Serena grew up in the quite surroundings of Millbrook Ontario and its forests. Inspired by the records of her parents, she listened to songs by Leonard Cohen, the Beatles, Neil Young and picked up a guitar at the age of 13. She’d been a singer and a writer for years before and with her “teens” ahead of her she released her first indie CD”Falling Out” by the age of 15. By 17 she was living in Peterborough, waitressing, listening and sharpening her skills as a singer and a songwriter. She played the area’s cafes and met the local musicians, all which would pay out in huge dividends. She independently released “Serena EP” (cassette only) in 1999; “Live at The Market Hall” & “A Day In the Studio” in 2002; & “Serena Ryder Live” in 2003. In 2005, she released her debut major label CD” Unlikely Emergency”, released by Hawksley Workman on his Isadora Records. In November 2006, EMI released “If Your Memory Serves You Well”, a collection of notable Canadian songs from the past 100 years. Reviews came flooding in and it wasn’t long before she was really noticed. Steve Earle asked her tour with, she landed a deal with Atlantic Records and released the EP; “Told You in Whispered Song”. That was 2007. In 2008 she won the Juno Award for “New Artist of the Year” and the same year, she “hatched” her latest CD “Is It O.K.” from an LA studio with Grammy-winning producer John Alagia (Dave Matthews Band, John Mayer, Jason Mraz) at the controls. Earlier this year the CD won the Juno for “Adult Alternative Album of the Year”. Still in her early twenties, Serena has toured extensively, performed with some of the industry’s best and been shown the”respect” that usually comes from decades of work. Her world-wide appeal was witnessed first hand as I watched her rock and move a sold-out show in downtown Melbourne Australia just over a year ago. I first met Serena when she was an impressionable, sensitive and wide-eyed teenager. It was wonderful to catch up again and find out some things haven’t changed…
Mb: Hi Serena!
SR: Hi stranger! How’s it going?
Mb: How’s it going with you!? Where are you?
SR: On the way to Atlanta Georgia from Nashville.
Mb: To a gig?
SR: Ah..Ya! (laughs)
Mb: What else would you be doing these days!
SR: This is definitely it! (laughs) Which is a lot. It’s been really good. Lots of traveling. Lots of touring. I was home for about a week about 6 weeks ago. This is going on the 7th week of this leg of the tour. I’m pretty much touring all the time now.
Mb: Are you having fun?
SR: Ya!! Lots and lots. It’s been great.
Mb: So what’s been your favourite place to play?
SR: That’s a really hard question and almost impossible to answer especially since everyday is in a different place. There’s always some magic to be found in certain venues depending on a lot of different circumstances. On this particular tour I’ve been having a great time in a lot of places but I really enjoyed a place in Washington called the 9:30 Club, it was really awesome. It always depends on different things; the crew, the people that are there, the audience, how many hours we drove or didn’t drive, or what kind of mood you’re in.. you know? New York’s always a blast. It’s always a great place to hang because I’ve been there so many times… and then your home town shows which are always great because you get to perform in front of people you love, people who know you. People who’ve known you since you were a little kid. So there’s lots of different places on the tour that are magic for a different reason. And your mind always changes depending on how great the day was.
Mb: So how does it feel to have hit the big time? Has it gone to your head yet?
SR: Is that what it’s called? (laughs) I really don’t see it as that. I definitely see it as being on my path and it’s been really amazing and I feel really blessed. But I don’t really feel like I’ve arrived anywhere.. you know? Because then there’s no where else to go once you get to that place! But i definitely feel blessed. In Canada I can go out and play to a lot of people but in the States I’m just beginning. I’m touring across the country in a van. Half the tour has been solo and a half is with a band, so there’s a lot of different ways to do it and a lot of different places to go. Touring in the States is like starting fresh. But it’s been really good for me because you learn a lot about yourself all over again. You’re playing in front of people that have never heard you or seen you before, though in the last month we went Top 10 on American radio which is amazing! So that’s exciting too, to play a place where people know a song or two…. I’m really looking forward to coming home and doing the Crary Park show. That’s going to be really fun. I’m going to introduce my new band to Peterborough too.
Mb: It must be different for you now with so much success… People have higher expectations of you now.
SR: Definitely! I think it’s just part of the process. As you grow and get older and learn things, or unlearn things, your perspective and what you expect from your life and what is to be expected from performing and your daily show.. I feel like, when I go on stage now… it’s hard to say exactly what has come of it, but I feel I have an energetic support behind me. It’s been a really amazing process for me to feel comfortable in where I’m at, and in my own skin, doing what I’m doing because I feel like I’ve been walking. I don’t feel like I’ve flown through, by any means. I don’t feel like I’ve climbed up, but that I’ve been moving forward. It is a bit overwhelming at times, but that’s life. It’s overwhelming been human in general!
Mb: It was great to have a chance to see you in Australia! Any plans to go back in the near future?
SR: I will definitely go back, but right now my plan is to stick around in the States. I’d like to grow the audience here and closer to home.
Mb: So what about the rest of your life? Do you have time for anything else? Are you reading? Time to watch film on the bus? Have you traveled by bus on this tour?
SR: We were on a tour bus for about two weeks, and then I was in a car for two weeks.. solo, and now were in a van for a week and then I go back to a car…
Mb: How do you feel about your carbon footprint?
SR: Pretty good actually. I do a lot of things on the road to be mindful of Mother Earth. I don’t get bags when I go out, I carry around a bag of my own. I have my own “to go” cup that I bought in Oregon that I use for drinks or coffee… I carry around a little ashtray… what else do I do? I turn off all my lights, like David Suzuki tells me to, when I leave my hotel room. I think every little thing counts.
Mb: You should see if the record company will pay for your carbon offsets.
SR: They’ll just charge it back dude! (laughs)
Mb: Other dates in Ontario when you’re back here?
SR: I couldn’t tell you for sure, but all the dates are on Myspace. But Crary Park is going to be a blast. It’s going to be awesome.
Mb: I bet. It will be vindication for all those who believed and supported you over the years and for the others.. the dissenters… how many of those were there over the years?
SR: I’m not aware of any really. (laughs)
Mb: And what about the record? Are you loving every part of it?
SR: Ya, I feel really proud of that record. I’m really excited about it. It went Gold in Canada in about 4 months! It comes out in the States September 15th and that’s really exciting.
Mb: No kidding. It’s just been fantastic for you. You know, The Wire was the first to write about you! We knew you’d be big.
SR: (laughs) Actually, that would be the Millbrook Times when I was eight years old.
Mb: They don’t count.. do they? (laughs)
SR: (laughs) OK I’ll let you have that one.
Mb: I was looking through an old Wire not long ago and found a story about you, and others about 3 Days Grace and 1000 Foot Krutch, all of you having gone on to great success. Must be something in the water here!
SR: (laughs) I think so. It’s an amazing music scene. Maybe it’s the lack of apathy.
Mb: So what do you want to say to everybody before you get here?
SR: I definitely want everyone to know how excited I am to come back home. It is really great to come home and play such a big show in such a beautiful place and it really warms my heart. And I look forward to people getting out of their seats and rocking along with us because it’s definitely a departure from the last record. It’s got a lot of rock songs on it which is fun for me!