ABOVE: SERENA RYDER IN NEW YORK, MAY 2013. STYLING BY ANDREAS KOKKINO.
The nuances and intricacies of what distinguishes American culture from the culture of our wonderfully—and notoriously-mild-mannered neighbors to the north in Canada remains a subject of constant debate. (Disclosure: As a child, I spent summers in Prince Edward Island, so although I am American, I consider myself slightly Canadian, which means that I rarely raise my voice unless I’m discussing maple syrup.) Nevertheless, singer, songwriter, and natural-born-and-passport-carrying Canadian Serena Ryder has her own theories. “There is a fine line between Canadian and American culture,” says Ryder, 30, who was raised near Millbrook, Ontario, a town surrounded by dairy farms and woods. “A lot of it has to do with community,” she says. “The cold weather has a lot do with what makes Canadian music Canadian. We kind of have to stick together, and there’s a definite Canadian sound because we’re very open about our influences.”
Ryder herself grew up listening to her parents’ Beatles records, after digging out a cache of vinyl LPs that her mother, a former go-go dancer, and her dad, a handyman, had stashed away after moving on to CDs. “I found their records in the basement covered in dust,” she says. “So it was almost like I discovered them.” Canadians like Leonard Cohen and Neil Young are among her touchstones, which also extend to include Ella Fitzgerald, Roger Miller, Hank Williams, and other old-timey singers, and her love for anachronisms and multi-instrumentation lends her music a pleasant classicism.
Ryder’s most recent record, Harmony—which features the single “Stompa”—has already been released in Canada, where it earned the singer her fourth Juno Award. The album, which is scheduled to come out in the U.S. this fall via Capitol Records, is a collection of soulful pop tunes, with Ryder’s husky voice surfing exuberantly over quirky arrangements and overt displays of musicianship (she plays guitar on the album as well). Harmony is Ryder’s fourth full album, but her first, she says, to be written while happily in love. “As a society, we tend to talk about things that are wrong,” she says. “There are always problems to fix, but I decided to focus on the things that were going right. I did go through a period of clinical depression about four years ago, but we’ve been raised to focus on problems. And I wanted to change that.” So if Harmony blows about your beloved melancholy—and let’s face it, some of us do get attached to our despair—in the words of South Park: blame Canada.
PHOTO: TANK: MARC BY MARC JACOBS. NECKLACES: HOUSE OF HARLOW AND JENNIFER FISHER. COSMETICS: M.A.C, INCLUDING STUDIO FIX PLUS FOUNDATION IN NC20, EXTRA DIMENSION BLUSH IN BARENESS, AND ZOOM LASH IN ZOOMBLACK. HAIR PRODUCTS: BUMBLE AND BUMBLE, INCLUDING GROOMING CREME. HAIR: JORDAN M FOR BUMBLE AND BUMBLE. MAKEUP: TRACY ALFAJORA/JOE MANAGEMENT. SPECIAL THANKS: ACME STUDIO.