SERENA Ryder is a brave Canadian musician. “You’re not really Canadian if you’re not touring in the winter. You’ve got to rock it.
People need music more than ever at this time of the year.” Ryder calls in from the road on her west coast headlining Utopia tour, as it winds down on the only Ontario tour date, in Thunder Bay tonight with opening act Begonia.
Many shows have sold out, which Ryder describes as exciting. Though there have been some, “crazy drives and freezing weather,” Ryder and her crew are also having an amazing time.
As far as touring is concerned, this multi-Juno Award winner likes to hit both major and minor markets. “When touring I like to try to go to as many places as we can. I like doing little shorter tours more often than bigger, longer tours. It’s better for me and my audience. I’m able to cover more ground.”
Ryder is no stranger to Thunder Bay. In fact, she made her way to the northern city quite a number of times over the years, even before becoming a permanent force on radio or a remarkable performer at our local Blues fest in both 2014 and 2016.
I recall my first interaction and interview with her, sometime around the year 2000 outside a downtown Port Arthur venue. We reminisce and crunch the numbers, (our memories not quite serving as well) and decipher how old we would have been.
Fast forward to October 2017 at Lula Lounge in Toronto where herself and Damhnait Doyle are passing me toilet paper from underneath the washroom stall. Full circle.
Though we joke of our memory loss, Ryder holds a few Thunder Bay memories close. She recalls her very first Lakehead gig. “I think I was playing the Thundering Women’s Music Festival. It was amazing. It had a cool, weird, art scene vibe of people who were eccentric and into music and art. There was a small town feeling to it, it felt like home. People were down to earth, supportive and receptive.”
Utopia is Ryder’s latest album, released in 2017. After years of recording, touring, and awards, she can’t quite put her finger on her own personal evolution on this record as an artist. “I have no idea,” she says with a laugh. “That’s up to the people who listen to it.
I have so many different ideas and vibes for records in my head.” I ask when Ryder does her best work as a writer, and for her it’s cyclical, “I go through cycles in my life.”
“There could be months where I’m into it and then years when I’m not. Usually it’s pretty timely. Songs turn into mantras, it leaves me room to fill up with inspiration.”
In the studio, Ryder describes herself as goofy and silly with a short attention span. “I like to do only a couple takes of songs. I like to capture inspiration in the moment.” Ryder’s distinctly powerful and soulful voice is an instrument of inspiration in itself. In it, one can hear the honesty and humanity, it’s both haunting and beautiful.
An accomplished chart-topper, songwriter and artist, Ryder is a strong performer with a fervent fan base. For Ryder, music is medicine. Her latest single Ice Age was written about emotional triumph.
Angie Valente is a freelance journalist based in Thunder Bay.