Ryn Weaver never experienced what it was like to be an artist on the verge of breaking through. Though she has been tirelessly honing her songcraft since connecting with producer Benny Blanco in 2013, she was never playing open mics, opening for bigger bands, building a career slowly. With her Jesse Ware-co-signed first single, “Octahate"—co-written by Charli XCX, with production help from Benny Blanco, Passion Pit's Michael Angelakos, and Cashmere Cat—the Encinitas, California-born musician was digitally catapulted into a full-fledged music career—touring, press, radio promotion, and all. On a 95-degree day in the desert, less than a year after that gum-snapping power-anthem premiered on SoundCloud, the 22-year-old pop singer finds herself on a festival stage for the second time in two weeks, performing much of her upcoming debut album, The Fool, at Coachella.
Inside the festival's Mojave tent, at the early hour of 1:15, Weaver, whose real name is Aryn Wüthrich, takes the stage in a Maison Valentino shift with a built-in cape in shades of green, her long brown hair flowing well past her shoulders. Weaver's aesthetic has a thespian quality—she favors Victorian style ruffles and high collars—but somehow that theater kid vibe feels more genuine than campy. I had seen her in October 2014, playing her first show at the Bowery Ballroom as part of New York's CMJ, and again, in January 2015, on Letterman, for her TV debut. During those performances, she was visibly self-conscious; the wobbly vibrato that appears sparingly on her record was almost constant, and distracting. In the heat of that Indio Saturday, though, it feels like I am watching an entirely different performer: her voice is steadfast and consistent, alternating between a roaring belt and calculated, precise runs; the young people in this bleary-eyed, early afternoon crowd are singing along to the words. Weaver's initial goal had been to be an actress, and she studied musical theater for two years at NYU's Tisch School of the Arts. From the looks of things today, though, her free spirit seems better suited to a career in music, where she can make each stage fully her own, bringing the crowd fully into her world.
That world is a complex one. While “Octahate" was the kind of super catchy pop tune that requires you to press play over and over again simply because it won't get out of your head, Weaver's debut album, The Fool—produced by Blanco and Angelakos, and out June 16th on Mad Love/Interscope Records—shows a wider range, moving between pop-radio-ready earworms like ““Promises," Florence and the Machine-esque electro-pop, and power ballads reminiscent of the Lilith Fair-era girl rock renaissance. The album tells the story of a young woman trying to find her way in the world, battling with her wild side and learning to accept that she may never be satisfied, because sometimes everything you want still isn't enough.
This restless quality is apparent from the moment she sits down next to me on a couch in the media area at Coachella. She's sweating profusely: there's no way to avoid dripping sweat in heat like this, and she jokes that she reapplied her heavy stage makeup before showing up for the interview. Weaver is just getting started: she's played so few shows that she still keeps count, and the venues just keep getting bigger. During our interview, I can sense a little bit of nervousness underneath her sometimes brazen, wide-eyed exterior—she seems unsure of the future, and of the effect that all this newfound success is going to have on her physical and emotional health. It's hard to tell if her nervousness is a result of her age—she's still very young, after all—or the fact that there really isn't a blueprint for the journey she's embarking on. If one thing's for certain about her story, though, it's that she's writing the script herself.
Coachella is your first festival. How has the experience been? It's wild. I've been saying this to people: I've been doing this for awhile, trying to break in, but this is the first year that it's going well. It's rare that within the first year of things clicking that they're really clicking. It doesn't really hit me until [a show is] done, like “Wow." Today, [at Coachella] it's during the day and you can see every face. It just hits you in moments.
There's such a difference between your performance at that early Bowery show and this one. It was my first fucking show! I was so nervous, I kept telling myself, “Walk, walk a little bit." I was too shy to move, so I was standing there bopping, and in my head I was like, “C'mon girl, you can do it." I'm a lot more comfortable on stage now.
Even the difference between this performance and Letterman was pretty shocking. I was shy as fuck [on Letterman] too. It was so scary! TV !I'm still terrified on stage, but I've had to grow quickly. I've done like 25 shows, and you have to keep getting better if you have all these eyes on you. I can't stand here the whole time and be like, “I get shy." Lady Gaga is someone who says, “I live for the applause." I don't fully live for the applause, but I can say with each venue that you move up, the more real it gets.
