It’s about having a strong sense of self and not letting that vision become tainted by somebody else.
What’s in a name? A hell of a lot these days if you’re Danielle Draizin, a self-proclaimed “indie-pop artist” who sounds more like she’s already earned her place on the Top 40 singles chart. Better known by her stage name Ryder, the Los Angeles-based vocal powerhouse has been riding on a voracious viral wave with just two tracks to her name for a handful of months now, accumulating millions of plays online and courting an excitable fanbase in her infant career.
Notwithstanding her social media channels updated on the regular, the glaring absence of any substantial information on the mysterious singer-songwriter grew increasingly inexplicable to us over the past few weeks. Does her 70,000+ followers on Facebook know something that we don’t? Is this even a real person? Where did she come from? What’s this all about, Ryder? To get to the bottom of this ourselves, we took to Skype for a conversation. This is what we found out.
When I found “Ruins” in my inbox, I just assumed you must’ve been around for a while. It’s a really powerful, catchy, accessible and polished track. But searching online, I found that there’s a lot of mystique about you still. When did this all begin for you as Ryder?
For my artist project [as Ryder], I released my first song ["Pretty Little Gangster"] around May. I was doing collaborations before that, but operating as my own artist and putting it out myself, it’s been four or five months, I think. ["Ruins"] had a lot of mainstream appeal, which is why I like to hear what you said, that it could be a big, powerful record. But the songs definitely come from a darker, left-minded place for me. You always want to be niche and do what makes you feel good, but you also hope that other people respond to it and understand that. It makes me really happy.
Are those the only two tracks you have to your name as Ryder at this point?
Yeah, those are the only two things I’ve ever released on my own.
Wow, that’s crazy. They both have tons of plays, too.
It’s been a little crazy! This was definitely not expected, but super welcome. I’m loving it.
This is an obvious question, but an innocuous one: Where did the moniker Ryder come from?
I’ve been doing music for a long time. I grew up in New York City and Ryder was my character. Ryder was my artist and my everything. It’s not an epic story, it’s just that I wanted to become this persona. In order to do that, I felt like I needed to let go of my personal image. That’s my story.
So you were born and bred in New York City. I’m curious to know what was going on in your life, leading up to where you are now as Ryder. Broad strokes are good.
I’ve been singing since I was around 7. I’m classically trained and come from that background: Broadway style, some arias, and operatic training. When I was around 8, I was a child poet. There was a program at school that pulled me out and had me working with someone doing poetry. They would say, “You should go home and tell your parents what you do here.” Just being a kid and not knowing much better, I told my mom that my teacher wanted her to see this and I recited my poetry. She thought it was so great that we were reading poetry, not knowing that I had written it. She couldn’t believe that I, a child, could write about these things like the world and life. That’s when I first realized, okay, I can write poetry. At 13, I sat down for the first time, opened a journal, and wrote an entire song. It just fell out of me onto the page, and it was the first page because I had never written in this journal before. I eventually recorded that song.
My cousin did some segment stuff for TV and I remember being like, “I’m going to call cousin Glen. Maybe he can record me.” So I went there and we did it. I showed that to one of my singing teachers and said, “I love what we do, but I’m going to do this! How do I do this?” My teacher had a friend who wrote quite a good song back in the day, so I went to record with her and learned all about writing and recording. Eventually, I started meeting some producers and writers. I’ve been in the studios since like 16, professionally. Then around 20, I fell into EDM music and started meeting and working with a ton of DJs, at a time when people weren’t toplining and I was still figuring things out. That was really helpful, discovering how to be a great songwriter and what it means to be part of a lot of different genres: “Where do I fit in? What do I love about music? Where does my classical background fit into that?” Doing a ton of music exploration helped me figure out my sound and who I was. And I moved from New York to L.A. in that time as well.
Are your parents musical? Was there a lot of music playing in your house as a kid?
My parents are not musical, at all. [Laughs] But they like music. We listened to everybody from Rod Stewart and Michael McDonald to Sting. “Roxanne” is one of my favorite songs in the world. I was just listening to Elton John’s “Tiny Dancer”. Whitney Houston, Céline Dion and Michael Bolton—anyone who’s super epic with a gorgeous voice—seemed to be the theme.
Do you remember the first album you ever purchased on your own?
Oof. I don’t know if it was first, but I’m pretty sure I bought one of Britney Spears’ early albums. [Laughs] But she’s awesome!
…Baby One More Time?
I’m going to stick with that one. [Laughs] I remember buying it and I remember having it. I don’t know if that was the first one I bought, but I’m going to take a guess and say it was.
Something I’ve noticed about you is that you have a very strong social media presence and you seem to have a confident handle on the overall packaging in your presentation. I think it’s dangerous when artists don’t quite know how to manage that and become this blank canvas where someone could potentially come in and scrawl all over it, so to speak.
