ON THE ROAD WITH PHOEBE RYAN
PHOEBE RYAN IN LOS ANGELES, APRIL 2016. PHOTOS: JUSTIN BORBELY. STYLING: BRYLIE FOWLER. MAKEUP: MARK EDIO AT SEE MANAGEMENT. HAIR: ERIC WILLIAMS USING KERASTASE. MANICURE: ISADORA RIOS AT ARTISTS BY TIMOTHY PRIANO. STYLING ASSISTANT: VALERIA LEONOVA.
When we first met Phoebe Ryan in 2009, she was a student at New York University and there was no hint of what was in store for the pop songstress. Less than six years later, in 2015, Ryan found herself at the top of Hype Machine charts with the release of her debut track “Ignition/Would You…”, an R. Kelly and Miguel mashup that was also featured on blogs like Kick Kick Snare and D Squared. Amidst the millions of covers, remixes, and mashups that live online, Ryan’s song resonated in a way that others didn’t—likely due to her soaring vocals and ability to deliver a sense of intimacy and sincerity. Whether she’s performing an original composition or cover, the 25-year-old continuously finds a way to sound like a close friend sharing her personal trials and tribulations.
Following “Ignition/Would You,” the New Jersey native released “Mine,” which later became the titular track of her debut EP (released June 9, 2015 via Columbia Records). The song quickly garnered more than 13 million plays on Spotify, proving Ryan to be more than just another talented cover artist. Her rapidly escalating momentum soon led to opening slots on tour with the likes of The Knocks and Charlie Puth. Now, she is preparing for her yet-to-be-titled debut album (she just released a new track, “Boyz N Poizn” on Friday) and will embark on her first headlining tour this summer. Calling from an RV parked in Los Angeles, we spoke with Ryan over the phone to learn more.
MATHIAS ROSENZWEIG: You went to school for music in New York and then moved to Los Angeles. Which do you feel is better for aspiring artists?
PHOEBE RYAN: It’s a lot easier out here for sure to find people that are down to work Sunday through Sunday, every day. People are on the grind out here for music, very hard, and I find it easier to stay busy.
ROSENZWEIG: You released an EP about a year ago, so is your full-length album finished or are you still working on it?
RYAN: I’m still working on a full-length album right now. I’m at this position where I don’t feel the need to throw something out there that isn’t completely, 100 percent ready. I’m trying to put out the absolute best material I can, and if it’s not ready, it’s not ready. I’m so excited about what I have now, but in a month I might have even better stuff. So it’s a work in progress. It’s still in flux, but we do want to put it out as soon as possible so it’s a race for the clock. But quality is always important.
ROSENZWEIG: You’re fairly new to touring in the capacity you have been and will be doing this summer. Do you enjoy it or is being on the road a pain?
RYAN: I love going on tour. With everything, there are always ups and downs, like sometimes the 10-hour drives would really get to me and that part is hard. But actually getting to perform every night and meet fans and do the whole thing, I really love it. Touring with Charlie [Puth] was super fun. I had a great crew—the band, everybody, we all had the best time.
ROSENZWEIG: A lot of solo artists hire bands that are more co-workers than friends, but that doesn’t seem to be your situation.
RYAN: I met the drummer and the piano player in New York, and I’ve known them for years. The drummer I used to be in other bands with, so he’s a homeboy. When we got our latest guitar player, he fit in so well. We’re all just like, “Oh, we’re bff’s so this is going to be fun.”
ROSENZWEIG: Your boyfriend, Ben “B-Roc” Ruttner, is one half of The Knocks, with whom you’ve collaborated plenty. What drew you to their music?
RYAN: The Knocks are such talented guys. They’re so musically minded but one of my favorite things about them, as a group, is their devotion to this New York City feeling. They really try to capture the heart of an entire city in their music. It’s hard to explain, but they’re so devoted to New York City and its aesthetic. They just want to represent. I think that’s super cool to try to rally an entire city behind you. And the music is a good vibe, it’s fun. You have to see a live set with them. They do all the instrumentation live and they kill it.
ROSENZWEIG: A lot of pop artists are trying to break through the way you did, by putting covers and mashups online. Can you pinpoint the moment when you realized people were starting to pay attention to your music?
RYAN: It was after the R. Kelly/Miguel mashup. When I got my first million plays on Spotify, I was like, “Oh shit, that is crazy. Like, this song has been played for people a million times.” I’m not usually one that’s focused on numbers, but every once in a while I’ll go on Spotify and see the stats and realize, “Wow, people really are listening and that’s incredible.” Most of the time I’m just like, “No one knows who the fuck I am.” I’m just trying to put music out and have people like it. It’s all really weird.
ROSENZWEIG: You’ve been playing music for a long time, but you only recently started to make accompanying videos. Do you enjoy filming music videos, and how involved are you in the process?
RYAN: I actually love being in front of the camera. Music video shoot days seriously feel like my birthday party. I get to get all dolled up, everyone is making such a fuss that I’m comfortable and happy and not losing my mind, and everybody takes care of me. I feel like a star and I get to go in front of the camera and meet so many faces. I like to be really involved in the ideas behind them, coming up with mood boards and everything.
ROSENZWEIG: Before this project, you were writing music for other people. Was your breakthrough single “Mine” originally for someone else or was it, no pun intended, always yours?
RYAN: That song is straight from the Phoebe Ryan heart store. That one was always a song meant for me. It’s so incredibly personal. When I hear it, I’m just like, “Ugh, that’s my song!” I feel like it’s probably the same for a lot of people in their early 20s, who are going through some shit, like you’re fighting depression or you’re not sure what you’re doing with your life. Basically all of those things were going on—a low point, let’s say. “Mine” was the song that explored this part of me coming out the other side, being like, “I was sad, but I also can be happy, and both are okay. I’m okay to be both sad and happy.” Does that make sense?
ROSENZWEIG: Completely. You’re allowing yourself to feel a healthy range of emotions.
RYAN: No matter what you’re feeling, no matter if you’ve been successful or not successful, you still have to own it. You have to just own your failures, your achievements, all of it. I wanted [the song] to embody one of those concepts that I, as a songwriter, know exactly what I’m talking about, and I know exactly every word of that song, what it means and what it means to me. But I’m so happy that it grows; it grows so big that other people can absorb it and take on the meaning for themselves.
ROSENZWEIG: You’ve gotten a lot of support from other pop artists. Taylor Swift Instagrammed a list of emerging artists that included you, and Tove Lo showed her support on Twitter. What does that feel like for an “up-and-comer”?
RYAN: I think it’s incredible, in a few ways. It’s incredible because the fact that people I look up to are recognizing me for any reason, that’s super cool. And the fact that they can take time out of their crazy day and shit to just reach out to some random artist, some girl that’s just trying to do her thing—it’s awesome. Tove and I are good friends now, so it’s cool talking to her about how she wants to support other artists, and Taylor does, too, obviously, if she’s writing lists of people…I’m still waiting for Taylor to hit me up.
ROSENZWEIG: What’s your goal right now?
RYAN: It’s so hard. I don’t have any concrete goals in my mind really. I would like to just be doing art every day of my life and sustain it. If I can keep putting out things that I believe in, then that’s success to me. I just want to keep going… I have no answer. I just want to be able to do to this crazy career path that I’ve chosen and to be able to pay the bills and play some shows. That’s success to me.