James Garbett interviews Freya Ridings on her success story and live performances.
Receiving an anecdote from Freya Ridings is a little like hearing a tale from a master storyteller. Effortlessly producing intricate descriptions, uncanny impersonations, and elegant soliloquies between breaths, it’s obvious that Riding’s passion remains as fervent as ever. “This is one of the first interviews I’ve done since finishing the album, I was thinking it would never end” she confesses. Whilst other musicians clearly grow lethargic of the interview and press process, Freya seems as energised and ebullient as if this was her first. “I love interviews” she states to me. “It gives me a chance to really talk about what I’m doing and what I’m up to, it can all go by so fast”.
With her breakthrough platinum-selling hit ‘Lost Without You”, hitting the Top 10 on seven separate occasions during a six-month run in the Top 40 and being described by The Times as the voice of 2019, Freya Ridings is clearly on an incredible career trajectory. Her debut self-titled studio album will be released next month on July 19th and it’s transparent that Ridings is giddy with excitement about finally being able to share her first piece of collected work.
Effortlessly producing intricate descriptions, uncanny impersonations, and elegant soliloquies between breaths
“I love albums with a theme and the reason it’s a self-titled debut album is because it’s been my journey over the last ten years, they’re the loves and losses and then the coming back from that with the rocket-fuel of heartbreak. I’d say that the overwhelming feeling of this album is coming back from loneliness and coming back with that fire”.
I ask her how the songs on the album may have changed and evolved since their live performances and Ridings clearly has humble confidence about the direction she wanted these tracks to go. “Songs sometimes can get taken in a direction where they’re a bit more produced than I’d like and I have the opportunity [on the album] to take them back and put them back into that raw, emotionally-connecting place. There’s more instrumentation, string quartets and gospel choirs on this record that I’ve always dreamed of having, but it was such a journey to get there. No one really knows what works and doesn’t in the music industry, everyone is always second-guessing themselves. You just have to stand strong and say, ‘this is the album that I want to make’ and I’ve been very lucky to have a team that’s backed me on that”.
“I’d say that the overwhelming feeling of this album is coming back from loneliness and coming back with that fire”
The fire and rocket-fuel that Ridings speaks of can be clearly felt in full ferocity in her latest single ‘Castles’. A rousing, fast tempo track regarding the aftermath of heartbreak and being able to take one’s pain and channel it in a positive manner. “That song is the other end of the spectrum of heartbreak. If you can’t make something great out of this pain then what did it actually mean, that rocket-fuel after heartbreak that’s really changed you, that’s what [‘Castles’] meant to me, that determination to make something good come from all this. I started writing the chorus on a ukulele whilst I was sat in a car at a festival, heartbroken. I was just trying to work out what it would all mean and I came up with the idea for the song on the spot. I’ve done so much because of that rocket-fuel of heartbreak, I’m not sure if I would have done these things if I hadn’t felt that pain”.
But the road to releasing this album certainly was one that had no short-cuts for Ridings as she reflects on the long, often strenuous path of performing and song-writing. “When I was doing the thank-yous for the album, it just hit me how much my family and friends have supported for me for so many years. Since I was thirteen doing my first open-mic night, they’ve been to every single show, from when it was just two people to three thousand people. It’s so so touching, it just suddenly hits you how supportive people have been for so long and to finally be able to give them a copy of the album as a thank you for what they’ve done. I told my godparents last night that they’ve got a thank you on the album and they cried, and they have recordings of me singing when I was just thirteen and I sound so little in them”.
Our conversation then drifts towards Riding’s highly successful videos on YouTube of her performing piano solos in various locations across Britain. Stripped back and raw, the videos showcase Riding’s talent and vocal ability with often onlookers slowing down in their daily commute to watch Ridings perform. “I love covers, because you can learn so much when you perform another artist’s song. But I have this weird thing, where they have to choose you back, there are some that don’t click, and some do. I guess, it’s a bit like Pokemon”. One of her most popular performances is at the Tottenham Court Road tube station with her own rendition of Lewis Capaldi’s “Fade” and Ridings reveals that “We got to go back about eight or nine months later, and they had to shut down the station because so many people turned up, like two hundred people stopping, it was crazy. We did one in Bristol Bus station too, and that was a fun day, there was a homeless man who ran up played a note and then ran away again and I was like ‘oh please come back’. He was just a bit shy”.
“into a room full of strangers in a city you’ve never been and then have this huge, amazing bond because they’ve taken someone’s music into their own lives”
Seeing Ridings perform at a venue is certainly an atmospheric experience, a glance around at SWX Bristol a few months ago proved that there wasn’t a dry eye in the house and despite her debut album not even being released, she’s amassed a huge following of loyal fans. “It’s honestly so unexpected and such a humbling element of this job, you never think it’s going to be a thing. I dedicated ‘You Mean The World To Me” to my Mum and this lady who had just lost her mum, ran up to me and we just cried with each other. We didn’t know each other but the music connected us. You can walk into a room full of strangers in a city you’ve never been and then have this huge, amazing bond because they’ve taken someone’s music into their own lives. Someone named their baby daughter about me, and I was like “oh my God” and me and my mum had a little cry about that. They’ve taken these songs that were just in my head and made in my front room and taken them into their lives and into their most personal and important moments; it’s a real honour”.
In recent years, more artists are speaking out about the chauvinistic and misogynistic tendencies of the music industry and Ridings is aware of the negative elements of the industry but nevertheless advocates authenticity among new aspiring female artists with Ridings being the first female artist to have an entirely self-written top 10 hit since Kate Bush’s ‘Running Up That Hill” returned to the charts in 2012. “I love I get the opportunity to do this and show other young girls that you can write your own songs, I got told for a long time that the only songs that would ever do well are ones I have to write with men double my age. But that’s not true. I was so lucky to be raised and championed by a family that would see me as a musician/writer first, not a girl. So I went in with that mentality, I didn’t really understand that these things exist. In my first co-writing sessions there was this guy who was very well known and reputable and he was so so rude to me and I remember having this out-of-body experience and I thought to myself ‘what would Beyoncé do? She’d stand up, say ‘thank you for your time’ and she’d leave’, and I remember he said that I’d never get anywhere in this industry and I said, ‘okay then, I’m just going to leave’. It hits you that all these things that you’ve heard about the music industry, they’re bubbling underneath the surface, they’re still there but you just have to hold yourself and have that self-esteem and not take anything less than you’d expect for yourself. I’ve been very lucky to work with a team of incredible people after that and worked with a label that’s allowed to me be authentic and I know there’s a lot of girls that get pressured into doing things or wearing things that they’re not comfortable with. Holding onto who you are, despite that pressure, that’s the thing that will make you stand out”.
In music and in conversation, Riding’s voice is clear and unique and over the course of the interview, it shows that this is clearly the key to her professional success that continues to exponentially grow, with her vivaciously asking me if I’ll be at Glastonbury, where she’ll perform on the John Peel Stage. She muses “When I was growing up, if you wanted to be a musician, you had to do it all on your own. Some people don’t realise what a team sport this is, it takes an army of people to help and you need to find people who light you up. That was the moment where everything changed for me, when I stopped playing covers in open mic nights and pubs and I started playing my own songs. The second you accept who you really are, everyone else does as well”.