Just for the record, you could easily be staring a Serena Ryder triple album in the face right now.
It might have taken four-and-a-half years for this celebrated Toronto singer/songwriter to gift us with a follow-up to 2012’s expectation-defying critical and commercial hit, Harmony, but a lack of new material was definitely not the hold-up.
No, just as she did for the last record, the prolific Ryder amassed something like 65 or 70 songs during the run-up to her star-solidifying new platter, Utopia. The challenge wasn’t coming up with new material; the challenge was whittling it all down to fit an album-sized package.
Ryder was so flush with good stuff heading into Utopia, in fact, that she briefly toyed with releasing her own equivalent of the Clash’s Sandinista! or George Harrison’s All Things Must Pass – a triple LP composed of songs that she envisioned divided amongst moods of “light,” “dark” and the “grey” area in between.
In the end, she chose to compress the full spectrum of emotions into a more manageable, but no less ambitious package that wouldn’t necessarily require booking a day off work to properly absorb in one sitting. But you’ve been warned: there is definitely more to come.
“I still have all those songs and, to me, they’re all good and they’re all good for a record so I don’t know,” she laughs. “I might have three more records.”
Ryder was performing by the age of eight, cut her first record at 16 and could boast of being a major-label artist with a gold-selling album, 2006’s If Your Memory Serves You Well and a gold-selling single, “Weak in the Knees,” all before she’d even turned 25.
And yet it took a debilitating bout with depression and artistic self-doubt brought on by her premature pigeonholing as just another “sensitive Canadian folk chick with an acoustic guitar” for her to finally let it all come out truly naturally and effortlessly on Harmony, the album where Ryder found her voice and discovered that the best formula for her success is … no formula at all.
You can still hear the results of the “letting go” that allowed Harmony – a genre-oblivious sleeper hit that went on to notch platinum sales in Ryder’s native Canada – to happen living and breathing on the radio to this day, since that record’s signature single, “Stompa” (triple-platinum and counting north of the 49th parallel), and its anthemic follow-up, “What I Wouldn’t Do,” haven’t left the airwaves since.
Now you can hear the further results of Ryder’s ongoing liberation from what she described in 2012 as a burdensome “idea of who I thought I was” on Utopia, which extrapolates upon its predecessor’s “anything goes” template with even more confidence and joy.
Utopia’s sassy soul-pop romp and lead single “Got Your Number”, hatched spontaneously during an exploratory early writing session that found Ryder once again casting aside her guitar and “just goofing around on the drums, just kind of rapping and rhyming and singing weird jazzy stuff” in search of new musical avenues to explore, is but a tantalizing taste of the surprises Serena Ryder has to offer on her new record.
There was no grand design to Utopia. A loose theme derived from the First Nations parable of the Two Wolves – which states that we have all have two wolves inside us, one light and one dark, that fight for dominance as they are fed in either direction – applied itself in hindsight, as Ryder saw those two sides of her own personality playing out in the song writing and wondered what would happen “if you fed both wolves instead of just one of them, so that neither of them are hungry?”
“I found in a lot of the songs there was that dynamic when I looked back,” she says. “So many people, when they put out a record, it’s all dark or it’s all light and happy. But on this record there’s a lot of juxtaposition of both those things – the light and the dark. I was wondering what if you married the two. I wanted to write an album that had some sense of balance. But I have no f-ing idea if it happened.”
Ryder will play three Vancouver Island shows on her current tour: the Tidemark Theatre in Campbell River on Feb. 14., the Sid Williams Theatre in Courtenay Feb. 15 and the Capital Ballroom in Victoria Feb. 16.