I’ve always seen things very visually—I have an eye. I know what I like. I know how to incorporate that, change it, maneuver it in different ways. You don’t want to do something you’re gonna get stuck with and be unhappy with. So having a very defined idea about what that image is and being able to play around within that space is important. I love color. I love faded, vintage, grainy things. These are the image-related things I know about myself. With the “Ruins” video that’s coming out soon, I was part of it every step of the way, from choosing what the grain looks like to all the outfits. It’s about having a strong sense of self and not letting that vision become tainted by somebody else. People who like you and what you do will accept that. If I do something they don’t like, I’m just not their flavor. I need to be who I am and feel very safe in that space.
Since you bring it up, what can you reveal about the “Ruins” video?
I don’t know the exact date, but it’s coming out soon. I shot it with a guy named Riley Robbins who’s become a close friend of mine. The work that he’s done, even in the last year, is epic. He loves art like I do and we bonded over that. It’s definitely got what I’ve been trying to capture within myself, laid out on a very big scale. It’s not plot-driven like a lot of other music videos are—it’s an art piece. I wanted to make something beautiful and give people insight into my world, and I think it does that well. People are always looking for certain things these days, so I never know. I just made a video that I thought was beautiful, so I hope people like that and see it for that.
What’s going on in the studio at the moment?
I’ve been working over the last two years on a bunch of music, so there are a lot of songs that we may or may not want to release. In the past few weeks, I’ve suddenly been feeling really inspired, discovering different things about myself and what I like about my songwriting. I’ve been thinking about what makes songs last, what I think makes a great song, and trying to put that back into my songwriting more. I think there might’ve been a song that I want to potentially release next, but we need to finish it. We’re just taking our time right now because “Ruins” just came out. We’re trying to figure out what the next step is, whether that’s an EP, an LP, or more singles. For me, “Ruins” coming after “Pretty Little Gangster” was a risk in a way, but I do think it paid off. It was more of an artsy choice for me. I could’ve gone with more “Pretty Little Gangster” kind of records. I probably chose “Ruins” against other people’s better judgement, but I think it worked out.
That’s so crazy to me you say that. I could easily see “Ruins” on Top 40. It’s phenomenal.
Thank you. “Ruins” is actually two years old. I wrote it awhile back and wanted it to be ready and perfect. We spent a long time on the production and it took a long time to get it to a place where I felt like, “This is really hitting me. I hear it, I really hear it for the first time.” So it can take a while to figure that out sonically. I’ve also been getting inspired by other kinds of music lately, so that will factor in in some form, maybe not even in the form people will see, but I see it and feel it.
You must have a lot of experience performing live, especially having started singing at a young age. How different do you think it’ll be performing as Ryder?
Definitely with my classical background. I did a lot of live stuff, choral stuff, and things like that. When I was 17 to around 18 or 19, I was doing a bunch of performing in New York City. I definitely learned how to perform live and love doing it. I feel more myself than I ever have and rooted in who I am and my music now, so I’m just super excited to see what that’s like live and bring that to people. I feel so comfortable in who I am now. I can’t wait to perform this stuff.
I saw that you sang on Machine Gun Kelly’s new track “Make It Happen”. How did that collaboration come about?
That was actually really funny because a friend of mine introduced me to his manager. We didn’t know how we’d worked together. It was a ‘You’re great and he’s great! You’re working on some cool stuff! Let’s keep in contact’ sort of thing. I just remember getting a call like, ‘What are you doing right now? We’re going to be out front in two minutes, so get in the car!’ What? Oh, okay… [Laughs] I got in, not really knowing where I was going, and ended up in a session with MGK. They threw me in the booth and I started singing. So that’s how that happened.
The way you tell it, it sounds like you were kidnapped and made to sing.
[Laughs] Yeah, very random, but really fun. MGK is super talented. I kinda got to hear the new album and I really didn’t know much about him at the time. But I heard the new sound and apparently this is a very different kind of album for him, so I was super blown away. The sonics and the production is so big and wide. I was just excited to be there and get to work on that.
What about your own debut EP or LP that’s on the horizon? Do you think you’ll want to release it yourself or through a label? Are you being courted by labels right now?
I’m independent right now. I’m happy with that for right now. If something does come along that makes us want to go that route, I’m always about the right thing at the right time. I think the music world and the label world and everything is changing. The way we consume music is changing. I’m not in a rush. I just want the right thing and I’m happy releasing music and getting it to people. I would never want to be in a position where I couldn’t do that. So I don’t know. But there has been a lot of cool interest around it. I’m really appreciative of that.
Hypothetical question: If you somehow chanced on someone who’s never heard music in their lifetime—a completely blank slate—what would you put on their mixtape?
This is a starter kit? Is that what we’re doing? Definitely Billy Joel. I’m from New York, so that’s a really important one. Sting’s “Roxanne” would have to be on there. Elton John would have to be on there. I’d say Adele. I think Adele encompasses so much about great songwriting, and also bringing something classic and still make it modern. I think Sam Smith does that and Amy Winehouse does that. Amy Winehouse is one of my favorite people ever, and I’m sure one of her influences were Nina Simone, who I absolutely adore. I don’t know, vocally, Céline Dion? Brian McKnight because I think his voice is gorgeous. R. Kelly, too, because his voice is great.