More than a Musician: Meet the artist making a real difference in the world of mental health - An Interview with Serena Ryder
Hi Serena! Thanks so much for talking to me today! You’ve got a new album coming out early next year called The Art of Falling Apart. I’ve read that for this project you recorded each song on the day it was written. Why was this so important for you and what do you think it adds to the project?
I’d just finished writing a mental wellness keynote speech, and I was planning on taking a music break to be honest for a little while and do some travelling and do my wellness speech across North America. I had these sessions booked with some friends of mine in Nashville and the same song same day situation happened on its own. We’d start the session at the beginning of the day and by the end of the day we’d have the song written and recorded and finished. There was just a really high energy, and it was one of those experiences that I’ve never had before, where everything just fit into place, and I think it’s because I had just finished writing this speech that took me like four months to write for 30 minutes; that was in my head and I was thinking about my mental wellness journey, and I dug really deep and it all came out on the album. The ten songs ended up being over ten days and in the same order that we wrote them, we just put them on the record that way. It ended up being kind of how my speech was rolled out, the same sort of beginning, middle and end with the journey; the album seems to mirror that which was really cool and I’ve never done anything like that before. I feel like the importance of it was that it was capturing the essence of what was happening in the moment. We didn’t overthink it though.
So the album really is a journey following you through different stages emotionally and mentally. Was this journey a similar experience when writing and recording the album?
I don’t know because I experience only what I experience from my perspective right, so other people listening will have their ideas based on their experiences in their lives; they’ll listen to the songs and they’ll mean a certain thing to them. That’s the beauty of art in that it can be translated from any mirror, like you’re looking through your own window. When it comes to documenting my journey and my experience it was very transparent and very authentic to what I was going through in the moment. I felt very safe while I was writing the record, I wrote it with friends of mine called The Architects, that’s their writing name, they’re based in Nashville and one of my dearest friends Simon Wilcox is in that group. She’s one of the nearest and most important people in my life so I was so comfortable to share exactly what I was feeling so I didn’t have to pussyfoot around what I wanted to say. It was refreshing to feel safe and be that open.
Obviously the album is very personal and opens up a lot about your own personal journey – how do you think recording these emotional states in music helped you as well as helping the music?
I think when you’re coming from an authentic place it’s really important because it mirrors back your true experience to people. You’re only hurting yourself when you’re lying about your own personal experience, but at the same time I feel with mental wellness it’s very important to be as transparent as you can so you can learn and grow from your experiences. There’s a line from my speech that goes ‘I used to try and keep my shit together so much all of the time that I ended up just being full of shit’ and that’s what happens. If you’re constantly trying to look like you’re ok, who is that serving? It’s not serving you, and to be honest, other people don’t really care about you as much as you think they do, as bad as that sounds; they’re not really thinking about what you’re going through. Unless you’re going through something really deep or personal, I feel the best way to heal is to be honest about your struggles. The one thing I’ve noticed in my journey is that the more that I’m transparent and the more that I share about what I’m going through, the more opportunity I have to relate to other people and the more opportunity they have to relate to me. The worst feeling you can have is feeling alone, so my goal and purpose in this album really is about creating an emotional community where we can share our experiences together and feel like we aren’t alone in this crazy world.
Thinking About You expresses a lot of admiration for someone as well as the idea that thinking about someone can cheer you up and make you smile. How important do you think it is for our wellbeing that we have those people in our lives that support us and make us feel happy?
I love that you’ve brought that up because it is everything and that’s why I wrote that song. It is so important to have people that see you, like really see you. A lot of the song is about a very deep friendship, it is a love song but it's also a friendship song about connecting with someone and community; I feel like that is the biggest key to unlocking mental wellness - having loving and caring relationships.
As well as the importance of having others around you, Better Now emphasises the importance of letting down our façade and focusing within – learning to be strong and love ourselves. What would you say is the best way to approach this kind of self-acceptance and love?
I feel like it’s an everyday learning experience. Things are always changing, there’s no real solid answer or end to a wellness journey or even a life journey. Obviously if you’ve done everything you don’t have to do anything else and you stay still. I was thinking about this just this morning, the key to growth is to allow yourself to change constantly, to allow yourself the space to change and for your answers to change and the way that you do things to change. A lot of people will say ‘Ok, so what do you do in order to find balance and health and wellness in your life?’ It is always changing, I kind of look inward to see what feels right to myself. For the last few years meditation has been really big for me, that is literally looking within, but there’s cycles. Meditation, eating properly, being in nature, there’s so many things but they need to feel the right things for you; if they start feeling like work then even those things need to change. I’ve meditated almost every day for like two years then it started feeling like a job, like work, I started getting annoyed by it. So, for me there always seems to be something that has to do with self-care that has to feel like you are taking care of yourself and treating yourself. Now a lot of my self-care is going for a walk and playing with my dog. I also kind of moved my meditation to dancing; I put on my favourite music and I look like a complete idiot in my house but I just put my headphones on and jump around and move; but that has turned into what I feel I need. Our body knows best - when we feel like we are uncomfortable or doing something that doesn’t serve us, we know, and we have the freedom to change what we are doing. In our culture we weigh so heavy on routine, like getting up at the same time and eating the same food, and when you start feeling the need to rebel against it you need to listen to your body. Better Now is a song about realising that I am the only person that has control over what I feel I need to be doing and learning that I can love myself. Meditation is just about making more space for yourself, my new meditation is dancing and it does make more space you know. I was reading this thing that was like thoughts are birthed from space; so ideas are birthed from the absence of ideas. When you’re consistently on social media or on your phone you don’t have room for whatever the original thought or creativity because you’re just so full.
So on top of the powerful sentiments in the album you’ve also launched 'The Art of Wellness' program for the mindfulness of artists and creatives. Can you tell us where the inspiration to start a program like this came from and what the long-term goals are?
So my womanager Sandy and I came up with this, it really is kind of its own journey too. It’s something that we had talked about doing for a while, having something available for the arts community, but it has branched out to a lot of other communities now too which is amazing. How it started was the beginning of the lockdown we knew that so many people were in dire need of some form of community, counselling, therapy or just someone to relate to. Especially in the arts community, everything just stopped, and I was experiencing myself too where everything we knew stopped and mental health was declining so so fast for so many people, we knew it was something that needed to happen a lot sooner than later, we were probably going to start this in the new year but we hustled and got together the first program at the beginning of the summer. Really the vision for it is to create a mental wellness community for people who need it the most really in these times. It’s free, the first program was six weeks long but now they’re mostly about four weeks. It’s once a week for about an hour and a half and for lots of different communities. The first one was open to everyone, the second one we ran was for people of colour and we have one running right now for the LGBTQ+ community, and we have different counsellors and teachers. It’s just a mental wellness space for people to learn what it is they need for themselves. There are so many different ideas of what mental wellness means but it’s different for every single person, we want to create a safe space for people to be with their community and feel like they can foster some skills to take care of themselves. They're really dark times right now for a lot of people so we have been putting out these wellness sessions and we are going to keep going. I want this to be something that I can see running for years and years and years in the future; mental wellness should be something that’s talked about so much more, and this is really giving people their own set of skills in order to learn what they need.
Serena Ryder's Mental Health Top 3:
1. Bhand Jameeai – Gurunam Singh
2. Peppers and Onions – Tierra Whack
3. We Can Work It Out – Stevie Wonder