Interview: Freya Ridings On Her Debut LP & Songwriting Process

Freya's Defiant 'Castles'
Freya Ridings ups the tempo with defiant breakup anthem, 'Castles.'

Last year, Freya Ridings became the first female artist to land a (completely) self-penned top 10 hit in the UK since 2012 when “Lost Without You” peaked at number 9. The independently-released ballad sold more than 600,000 copies over the course of its 10-month chart journey and landed the Brit a major label deal with Capitol Records in the US. Since then, she has continued to impress with emotionally devastating anthems like “You Mean The World To Me” and “Castles.” Her self-titled debut LP arrives on July 19 and promises to be one of the year’s best.

I recently caught up with Freya during a whirlwind promo trip to Los Angeles and she opened up about the creation of her breakthrough ballad. The Brit also spoke about her unique writing process (she conjures sad songs at the piano with one eye firmly shut) as well as her album’s overarching theme of loneliness. Other topics of conversation included the impact of fellow Brits Adele and Amy Winehouse on her music, working with legendary producer Greg Kurstin and club remixes. Get to know the breakout star a little better in our Q&A below.

“Lost Without You” is one of those songs that just won’t quit.

Yeah! It was out for almost 10 months before it went to the charts.

Did you think it was done at that point?

Absolutely. We released another single. That’s the best thing about being with an indie label, it feels like a family. If it’s a major label, they put so much pressure on every single. I think they were much more interested in growing a fan base instead of one-off singles. No one was expecting this. But, I’m so, so grateful for it.

Did you think it was going to be a big song when you wrote it?

It was a strange day. I’ve been writing since I was 11. But I don’t write with a pen, I just sing at the piano with one eye shut like a pirate. It’s really weird. I heard that your subconscious is on the right side. I always shut my right eye when I play, or both eyes. I feel like you go to a deeper place in your subconscious, and you tell the stories that are more deeply within you.

“Lost Without You” came from a much more subconscious place. It’s funny, all of the songs that seem to connect with people the most come from that place of… you’re not thinking, you’re just creating. It just came out fully formed, which never happens. So I was like, “This is a strange one.” I literally opened my eyes and I was about to cry. I don’t cry when I write my own songs. I’m not really a crying person. I always write based off personal experience. But that one just felt a bit more emotionally charged.

Is there a downside to having a song with such staying power? You have other great songs that deserve to shine.

Growing up, I promised myself that if I was every lucky enough to have a hit and also a hit that I had written myself, I would never get tired of performing it. I would always be grateful for that. When people are connecting to a song, I would never want to get in the way of that. It’s what I’ve always worked towards, having that sort of connection. I’m never going to be like, “This has had its moment now, it’s done.” That storytelling meets connection is all I’ve ever cared about. It’s beautiful, but at the same time I’m so excited to share new music.

Speaking of which, your debut album finally arrives in July.

Yes, I’m so excited for this record to be out. I have been working on it, basically for my entire life. There’s some songs that I started 10 years ago and there are some that I have just written recently, so it really is the loves and losses of last 10 years of my life.

Is it a mix of songs from your live album and new material?

Exactly. It’s a mix. A lot of songs that I love didn’t quite make it, but there needed to be space for a few new ones that I’m so excited to share with people. There’s a natural progression, but I also want to stay grateful to the songs that got me here as well.

Greg Kurstin reproduced “You Mean The World To Me.” What was it like working with him?

He’s a legend. I went to his house and when I rang his doorbell, I was like, “Oh my god. Someone should stop me.” I’m such a big fan. I was like, “How am I allowed into this man’s house?” He’s a gorgeous human being. Never met a more humble man in my life. When he’s just chatting, he’ll be like, “Oh yeah, when I was doing 21.” And you’re like, “Oh my god.” These are the albums that I grew up on, the ones that got me through entire breakups. You’re like, “Oh my god.” He’s just such a musical genius.

Given that you usually write songs at the piano by yourself, what is it like doing sessions with other songwriters?

