing with David McCormack and Tim Rogers for about ten days. Then I’ll return to Toronto and probably move to Montreal. I speak some French and it would be good to be immersed in it. That’s an important thing on my list to do. I’d like to become fluent in various languages.

Q. You signed to a small indie label, Isadora Records, run by your good friend Hawksley Workman (who toured with you this time. Tell us about him and the establishment of the label?

A. Hawksley Workman set up his label Isadora Records and it’s great to be a part of it. It’s me, him, and another artist named Julia Black, who is an awesome singer and is touring with The Black Eyed Peas. There’s an eclectic mix on the label. Julie is phenomenal as an R&B diva and as a great singer-performer. Hawksley’s music can be hard to describe – so many things in one. He is so talented and eccentric but has a great way with words. He’s a showstopper. He has been my mentor for the past three years. I’ve been on many tours with him in Canada and France.

Q. What gives you the inspiration to write songs?

A. I have to write songs. It’s my way of realising my destiny and my purpose in life. Songwriting can sometimes come easy and sometimes hard. There’s no set way to write. It’s just my therapy. I’m really inspired by good music. Lately, I’ve been getting inspiration from other musicians.

Q. With all the political uncertainties around the world, it’s always gratifying to know that music can unite everyone…

A. Definitely. Nothing can really make you feel the way music does. The arts in general are a uniting force – painting, poetry, dance, etc. Things that you can relate to on a spiritual level.

Q. Your website is obviously important in the interaction with fans…

A. The website is such a great way to be noticed. It allows me to keep contact with my fans on the other side of the world. A lot of Aussies write to me.

Q. What are your future challenges?

A. Wanting to become a better person challenges me. Making the next album is going to be a challenge. I have strong feelings about these new songs – stronger than ever before.

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