Freya Ridings Details Her Journey and Delves Into the Stylings of Her Debut Album
UK singer-songwriter Freya Ridings pens and performs evocative songs that stir up universal sentiments in a singular voice that is sonorous and husky, soulful and poignant. Hailing from a musical family, she has always taken an intuitive approach to songwriting, which can be heard in the gripping immediacy of her music. With a directness and command that lends itself to the stage, she made the bold move of debuting with a live album, 2017’s “Live at St Pancras Old Church,” followed by extensive touring with the likes of Tears For Fears and Lewis Capaldi, as well as another release a year later, “Live at Omeara.” It was not long before the world caught on, as her single “Lost Without You” was featured on the reality show “Love Island,” began climbing the charts, and introducing her to a whole new strata.
Visceral and effortlessly grand, Ridings’s songs are fraught with cinematic potential, and it’s no surprise that the aforementioned track eventually made its way also into “Grey’s Anatomy.” Moreover, subsequent single “You Mean the World to Me” drew the attention of “Game of Thrones” stars Lena Headey and Maisie Williams, who worked with Ridings to create a fittingly epic music video. Both songs are featured on Ridings’ self-titled debut album. For the first time, live favorites have been fully fleshed out in recordings that preserve the intimacy of Ridings’ performances, while accentuating them with string arrangements, gospel choirs, and more. It’s a solid set of songs about vulnerability, resilience and triumph, expressed with a grace and flair that make for a thoroughly engaging, compelling listen. Ridings spoke with Entertainment Voice about her experiences, influences, and approach to songwriting. We delved into the thoughts behind the lyrics, the dynamics of the live show, and the details of the new album and her upcoming U.S. tour with Hozier.
Your distinctive voice commands attention and has struck quite a chord. How has the response to your signature huskiness been so far and what, to you, has made your music appeal to fans worldwide?
It’s one of those strange things because at school, I actually got made fun of for my voice. Boys said that I had a deep voice, and it was something that actually made me kind of get picked on, so for me, it became that unique thing that I did that also made me very uncool, so it is very authentic to who I actually am. That’s just how my voice always sounds. I think coming out as a little girl, it sounded a bit more funny. (Laughs) And also, the more I sang, the more I could reach the higher notes. It’s fun to experiment, and the more you get to play shows, the more you get to experiment with singing the songs kind of differently, and just giving people the best show possible. But I’m so grateful that I seem to have a voice that people actually want to listen to, because I never thought that would be the case growing up. It’s very, very surreal.
Your songs are generally built around the piano, which gives them a certain intimacy. How important is the piano to you as a songwriter and performer, and why?
It’s like a portal to another world for me because it got me through so many hard years of my life. It’s almost like songwriting at the piano has been like the anchor through all the stormy times of my life — all the loneliness, all the heartbreak, you know. Growing up as a really shy redhead, being really dyslexic at school, it’s been like the friend that I’ve kind of turned to in times of need, and the fact that writing a song about it can be so therapeutic and cathartic, and then actually turn into a job that I love this much, it’s a beautiful kind of 180 from how my life used to be.
You have been very open about your dyslexia, and how you never learned to read music, but instead learned to play by ear. Do you think playing by ear, rather than from a script, allows you to be more creative with your expression?
Completely! I feel like I did things that I didn’t know you weren’t supposed to do, because I didn’t know, and I still get told off by musicians, like “Why did you write in that key? It’s such a strange key!” And I’m like, for me, it’s what my subconscious was drawn to. It’s because I can’t really overthink it because it’s not really like a thinking part of my brain. It’s more like something so subconscious, a deeper part of my brain that the songs come from, and I think there’s a reason why it’s got that. It doesn’t sound like I have grades in anything because I don’t, and I still don’t really see myself as a writer, because I’ve never held a pen, or a musician, because I can’t read music, but yeah, those are the two things that I do, so it seems pretty strange.
Your massive breakthrough single “Lost Without You” introduced you to millions when it was featured on the UK show “Love Island,” and was also tapped for an episode of “Grey’s Anatomy.” What do you think it is about your music that particularly lends itself to the screen?
I’ve always been fascinated and so, so in love with cinematic music with film and TV shows. I’ve discovered so many artists that I love like that that it was such an honor to be with those shows, because I think it’s such a heightened emotional state. You can write a song and feel one thing when you write it, but when I saw it in the scene of Grey’s Anatomy, it drew up a whole new sense of feeling, and I was blown away, honestly. It was such an honor to be part of that storyline, and I know that has affected so many women that it was such a genuinely humbling moment. I would love to do more writing for films in the future. That would be a huge, huge dream of mine.
Your latest single “Castles” seems to pick up lyrically where “Lost Without You” left off, starting from a breakup, and resolving to spin the situation into something positive. This resolution, in turn, makes for a more upbeat, triumphant song. Did you mean for these two songs to complement one another?