I feel like it’s such a personal experience. You need a real soul connection. It’s either there and you click, or you don’t. You have to go through so many people to find the ones that click, and I’m so grateful to have found those few people that I really trust. I really trust their opinion on melody and production. It really means a lot.

Is it like musical speed-dating?

It’s totally like speed dating. It gets a bit disheartening if you don’t find a match. You’re like, “Oh.” But I think also because I write so much on my own, I always have to remember that there are pros and cons to sessions. But I am fascinated by people’s creative working methods, so I try and learn as much as I can. But I do have quite a specific yet weird one in terms of sitting at a piano with my eyes closed. I gravitate to calm, grounded people.

What’s your process in sessions?

I feel like the best writers always have a chat beforehand. And the ones who are less experienced are like, “Let’s just get straight into it.” A complete stranger you’ve never met. It’s very bizarre. It’s almost like you have to know a bit about the person’s journey. That’s why it’s so much more important to build relationships that go over years, instead of just one day bursts. I’m not sure how that works. It might for a few people, but not overall.

Who did you write with on this album?

There’s a song I wrote with Chris Braide and Bonnie McKee. She’s stunning. She was so on it. It’s rare to meet people who are that good at lyrics, really rare. Chris is amazing too. He’s from Manchester. I always get on with people who are outsiders where they are. He’s a really wonderful person. I can see why Sia and him work so well together. He’s wonderful. I can’t wait for that song to be out.

The overarching themes on the album seem to be loneliness and heartbreak. Will there a couple of upbeat moments to break it all up?

There are some songs about turning loneliness into fire that builds you back from the ashes. That’s the next stage, but, overall, the feeling of isolation never leaves you. If you had it as a child, that doesn’t leave you. And in terms of relationships as well, I think if you have that in you, you take rejection so much harder. I’ve always felt so strongly about things. For that to now be the thing connecting with people, it’s so ironic. But there’s also a beauty to it.

So no happy songs on the horizon?

It’s not like I’m permanently down! I’m quite happy in my life. But those moments where you walk home after losing someone who has been your best friend. Where do you go in those moments? I just sit at a piano and I tell that piano instead of friends, which is why the piano does feel like a safe space to me no matter where I am in the world. I gravitate towards them. It’s been there for me when so many other things haven’t.

Who are your biggest inspirations?

Obviously Adele. Also Amy Winehouse and Florence Welch. They’re all London girls and they are all just incredible songwriters. It’s unbelievable. I’m literally born in the same area of London, Tottenham, as Adele. And Amy Winehouse grew up literally in Southgate, where I live. It’s kind of strange.

There has been something of a revival with male singer-songwriters like with Lewis Capaldi, Dean Lewis and Tom Walker, but there don’t seem to be as many women.

I know what you mean actually. Yeah, there are a good amount of boys. I’m a huge Tom Odell fan. I love Tom Walker. I love Lewis Capaldi. I love them. I saw A Star Is Born on the plane and I was like, “Oh my god.” I was fascinated because I have seen behind the curtain. It made me feel so much more proud for writing songs that I’m actually proud of. For a long time people did say I had to change my hair, or my name, or my clothes. I was like, “No.” I’m a bit stubborn. I feel like that stubbornness is good.

Will there be more remixes? I love what High Contrast and Kia Love did with “Lost Without You” and “Ultraviolet.”

I love them too. When I hear those songs on the radio, it’s usually the remix. It’s such a joy to see how far this little ballad has come with the help of these talented dance producers. It is an incredible thing.

When you’re making an album do you block out what’s happening in the music world or try to soak it up?

I’m definitely in that place of absorbing as much as I can from new areas. When you listen to new music, your brain does have an openness to it, which you won’t have when you’re writing. It’s rare to hear songs that really resonate. Billie Eilish is one person that I’m obsessed with. I’m so impressed lyrically. Her album is just absolutely stunning. Hozier’s new album, I love it. I’m supporting him actually in November. I made a vision board two years ago that had Hozier on it. I’m so cringe, but the fact that it has come true is crazy!

Thanks so much for your time. Good luck with the album!

Thank you so much.

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