Is there any part of you that wishes “Octahate" hadn't been such an overnight success, so that you could taken this early part of your career more slowly? Yes and no, because I was coming out of the gate with a song that was so big and was also a co-write, so people were going to say what they were going to say. I was afraid to put “Octahate" first, because I have a bunch of other songs that I've written that are maybe less pop-leaning. But as much as it's weird to start with a song that big, I wouldn't have gotten all this without it, so I wouldn't change anything.
"Artists are weird, and they're never satisfied, and that's why they do what they do."
Your grandfather, Max, who passed away at the beginning of April, lived here in the Valley. Had you planned your set especially for him? When I was first booked for Coachella, he hadn't passed yet. I was super excited to play for him here, because he was really sick. He made it to one of my L.A. shows, and that was really special. There's a whole story [on the record] about rebelling against what you're supposed to do, which I think is kind of the modern woman's view. There's a song on the record called “Traveling Song," about how even if I'm not making the right decisions or walking the path I should be walking, nobody knows where they're going, and there's solace in that. People cling to the stars, and people cling to a god, or they cling to whatever makes them feel that they're not alone. My grandfather was this romantic European man, and he was like [puts on an exaggerated French accent], “I'm going to move to America and be a chef!" So I take solace in knowing that anything that I do that's selfish, not following what I'm supposed to do—that in those moments, I see him everywhere I go.
Do you see music as something you shouldn't be doing? Yeah, kinda. It's hard to keep yourself grounded—nobody knows where you are or what you're going through. I have a band, but I'm also a solo artist, and my band is a part of it, but it can be a lonely life. As far as dating—nobody's meant to be traveling all the time, and it comes with a lot of hardship. But maybe that's why I was drawn to this job—I've never wanted to stay put or be tied down to anything or stay in one place.
Do you think this refusal to settle is part of being an artist? A lot of female artists, I feel, only become more bitter with age, and that's why I love them: they don't settle. We live in this tragic beautiful world and, I don't know, I don't wish that on myself—to be old and angry. But at the same time, artists are weird, and they're never satisfied, and that's why they create and do what they do.
Why do you think artists get angrier as they get older the industry? It's not the healthiest choice. This life amplifies your negative traits. There are things that come along with being an artist that people don't talk about—the abuse of substances, for example. When people get lonely, they lash out. People were so mad at Kanye for Yeezus, right? But he felt so crucified by the public, he felt like he didn't have his own life, so he's like, “There you go."
There's a ferocity to your live performances sometimes that could be construed as anger. Are you angry? The opening song on the album, “Runaway," is very angry. It goes, They tell me, 'Temper, temper, little lady/ Hold your tongue/ It's not becoming,' and then, My blood boils rapids to break the levee. So I am kind of an angry bitch, you know? But most of the songs are based on me meeting someone who was so selfless and loving, and then learning that I could find real love and didn't have to be angry, but then me finding that I'm still not satisfied. That's the issue at hand for me: I guess I'm terrified of commitment, or I'm terrified of settling for something. “New Constellations" is all about that: when they were charting the stars and discovered the world wasn't flat, they werent like, “My work is done"; they were like, “Okay, let's find more." I found what I was looking for, but am I a fool to settle for what I was looking for as a 22-year-old female, or am I a fool to keep looking? That's what the record is about. It's like, “What is a fool?"
Do you ever miss your life before “Octahate?" Yeah, I do. It depends on the day—it's volatile. I miss being able to go home for a week and be irresponsible. I was never as much of a business person. People would be like, “Oh, she hasn't answered her texts in three weeks," and that was just me. I miss being really irresponsible, but I guess that's a part of life—you have to grow up. It's really neat, and I love that people know my songs, but it's hard to make new friends now. You meet people in the industry and ask, “What do you do?," and they say they make music. It's like, “I'd love to help you, but I don't know what I can do.'
Where do you see yourself going from here? This is what I always wanted, though maybe I'm just afraid of being pinned down. A lot of my favorite artists took years between records because they were like, “Fuck y'all, this is hard; I'll be back when I wanna be." I don't play by the rules of the industry, or let it dictate what I'm going to do. I play by my rules, and that's how I'm going to last, hopefully. If you let too many people tell you what to do and put their fucking worm in your ear, you go crazy. I'm really good at not listening to anybody.
Correction: a previous version of this article erroneously stated that Ryn Weaver studied musical theater at Tisch. As the artist has pointed out on twitter, she actually studied acting.