"This Is Insane!" Album Release Day With Freya Ridings
When Clash is ushered in to meet Freya Ridings we're immediately engulfed in this warm hug, and this massive, massive smile.
She's taking part in a press days for her debut album. Self-titled, it's something she's been building up to since she was a kid, a record informed by more false starts and rejections than she cares to remember.
So she's got every right to feel excited. Plaintive balladry with a highly personal sense of poetry, it was pieced together across the past 18 months, a period in which her life has changed completely.
Moving from being relatively unknown even in her native North London to packing out huge venues and being named YouTube Music's Artist On The Rise, the viral success of 'Lost Without You' underlined that Freya had - finally - found what she had been looking for.
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It’s been a remarkable 18 months for you, what’s it been like to be at the centre of it?
It’s one of those things where I have to write a diary every evening just to remember what’s happened! It’s a genuine whirlwind. Different city everyday… and so much fun!
It seems like you’ve been able to achieve this on your own terms, as well.
I think having a small team helps – they have my back. My family really, really ground me. There’s a lot of people that I’m very, very grateful to have in my life right now.
That is key, isn’t it? You’d been making music for a while before this magical alchemy came into place.
I think having those years in the wilderness is really important. Especially as a young teenager you need those years on your own, those years of isolation, it really helped crystallise who I was. Perhaps earlier than other kids as, well, I didn’t have any friends so I would sit on my own for hours!
Did you always believe this would happen?
You have massive moments of doubt. I played ‘Lost Without You’ at so many open mic nights. I was driving past this pub today, and I remember playing it that pub. I’m the same person, same face, same song.
What was the pub?
The Maynard. In Crouch End. It’s that thing of suddenly feeling different from yourself. I was there in a different time and a different space, so I’m holding on to who I was. I’m so lucky that I had a family who championed my songwriting, and who I was.
Do you ever pop back in for a cheeky pint?
Yeah! Occasionally. I hadn’t seen it in ages, though!
The album will no doubt enchant fans, and it seems as though Greg Kurstin has played a key role in helping realise that.
Completely. He’s an incredible man. And it’s so funny that the biggest people you meet – the most successful – are the most humble, but the first to tell you about their success have the most to learn. It’s a unanimous theme, between the biggest songwriters I’ve met.
Where do you think that comes from?
It’s that lack of complacency, that’s probably why they are where they are. They never got to the stage of settling, they were always fighting to do something better. Mark Ronson has that – he’s such a gem.
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You’ve worked with some incredible people, do those experiences filter back into your own songwriting?
You learn a lot. I think you have to go into every co-write with an open mind. Also, people bring different themes, especially since some of the people I’ve worked with are actual heroes.
I’ve been having a chat with Ryan Tedder and got full body chills – I adore Beyonce, and he wrote ‘Halo’. Those moments are when you sit there and think: that song that we all sing in our millions you wrote right there in your brain!
The album has taken a while to fall into place, was it a piecemeal schedule?
It’s one of those things where we did about a month in total. We did two weeks in Peter Gabriel’s studio in Bath, and then a lot in RAK and Church studios in London.
For me, I like recording in North London. I wrote every song on the album there, so – for me – being in North London makes me feel calm and at home. We ended up doing more of it in North London than anywhere else.
It feels fresh, are some of these first takes?
Some of them were actually recorded six or seven times. Separately, by different people. And that’s the thing – I wasn’t going to be complacent, I wasn’t going to stop until it was an album that I was fiercely proud of.
There’s so much pressure when you’re making an album for it to be done quickly, and I’m so lucky that I got to work with an indie label who let me take that time. Because it’s the opposite of what a major label would have done. The opposite.
You must put pressure on yourself, as well.
Yeah! You’ve dreamed about it since being a teenager, so you want to look back on it and feel proud. You don’t want there to be anything you could have done differently, so you turn up everyday and you fight for those little things.
I’ve written every song, so it’s another level of knowing what I want it to sound like in my head. It’s not like someone else wrote it and I just sang it. I literally know what it should sound like.
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‘Poison’ opens the album – was it always intended to introduce your debut LP?
I like the fact that it has this gothic, cinematic element, that I’ve always loved in music. Even though it’s a pop album I’ve always loved those gothic, Celtic elements.
How do you define that Celtic twang?
There’s a certain sound… I grew up watching a lot of Riverdance, and I feel like some of those melodies went into my brain!
You mention the cinematic quality, do you write with certain images in your head?
I always write from personal experience – literally, it’s the only way I know how to do it. So, for me, it’s those heightened states of emotion. I see parallels in cinema. I’d love to write a song for a film, that would be such a goal of mine. But until then it would be quite visual, in terms of lyrics and melodies… I wanted people to see what was happening.
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There is that age-old thing that when an album is released is ceases to become your property…
You give part of it up but you get so much more in return. When you get into music there is this scarcity mindset, but you have to go into it with the complete opposite – with a generosity mindset. And have that feeling of: you can always write more.
‘Lost Without You’ had that gradual rise, you could probably see it take on another ownership.
Yeah. You play some songs in small rooms and you see what people connect with, and I love that sense of feedback. I still love that. A lot of this this album has, in a way, been dictated by the fans. At the same time I don’t write for anyone else but me.
It’s that strange thing where I’m grateful that people have taken them into their lives, but I’ve never been that person to be like: what’s going to work with people? Because I never thought it would.
In what way?
I was picked up and dropped when I was 19. And it was crippling because I spent my whole life wanting it, and I thought I would never get that opportunity again. It was heartbreaking. But it meant that I had to hold on to who I was so much stronger because of it, and it meant that I was more grateful when I found someone who accepted what I wanted to create.
Before, I got told to write happier songs and change my name… and I was like: I’m just not going to do that. It’s my real hair colour, it’s my real song, these are real songs. This is who I am.
You get to dictate the process now.
I’ve always loved working with people who treat me like an equal – even when I was just starting out. It’s that thing of having a level of mutual respect with the biggest producers – it’s the people in the middle that you have to get past.
The album is almost upon us – are you already looking to the future?
Hell yeah! I’m writing all the time. In fact, I was gutted as I lost my phone at Glastonbury and all my voice memos were on there! But that’s the beautiful thing, I said that I want to have more time on my own for this next record, and I have people who actually listen to that.
‘Losing’ your phone at Glastonbury…
It was an accident! A complete accident. It was in the morning as well. It was 7am, I was doing an interview, and it fell out of my pocket. But I got it back- two days later!
So in amongst this chaos you’ve been able to get some ideas down?
Yeah. And it happens a lot in bathrooms because no one is really there, and the reverb is great. Sometimes people walk in when you’re singing, and they look at you like: what is going on?! It happens a lot, you need to fight for those moments.
Was there a specific moment during your rise that you thought: this is actually happening?
As a North London girl selling out the Roundhouse was one of the moments when you thought: this is real. I did these course there. I didn’t go to university, so I did every course there – would highly recommend them!
I walked there everyday, so to see the queue go all the way down Camden High St, down the whole High St I just thought… this is insane.
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'Freya Ridings' is out now - Freya is YouTube Music's Artist On The Rise this month.
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