It’s kind of that feeling of heartbreak — that there’s a time to cry, and a time to find that inner rocket fuel that builds you back up. I think “Lost Without You” is about that, kind of. There’s an element of selflessness, but there’s also a selfishness to thinking that you can be okay without someone, and then realizing that you’re not. There’s also something incredibly empowering about — if someone’s broken your heart — to kind of rebuild yourself back into something that’s better than before. So for me, that inner fire of coming back after pain, and turning it into something powerful, is one of my favorite themes to write about.
“You Mean the World to Me,” written from the experience of almost losing your mother, explores the idea of having the courage to wear your heart on your sleeve. How does that idea generally apply to songwriting and performing for you in particular?
I think that song, especially the chorus, came from such a deep, subconscious place of genuine vulnerability to the point that I was almost shocked when it came out of my mouth, like “Oh my god, I’ve never said that.” It’s those songs that you can’t play for a while live because they make you cry every time. Those seem to be the ones that people connect to most, because of that vulnerability and that risk. And I think sometimes, you know that feeling where we don’t treat the people closest to us as well as we almost treat strangers? It’s only in those extreme moments that you’re about to lose someone or someone is taken from you almost. It’s very terrifying, and it reminds you what’s important, and family and the people that you care about most are the most important. It’s not the most cool or pop or rock ‘n’ roll thing to do to dedicate a song to your mum, but she’s like my biggest hero, and that was the most authentic feeling I had in a really long time, and I just had to write it. The first time I dedicated it to her at a live show was terrifying, because we’re so close, but there are somethings that are just hard to talk about, and I think almost losing someone is one of them. Bit it seems to be easier in a song, for some reason.
The video for “You Mean the World to Me” was directed by Lena Headey and stars Maisie Williams, both of “Game of Thrones.” Are you a fan of GOT, and how was your experience working with Headey and Williams?
I’m a huge fan of the show, but I’m hugely in awe of them as women. They’re so emotionally intelligent as actors, and it was just an honor to get to work with them. Lena Headey actually reached out to us, and she said that she wanted to direct whatever my next music video was. When she put Maisie on board, it was very, very surreal. I’m so far from being an actor. I come from a family of actors, but for me, it was a really scary sort of thing to kind of act and show emotion on camera. They were just so supportive, and welcomed me into that whole sort of world. I couldn’t have done it with lovelier people.
You recently performed with Nile Rogers and Chic, and have spoken of how major an inspiration they’ve been on you. Given that most listeners wouldn’t immediately detect Rogers’ contribution to your sound, what are some other influential artists that might surprise fans?
I’m not sure the ones who are a surprise. Adele, Amy Winehouse, Florence, Taylor Swift, these sort of really strong female role models, which I guess are what people would expect, but there was also a lot of music that I listened to that my parents loved growing up, and they were kind of more acoustic and folk-based, like James Taylor and Chris Isaac and Sting, so a real sort of melting pot of just incredible songwriters.
You’ve spoken of how your approach to writing lyrics is more intuitive than elaborately drawn-out, an attitude that lends itself to spontaneous performance. Having already released two live records, how did you channel your songs into your upcoming debut studio album?
I feel that we’ve kind of done things back-to-front, but I’ve absolutely loved it because it’s been led by the fans. It’s been led by real people supporting it, and I don’t know, there’s something beautiful about the fact that I’ve got to play these songs live, and really feel the room, and you can feel that human connection. You can walk into a room of people you don’t know, and actually have a huge thing in common, and absolutely adore them. That’s what I love about playing live, which is why I wanted to share these songs in their raw, authentic form first, and also, I feel like there’s always this thing in music where people want to hold things back until they’re perfect, but that’s not really the world we live in any more. People want that real human connection, and being imperfect is part of that. So for me, it was just incredibly important to get the songs to the band as quick as possible in their most authentic form, but now, having worked for the album for two years, and got to have the gospel choirs and string quartet I’d always dreamed of when I was writing the record, writing every song is something I’m really proud of, but it’s also something that it took a lot to fight for. It’s not a given, as a female writer. In this day and age, it’s really not. So I’m incredibly proud.
Returning to the live aspect, your songs often manage to sound simultaneously intimate and anthemic. What kind of atmosphere and overall experience can your fans this side of the pond expect from your upcoming North American tour?
Ooh, it’s very true that there are those moments of incredible quietness, where it’s just me at a piano, and now, having a full band and incredible gospel singers, I’m just lucky to work with incredible musicians. They make those songs into something that I never could have dreamed of, and they give it that kind of cinematic, anthemic element that I never thought I could achieve just on my own, so I love collaborating for that reason. And hopefully, it’s that emotional journey of overcoming heartbreak and that loneliness that unites us all, but also coming back from it, and that inner fire to create something better because of it.
I’m just so excited to thank fans in the US. They’ve been so supportive since day one. Even doing small shows with fifteen people, then two hundred people, then the last show we did at the Bowery Ballroom in New York and the El Rey in LA. I love playing in America, and I can’t wait to come back and say thank you again for the support for these songs. People turning up for shows is never something that I take for granted ever, so I just want to make the shows as big and incredible as I possibly can to say thank you.
“Freya Ridings” is available July 19 on Apple Music.