Interview with singer songwriter Liz Ryder

Liz Ryder

Sheffield is well known as a hotspot for new young talent and attracts performers from all over the world.

26 year old singer/ songwriter, Liz Ryder, has been playing venues around Sheffield for many years and she tells Charlie Barker about going back to her roots, her love of Sheffield and why she just can’t stay away…

You were born in the US and raised in the UK, spending a great deal of time living and performing in Sheffield. What initially brought you to the city?
I came to Sheffield by accident. My family had moved back to the States whilst I was at University in Bangor and I wasn’t ready to leave the UK, so I decided to move to Sheffield as I knew people there and had family close by. I was really excited to find such a vibrant live music scene.

You have a background of art and performance in your family, who inspired your music and creativity?
Well both my Mom and Dad were actors when they were younger and my Dad was still very active as I was growing up. He also used to play music and entertain at medieval banquets so that introduced me to live music and folk songs.

I started going to folk festivals in my teens also which inspired me a lot and I tried to get out to gigs as much as possible. I listened to Tori Amos, Ani Difranco, Kate Rusby, Cat Stevens and Joan Baez growing up and still do amongst other things and I love to hear and support live music.

I find local music is better or at least as good as most commercial music and that’s very inspiring and liberating. It’s a good catalyst for any performer knowing that your local scene is fueled by music loving audiences who are open to new things and will appreciate what you’re doing.

What led you to take up solo guitar and vocals when you play so many other instruments too?
I started writing music and learning instruments from the age of four; first piano, then recorder and flute, but I didn’t really get into songwriting so much until my teens. I suppose it was partly a natural progression and an outlet for me.

When I started learning to play guitar and harp at the age of 17, I had something that could back my voice effectively. I fell in love with both. I was in a choir at high school but I never considered myself a solo singer until then, having not really performed as a songwriter in front of an audience. I was very shy about it.

I remember my art teacher and English teacher both loved Bob Dylan and Neil Young so they asked me to sing covers with them in assemblies. Then I started to sing my own songs and some folk songs at the Birmingham comprehensive where I went to 6th form. I guess that’s where my singing career began. A year after that I was playing at folk festivals and clubs so it all progressed quite quickly.

You mix elements of traditional folk music with a contemporary feel. Do regard yourself as a musical traditionalist or a ‘New Folkie?
I love traditional music but I also love how it progresses with the times and I love new ideas which are based within the tradition but which also step out into new territory. I like how traditional material is so free to interpretation and how a lot of artists write new material with a traditional twist. I think I draw from this.

I find it energizing and interesting how folk music has ‘flipped back’ on itself in a lot of ways over the past few years. So I would say that I am definitely more of a ‘new folkie’. My main influences include people like Tori Amos, Seth Lakeman, Ani Difranco, Alison Krauss and Joanna Newsome so I have varied musical tastes which I think comes out in my own musical style.

Production and engineering also play a big part in your music and recordings. Is this something you took time to study academically or is it something you have a natural flare for?
I studied music and have an MA in Creative Music Technology and Composition so I did take the time to learn how to do it all ‘properly’ but it’s also just part of the creative process as an artist these days, though I would say that it’s a bit of both.

I try not to do too much with a recording so that I couldn’t possibly do the same live although I like the freedom of a studio and how you can do and add things that are extremely effective, that might not be achievable in a live atmosphere. But that is also what makes recording special. Recordings should be a true interpretation of the live performance mixed with the creative style and ideas of the individual or band.

You’ve recently left Sheffield and gone back to your roots in America. Why did you leave and can your UK fans expect a return soon?
I moved to Sacramento, California last November and the live music scene is great, not too different to Sheffield’s, (there is also a Boardwalk here)! I decided to give things a go over here as most of my family are now residents and I saw it as a opportunity to branch out and experience something new, personally and musically.

I haven’t forgotten the UK and I’m coming back in February 2009 to tour and again in the summer to catch up on festivals. I will be adding more shows in the next couple of months and I will definitely be adding new Sheffield dates to the list soon enough. I can’t wait to come back and visit!

You’ve recently put together the Liz Ryder Band. Tell us about the musicians you’re currently working with?
The first person I met on the music scene over here in Sacramento was my mandolin player, Ken Burnette. He plays with a lot of people in the area and is an awesome musician, so I asked if he’d play with me, and he said yes! I met the other two guys Patrick (slide guitar) and Steve (double bass) through Ken and we formed the Liz Ryder band. They add a whole new dimension and style to my songs with an easy country/ bluegrass feel, though we don’t play together for every show. I still play solo, but for bigger shows and venues they back me up and I love that variety. We all play in each others bands, which is really fun.

What are your plans for your next recording?
I am recording a new album as we speak, which I’m very excited about! I have brought the harp back into my set after a couple of years and it’s featured on the CD. The band will be featured on some of it but I have lots of local guest musicians as well as some really simple solo stuff. I won’t say too much, except that it is a mixture of my own new songs and folk songs and it will be out in January.

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