Breakthrough British artist Freya Ridings discusses her outstanding self-titled debut album, the surrealness of her sudden fame, making peace with the unknown and more.
Freya Ridings’ breakthrough hit “Lost Without You” rightfully saw an avalanche of attention suddenly directed towards her. With her self-titled debut album, released in July via Capitol Records, she proved she was more than worthy of that sudden influx of acclaim and adoration. Throughout her debut, Ridings’ hauntingly beautiful vocal inflection remains ever-present, while every individual song’s production perfectly elevates the emotional sentiment that originates from Ridings’ timeless lyricism and jaw-dropping, astounding voice.
For the general public, Ridings’ success appeared as if it had happened overnight, but that was far from the case. Signing to Good Solider Records in the UK provided her with the valuable opportunity to hone her craft and figure out her identity as an artist, without the hefty expectations that come with signing to a major record label. A key sync on the extraordinarily popular UK version of Love Island in 2018 saw Ridings’ “Lost Without You” peak at number nine on the UK single charts in October 2018, an impressive feat for a track released almost a year prior. The track’s heartbreaking lyrical sentiment saw Ridings delve deep, in a devastatingly delicate fashion, into the realisation that the paralysing pain of a breakup was even more excruciating than she initially realised.
Ridings’ unparalleled ability to authentically craft spellbinding songs from moments of hopelessness and crippling isolation has unarguably played in a huge part in the success of her album. Standout single “Castles” sees Ridings overcome disheartenment to deliver an anthemic track which compels with its empowering lyrical sentiment and unrelenting drumbeat. While feelings of vulnerability and dejection run throughout the album, songs like “You Mean The World To Me” embody almost overpowering levels of blissful contentment. Similarly, the awe-inspiringly alluring “Unconditional” delves into unwavering affection, with Ridings’ vocal performances radiating an unmistakable sense of frenzied infatuation.
Singer-songwriters’ yearning over lost loves has enduring appeal, but while Ridings obviously does that, her more introspective approach which focuses on her own emotions rather than extensively chronicling how she’s been wronged, elevates her music above the typical tropes that some artists often fall into. While some of her male counterparts have been seemingly forced to emulate the gritty howls of singers who’ve historically dominated the charts, it’s evident that Freya Ridings is just unashamedly being herself. With her own huge European tour and American dates supporting the phenomenal Hozier on the horizon, it’s clear that Ridings’ upward trajectory is showing no signs of slowing down.
Atwood Magazine spoke with Freya Ridings about her outstanding self-titled debut album, the surrealness of her sudden fame, making peace with the unknown and more.
Listen: Freya Ridings – Freya Ridings
:: A CONVERSATION WITH FREYA RIDINGS ::
Atwood Magazine: First of all, congratulations on the album; it’s incredible! How does it feel to have released your debut and be able to see people’s reactions?
Freya Ridings: Well thank you! It’s honestly one of the most surreal and exciting things I’ve ever done. Having written and played these songs (some since open mic night years in the wilderness) seeing them on a supermarket shelf next to my hero’s is not something I can out into words. Me and my Mum literally jumped up and down with excitement in the shops. It brings back all the people who’ve championed me for over a decade from family, friends and my independent label who made it a crazy reality.
The album starts off with ”Poison“ and ends with “Wishbone”, what the thought-process behind bookmarking the album in this way?
Freya Ridings: I wanted the album to be a journey of the vulnerability and isolation that heartbreak can leave us in and the (sometimes terrifying) passion and internal fire we have to find within us to rise from those ashes of our ex loves and rebuild ourselves to be stronger than before. Poison is an obsessive passion and Wishbone is a calm but crippling acceptance that we can’t hold on to the people we adore forever but we can always cherish their memory.
Before you released your debut, you put out two live albums. That‘s a relatively unusual thing for an artist to do, what led you to release them?
Freya Ridings: After writing and playing open might nights around North London since I was 12, I wanted to share the most authentic songs I had with the people who wanted to hear them. Playing live has always been my greatest passion because of the human, real time in the room connection you can sometimes get with a real audience. It was a risk, but I felt like I needed to share the songs in the most raw way I could, and two live albums felt like the most authentic way to give back to the small, kind and supportive fan base I had at the time.
You released your debut song “Blackout” via Good Solider Records at a time when ballads didn’t seem to be the ”in“ thing but now that’s completely changed. Did you ever feel any pressure, self-imposed or otherwise, to conform to any sort of sound?
Freya Ridings: I felt the pressure much more in the early years. Since signing to my indie label in 2016 it was the first time that anyone in the music industry had told me to hold onto who I was, my full name and the music I’d written in the years leading up to my first releases. The success of “Lost Without You” was a genuine gift. It gave me the power to stand by my gut instincts and looking forward to the next record creating the music. I guess the world felt like a streamlined horse race, and I was always the zebra.
