Being on stage, playing for fans out in front of him, is Ryland James’s happy place.
Even so, the Ontario-born velvet-voiced singer has found an upside to not being able to perform live, as a result of the pandemic, and playing online instead. “I think it’s nice that I’m able to read comments from fans and viewers in real-time,” he tells American Songwriter. “You can’t really do that at live shows.” James, who just released his debut self-titled EP, says it’s not necessarily better or worse, just different. “Creating something positive in what’s been such a negative situation has been a good exercise of spirit and mindset.”
Looking for the good in a situation is something Ryland tries to do as much as he can while he builds his career, singing the kinds of ballads you’d likely hear from Adele or Sam Smith. He didn’t have to try too hard, though, when the 21-year-old had what he calls one of the best experiences of his life last year, touring with Alessia Cara. “I’ve loved Alessia and her music since I first heard Here back in 2015,” he says. “Her being so authentic and speaking up for the introverted, outcast people of society always made me feel accepted and drawn to her artistry. I’m so proud to be able to call her a friend and mentor now, and I can only aspire to one day reach her level of creativity and class.”
Ryland’s debut EP features the single In My Head, which was certified Gold in Canada, less than six months after it was released last year, and has gone on to Platinum status. Other songs on the EP, Better Off and Shoulder to Cry On were released earlier this year — all in the run-up to the EP coming out. Water, Ryland’s latest single, was written at the tail-end of his first-ever trip to LA. “It was just before the holidays and I’d never been outside of Canada during the winter. Seeing decorations on palm trees in such a summery climate was very weird to me. Everything was so new and different I felt like my brain was on stimulation overdrive in the best way,” he says. The buzz he was feeling was transferred into the vibrancy of the song, with its Gospel-tinged chorus. “It was the first time I actually enjoyed waking up early and exploring, and it was such a nice refreshment from the freezing cold of home.”
It was also a standout time for James because he worked on the song with multiple Grammy-winning Lauren Christy, who was part of the trio that wrote Avril Lavigne’s debut album. “I feel I have a special connection with Lauren because of growing up in the same area as Avril Lavigne. “I listened to her all the time in my childhood and knowing that Lauren wrote most of her first album was mind-blowing,” says James. “I was nervous to meet her at the session, but her and my other amazing co-writer, Jon Levine, were so cool and easy to work with that Water just seemingly wrote itself.”
James explains the song further: “It’s about a magnetic person that’s dangerous for you but you can’t get enough of. What I want people to get from it is pure fun. To me, it’s the most fun song on the EP to perform, so I want others to feel that same energy when they hear it. If people are dancing to it and getting it stuck in their heads, then my mission has been accomplished.”