For someone who used to tag her music as #Fairy Pop on Soundcloud, LA-based 21-year-old Ryn Weaver is as robust as a brand new popstar could possibly be. The four tracks that make up her debut EP Promises, out today on Benny Blanco's new imprint Friends Keep Secrets, are heart-thumping anthems that could flatten anything in the Top 40 in an arm wrestle: just listen to “OctaHate” and “Promises,” the two tracks online right now that have racked up millions of plays between them in a matter of little more than a month. In part, this is due to the fact that her production is beefed up by the input of Blanco, as well as Cashmere Cat and Passion Pit’s Michael Angelakos, making her sound glossier than you might expect and yet at the same time volatile, likely to slide off into a distorted whirlwind or duet with her own chopped vocals at any turn.
More than sonic smoke and mirrors, though, what’s arresting about Ryn Weaver is a true understanding she seems to share with all the best pop artists in her lyricism: that vulnerability is the key to power. On “Promises,” she’s hard on her own inability to stick to plans, berating herself for being like an alcoholic on the floor mumblin’ somethin’ about ‘one more.’ It’s this disarming sense of honesty that makes her so intriguing as a new prospect for pop in 2014—where emerging pop singers with carefully honed aesthetics are a dime a dozen, Weaver’s making music that dares to really say something, loudly and clearly.
It’s the same loud, clear voice that greets me on the phone when we sit down to talk one summery July evening. Unfiltered and friendly, Weaver immediately tells me she loves my accent and is so frank in response to my questions that it feels like one of the most unguarded interviews I’ve ever done. It’s undoubtedly the same person who gleefully wrote comments in response to online trolls over on Stereogum when her debut track was posted (“hehe that would be nice to have some major label money,” she quipped), cutting straight through the bullshit to get to the truth: that is, in her words, that she’s “broke as fuck.” At one point in our conversation, before revealing the role Tinder played in her burgeoning music career, she lowers her voice and says. “Okay, are we ready for the real real?” I say that I am. You better be too, because Ryn Weaver is not going anywhere.
How’s your day going, what have you been up to? It’s so great. I’m in Los Angeles right now, and I’m writing for a really cool project that I’m not allowed to talk about yet, but it’s very exciting. It’s for a boss ass bitch, that’s all I’ll say.
Tell me about “OctaHate,” the track that started it all. Why eight times the hate? Actually, we were all working on a track and the guys titled it “OctaLoser” originally. That was the track I took home and wrote some stuff on and played with, and by the end of it I re-titled it “OctaHate.” At first that was actually more because it was the first song that I had finished with them, and I was pretty insecure about it, I was like “I hate it!” I was almost apologising for myself before I even gave it to them. But then as time went on it was like, we need to think of a new name, and I was like actually, that kind of makes the most sense as a name, because it’s about a certain ex-boyfriend. I liked the idea of “hate times eight.” The song itself is a tantrum, it’s like this “fuck you,” you know what I mean? It just made sense to me. And also playing off the word octa, I liked the idea of an octopus: something that just won’t let go.
If “OctaHate” is a fuck you to an ex, “Promises” feels more anthemic, more of a positive song for rallying you. What’s that about, where did it come from? Basically this whole EP is me coming into myself as an artist, and finding my bravado. “Promises” for me was about—you know, this thing falls into your lap, these people are interested in working with you, and they think you’re really talented and they want you to lead the rally, and you’re like, “Well, I don’t think I’m that talented,” you know? It was a lot about my running away. It’s been a year in the making, this EP, and a lot of that time was spent trying to find myself. “Promises” actually, for me, was more about me not keeping my promises—not only to them, but breaking promises to myself. I was taking too long, and so that song was an apology to them and also to myself, for not finishing, for not being confident and getting my shit done.
What anthems do you listen to when you need motivation? I listen to Joni, Kate, Laura Nyro, you know, all the bad bitches of the past. I just love listening to strong female singer-songwriters that have something to say. And Bowie. I think I love [Bush] for the same reason I love David Bowie; I love these artists who can go all over the board in order to tell their story and make their story well known. They’re all over the place and they’re dramatic and they’re theatrical. That’s something that resonates with me, the theatricality. I don’t really consider myself a popstar, I really consider myself more on the rock side of things...a lot of my favourite artists are people who made this dope music but it wasn’t always about pop.
Do you have a theatrical background? Yeah, I trained in acting. I like every kind of art there is. I paint, I sculpt, I do anything that wouldn’t be a very smart career choice.
You’re a great lyricist and you self-describe as a writer. So what’s your favourite book? Oh, that’s hard. Right now, I actually just finished Girls Like Us by Sheila Weller, and that’s actually about Joni, Carole and Carly Simon and how they changed the game by just being real women. That was a great one. Oh God, there’s too many. I love Hemingway. I love his imagery; it’s stark, and yet it’s still vivid. That’s something I want to work on. He’ll explain something so well, but in the shortest sentences. And his repetition, his metro—I just love the way he talks. Or I guess writes.
What are you reading at the moment? I’m almost finished with Just Kids by Patti Smith. I’m late to the game with that one, but it’s so good. Recently, I’m drawn to these historical books by other artists and females that I really admire, because I’m in a weird place right now, so I’ve been wanting to see other women’s stories and feel their energy. It’s so cool to read about Patti Smith and how broke she was. I’ve been pretty broke, just trying to make it work for myself. Reading about these women who put their careers first, but also lived—their lives weren’t just about being artists, they were about being people, and that’s what informed their art. I’ve been drawing from a lot of that recently.
Has it been a long journey? It’s been a long one. That’s the thing, everyone says “overnight success"—there’s no such thing. I moved to New York City for a place in school, and I was working two restaurant jobs and [making music] and I wasn’t sleeping enough to do any of it. Eventually I moved back to California, and it was the same thing. I was couch-surfing, and going up and down the coast and just working enough, doing little movie things just to get by, so that I could feed myself while I slept on couches and made music. You know, nothing’s an overnight success story.
Tell me from the beginning about how you met Benny Blanco and ended up working with him and Cashmere Cat and the rest; when did things take off? It was four years ago, I moved to New York City and it was actually on Halloween that I met Benny through my ex-boyfriend. We went out that night, and we ended up talking about music and all sorts of stuff. Then, [months later] randomly—are we ready for the real real?—my friend had a Tinder account, and we were out in LA, and she was like, “Who is this guy? We have mutual friends!” And I was like, “Oh my god, swipe yes! I know him!” And so we ended up asking [Benny] what he was doing here in LA. He was like, “I come here half the year to make music.” And then we all were going back and forth...and he was like, “Come to my birthday party tomorrow.” So we go to this party, it was so silly. My friend was going for him, and I was like, “Um, let me talk to you for a second, I’ve been really trying with the music thing.” And he was like, “Well, good luck.” [laughs] So then I sent him my Soundcloud, along with a couple of his friends, and he ended up calling me like two days later like, “We really want to work with you.” Tinder got me a record deal.