Speaking of not conforming to trends, with the exception of “Holy Water”, every single song on the album was either penned solely by yourself or in collaboration with just one other person. Was that idea close collaboration always important to you from the outset?
Freya Ridings: It was never a conscious decision, but I’ve always found the most honestly writing at least in part in isolation because of growing up in the piano rooms at school. I was lucky enough to meet and work with some incredible songwriters and not friends and it was a real journey of discovering what kind of songs felt most authentic to sign and play live.
The album delves deeply into feelings of isolation and loneliness. How does it feel to know your music will comfort people who are going through those uncomfortable feelings?
Freya Ridings: It was never something I could have co templated in my wildest dreams that the songs I wrote in heartbreak and complete isolation would end up connecting me with so many people around the world. When I receive messages from people who’ve been though such unthinkable tragedy and they’re telling me ‘Lost Without You’ has made them feel understood in some small way… it’s honestly is a feeling I can’t explain. Maybe the most humbling part of getting to do this as a job I love so much already.
Your breakthrough track ”Lost Without You“ was certified Platinum in the UK, is it even possible to comprehend that it‘s sold over 600,000 copies?
Freya Ridings: Definitely not when I was playing it to a few people in a London pub open mic nights only 3 years ago. To see how much one song can change your life still shocks me every time I look at the platinum disc. A small part of me will always feel like it isn’t real. Getting to play live over the summer to thousands of people at U.K. festivals and hearing real fans sing it at the top of their lungs really made it hit home on another level. Full body chills of gratitude if I’m honest on a daily basis.
When I first heard the album “Unconditional” really struck me. I love how it speaks to that undying and unrelenting affection you can feel for someone while still feeling incredibly grounded and authentic. What was the creative process of that song like?
Freya Ridings: Watching the grounded and unfaltering love and 35-year marriage of my parents (who I’m still living with) made a huge impact on how I dreamed of future relationships growing up. When I was falling in real love for the first time it was visualising the kind of future partner who grounds and makes you grow at the same time that I felt when writing this song on guitar. Again writing in isolation is scary but it allows you to dive deeper into my subconscious to find a song I still resonate with every time I stand up to play it.
”Unconditional“ is on the latter end of the album. For that song specifically, and with the album, was it difficult to settle upon the track placements?
Freya Ridings: I think just like the live show standing up and playing a song with nothing, but a guitar always has an exposed vulnerability to it which I wanted to feel natural and unforced on the track listing for the album. As one of my very few happy love songs I wanted it to balance out some of the most emotionally wrenching and passionate songs.
You covered Hozier‘s “Work Song” on your Live at Omeara album and recently you covered Taylor Swift‘s “ME!” for Radio 1. They’re obviously two very different songs, what attracts you to covering a certain song?
Freya Ridings: I feel like cover songs are like Pokémons, they have to choose you back. I’ve played so many different covers over the years that I’ve resonated with so much for different reasons. From “Maps” to “ME!”, its core heart and connection from ago writers I admire is always at the heart of it. Taylor Swift, Hozier and Annie Lennox are some of my favourite lyricists of all time who I is why I think I gravitated to their songs so strongly.
Watch: “Castles” – Freya Ridings
In some ways ”Castles“ was quite different to anything you put out before and the video for the track is great, what was the creative process like for that video?
Freya Ridings: “Castles” came from a time when I was walking away from a breakup in a local pub where I swore to myself I was going to rebuild myself from the ashes and rise like a Phoenix out of the flames and leave me be in awe and shock. Honestly when I wrote it, I never thought it would become a song that would ever get played on the radio but it’s amazing whenever I walk past a car and I hear it blasting out. The creative process for the video was a choice to evolve and stand up from the piano (which felt like a safety net at that point) it felt like a huge risk and cliff dive but I’m so proud of the dancers and how kind and supportive they were because I was terrified of dancing for the first time in a music video. Every time I see it now, I feel so proud of the team who made the video even possible.
Finally, what excites you the most about future and the ways in which you share your album with your fans?
Freya Ridings: I think the element of unknown is almost like an adrenaline rollercoaster but one I would love to ride for as long as it will have me. It’s getting to travel the world and creating new exciting songs to share with the fans who’ve been so loyal and patient. It’s an honour to work alongside a team of people I love and respect. I want to keep thinking of ways to thank and give more and more to my fans because honestly without them I wouldn’t be on the stages, the radio or wake up excited to go to work every day, which for a dyslexic bullied redhead who hated school it means the world to me.
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