Tanya Ryan is a country crossover artist who seamlessly integrates roots and pop elements to modern country tones. She recently released her single “My Heart Song” from her upcoming album Open, out February 20th.
I got the chance to talk with her about how she first got into making and performing music, the Canadian country scene, the story behind “My Heart Song”, her blog and so much more! Keep reading to see what she had to say!
Tell me a little bit about how you first got into making and performing music.
I have been making music since I was quite young. I wrote my first song when I was 7 years old. It was about a girl whose father went to war, then died in the war, and her feelings thereafter. I’m not sure why my 7 year old brain thought to start my songwriting journey with such heavy content, but that’s what it did.
Performing music has always been much more challenging for me. I was an incredibly shy person for so many years; I never had the nerve to go on stage and sing. Not by myself! I had been in choir and dance, but when I finally decided to step on stage alone, I was 21 years old. I was probably awful, but everyone that was there was incredibly supportive. I remember thinking when I got off stage, “Hmmm… I bet I could do that better next time”, and that’s been my philosophy ever since. I keep performing and keep doing my best to improve upon my previous performance.
Was there a specific moment or person that made you realize that music is what you wanted to pursue professionally?
My dad used to encourage me, especially if he’d catch me singing to myself. He’d say: “If you wanted to be a singer, you know, you could do that”, to which I so often replied: “Oh dad, that’s not a realistic career choice!” – and then I went to university for a marketing degree.
When I found myself 3 years later, quite miserable and extremely unfulfilled, it made me think, “What if my dad was right? What if I could do that?” So, much to the concern and dismay of my guidance counsellors and the judgmental guy doing my taxes, I dropped out of Uni and pursued a career in music.
You are based in Alberta, Canada and it seems like the Canadian country scene is hotter than ever right now. From your experience, what was/is the country scene in Canada like?
It’s lovely here! Have you been to visit? Please come by. We have some pretty epic scenery.
I am really proud of our music industry. The community we have built here in our industry feels very much like family. I’ve met lifelong friends here, and I’m so grateful for these relationships and connections.
We have some truly and amazingly talented artists, producers, and creators here. I feel that Canadians are a bit modest by nature – and I wish we were a little less humble sometimes. I don’t always feel that we, ourselves, truly honour and appreciate the amazing music we have. It would be so great to see more of our homemade music represented on radio stations.
I’m always genuinely curious about what artists want to convey with their music. If you had to describe the music you make without using genre names, how would you describe it?
How abstract am I allowed to be in answering this question? It sounds like the rise and fall of emotions. I would describe it as the sound my soul would make if you could hear it. For something a bit more tangible, it would be like the result of a musical math equation involving Norah Jones, Colbie Caillat and Sheryl Crow.
Going off of that, who are some of your musical influences?
I have a vastly eclectic taste in music – so it can vary dramatically. The discovery of David Ramirez was hugely impactful on some of the sounds you can hear on this album, in particular. I love Ray Charles, Zac Brown Band, Maren Morris, The Eagles, Whitney Houston… Oh I could go on for days.
Let’s talk about your new album Open, which is coming out in a few weeks. What was the recording process like for this project? How long did it take for this to come together from start to finish?
It took longer than I care to admit. I lost my voice for about a year and a half, which put a huge stall in production. We recorded beds for 2 songs and I lost my voice shortly after. I wasn’t able to go back to them until about 8 months ago. It worked out exactly as it should’ve I suppose because I didn’t actually finish “My Heart Song” until about 7 months ago, which was perfect timing as we were back in studio at exactly that time.
I absolutely love the lead single from the album, “My Heart Song”. What’s the song about?
I appreciate that, thank you! I’m really proud of that song.
Due to my inability to sing for such a duration, I was really struggling emotionally. It triggered a really dark depression. I questioned everything about myself: my worthiness, my purpose. I isolated myself. I couldn’t see my purpose, value or worthiness. It was really quite bleak. I had been through emotional difficulty in the past, but this was somehow different, none of my usual coping strategies were making a difference.
Then there was this day that a lyric entered my mind: “My heart knows things that I don’t…” I sat down with it and starting writing anything that would come up. It all just sort of fell out; when the words were all on the page, it felt like an answer of sorts. I finally didn’t feel alone and felt like everything that I needed the whole time was always inside me. It was a very Dorothy Gale/Kansas type of moment.
Something I’ve always been curious with songwriting is how topics come to mind. Did you know what you wanted to write about going into the song session that birthed “My Heart Song” or did it just come about organically?
In the case of “My Heart Song”, it just sort of flooded out. It was written line by line, top to bottom. That’s not always the way it goes though. I’ve written many songs where I had the idea first and the lyrics came after. I don’t find I have a process that’s organized or exact. It varies very much on the day, the content of the song, and who I write with – or if I write alone. It’s almost like weather; it just depends.
What was the songwriting process like for this song specifically?
I started with the first line of the song… and the following lines just followed. When it stopped flowing, I stopped too. I left the song for a bit, and didn’t come back until I felt the flow again. That song was really interesting; I don’t experience all songwriting that way. I think it was just the way it was supposed to come out.
Was there any major changes made to “My Heart Song” once you got into the recording studio, whether it be in the lyrics or something sonically?
Nothing major. I added two words to the chorus based on feedback from my producer. Beyond that, it was more a matter of communicating the sonic arrangement that was in my head to my producer and the musicians in the room.
Is there a track from this album that you feel best represents you, both personally and as an artist?
“My Heart Song” – it’s the song that I’m closest to. The most meaningful. The most real. I have never been any more vulnerable than I have been with this song. It’s like a window straight into my heart.
I also know you are an avid blogger through your website and are very open about your life and experiences, including your current pregnancy. What made you want to open up even more about your life in a different medium?
I feel really strongly about doing my best to create a positive impact on this planet while I’m here. For me, this means to do what I can to help anyone around me enjoy their lives, find fulfilment, and create meaningful connection. The way that I have best found works for me to do that is by being entirely candid about my own experiences, for better but especially for worst. Shedding light on some of the darker places and giving permission to others to do the same, in hopes that we all feel a little less alone at the end of the day. Blogging felt like a really direct way to create this candid dialogue and one that might even shed perspective on some of the songs I’ve been writing and where they come from.
Last question — we’re called Talk Nerdy With Us because we all have an inner nerd so what is something that you’re currently nerding out about?
I am the ultimate nerd. All of us Ryans are. We wear it as a badge of honour! I am a total Potterhead (Ravenclaw ftw). I am *obsessed* with anatomy and especially the role of fascia in the human body, I love human psychology and how humans interact with one another, and I love tarot cards. You wanna get me going on some sort of 20-minute non-stop nerd-rant, just ask about any of those things.