Powerhouse, songstress, and diva are all accurate terms to describe 22-year-old Ryn Weaver, who seemingly came out of nowhere last year with her overnight Internet hit, “Octahate.” The Fool—her first album—debuted last week, blending modern pop with '70s-style Stevie Nicks sounds, and boasted credits with notables like Benny Blanco (best known for writing hits with Katy Perry and Rihanna), Passion Pit’s Michael Angelakos, and Charli XCX. On The Fool, it’s easy to see that Weaver craves and needs freedom with tracks like “New Constellations”: Keep showing me new constellations; I will run wherever I want to go. She’s certainly running, but the only direction this pop-queen will be heading anytime soon is up.
Saying that the naturally charming and intelligent alt-pop singer—who Charlie XCX refers to as a “goddess”—is easy to like is a massive understatement. Humble and grounded, Weaver's rise to fame hasn't changed her. Instead, the rising star says that although her rise to fame has been overwhelming and at times exhausting, she feels lucky to be surrounded by great mentors. Weaver speaks with an honest integrity that's wise beyond her years, unafraid to wear her heart on her sleeve.
We talked with Ryn about her stellar Bonnaroo set, inspirational breakups, freedom and stage fright. Click through the gallery to read the entire interview.
We caught your Bonnaroo set last weekend, and you were amazing! You were totally rocking out. How was it for you?It was so great! This was my second time at Bonnaroo, but it’s my first time playing. I came last year and I had a very good time. This year was definitely more work, and last time was more for fun, but it’s always a great festival. I was pretty much working the whole time, but I saw Kendrick! I saw a bunch of people, but for some of them, I was a little bit schwasted… I ate the jambalaya! Did you have the jambalaya? It was amazing.
Speaking of Bonnaroo, Nashville is very close. I heard that you once spent some time there working on some country songs?Oh, yeah! I bunch of people from my publishing company went on a road trip, and we ended up in Nashville to do a writing camp and work on some country songs. A lot of it was about building relationships, but we wrote some really cool songs that we put on hold. We’re going to kind of see what happens with them. There’s a whole game to being a professional songwriter, and I really do love country music. I love Bobbie Gentry and older names in country like Dolly Parton. I love that twang!
Did you always want to be a musician or did you have other career aspirations?Music has always been my number one. I think a lot of artists appreciate different elements and different arts. I’m also a painter and I draw; I do a lot of abstract portraiture. I also did theatre and acting. I think from each art form, you pull out different sides of yourself. There’s such an empathetic quality and a different perspective in theater, and the fun of that is you’re taking on a character. You have to learn why they do the things they do, and you have to justify it. You might have to play a character that you don’t relate to. If you saw them on the street, you might think, "what a bitch!" But you have to figure out why they act the way they do. You become empathetic. I think I learned a lot from acting, because it’s really more of a character study of human nature. From painting or visual art, you learn patience and craft. Music is a bit of both, but it’s also this exorcision of emotions. So, I really love all different art forms, and I don’t believe that anyone should limit himself or herself to one. I’ve always wanted to pursue a career in music, simply because you get to hold the reins more. I like to be creating my own world; I like to have it be true to me.
Do you ever wish that “Octahate” wouldn’t have been such an overnight success? You were essentially thrown into the spotlight all at once with that track.I think it was really just chaos, right? I got lucky. For anyone who gets their name out there and gets any sort of attention, or anything people just gravitate toward an image or a song or a little bit of both. There are plenty of people who have wanted to build something based on their looks and go from that. Everyone’s got roots. For me, I’ve just been making a lot of music. I guess in a way, I needed that song. It’s definitely the most pop-sounding one that I have, but I just thought, why not bang the door down with a big anthem? It was nerve-wracking, too, because when you start with something like that—something that’s more pop-oriented—some people shrug you off. They just think, "Oh, she’s another pop star." I don’t think there’s anything to be ashamed of with liking pop. The legends were all pop stars. People say, oh they’re just pop stars, you know? The Beatles, The Beach Boys, Fleetwood Mac—they stand the test of time. Joni, in her day, had pop songs on the radio. I wanted to embrace that with the song. I think you just catch a break and try to keep the ball rolling.
What are your earliest music memories? When did you start writing?Music has always been a part of me. I was always singing when I was cleaning the house or going to the potty. Yes, I had potty songs when I was young. I’d write musicals, too. I had my little brothers play whatever parts I wanted them to, and we’d just sing songs when I was three or four. I think it’s a creative pulse that some people kind of have. I think you can learn it, but you also have to be born on a level of being that weird. Like in a place where you’d actually try to sing songs before you could write. I like all of the arts, but music is my first child.
It seems like all of the other arts you’ve been involved with kind of go into your musical ventures, especially theater.It’s part of being an artist. I think all of our favorite artists incorporate elements of theatre, and that’s why we love them. You think, "Oh, what a ham!" They’re not necessarily playing a role, but they’re playing an amplified version of themselves. And that’s theater.
You’ve battled stage fright and nerves, but you definitely cannot tell when you’re onstage; you have such a confident presence. Has that disappeared at all since you’ve been playing more live shows recently?Oh, I definitely have stage fright. When I started this particular journey, I had other bands and [projects], but my first show I ever played was a sold-out show at the Bowery Ballroom in New York. Most of [the audience] were industry people who had furrowed brows and were thinking, "Let’s see if this girl can really do it." A lot of what’s happened [was] because of me having to prove myself and [perform] to a room full of people when I’d only ever played small gigs. This is also my first year doing songs for television.
There are a lot of things that you have to overcome. I was so nervous in the beginning, and then I had to do David Letterman. Just a couple of days ago, I did Fallon and looked so much more comfortable. You’re constantly growing into a flower. I’ve had the opportunity (or maybe misfortune?) to grow and try to carry out my dreams in front of people. I think that’s a part of my journey and it's really special. I’ve had the opportunity to have a really wonderful relationship with my fans and the people who are really rooting for me. I just write music and hope people like it. You know, I think today’s actually the anniversary of my first song coming out!
How did you deal with all of that quick success? It seems like so much pressure to be placed into the spotlight. If you could, would you ever change the way that it happened?I think it’s going to happen however it’s going to happen. Part of me could say that I wish I had three more years before I came out, never made any mistakes, and created some persona. Sure, any person would love to create a character and be on stage, but I also wouldn’t want to be starting a career at 26 or 27 because I feel like at this time in my life, I’m ready to perform and write. Any way you do it, there are pros and cons. I just feel very fortunate to be creating my music.
A career is not one album. I’m in love this album—I love what I’m doing now—but I also never want to be stuck into one creative corner. I purposefully wrote this album as somewhat of a concept album. I liked the idea of really depicting what my life has been the past couple of years and putting it into different chapters. I think it’s a really beautiful gift to be able to start your career quickly and to have people go on the journey with you. A lot of my favorite artists did that. If you have the drive, then of course you’re going to jump in, maybe before you’re 100 percent ready, but no matter what, you’re never going to be 100 percent ready. You’re just kind of learning along the way.
You mentioned that you wrote this album as a concept album. What was the process? How did it all come together?The EP that I put out a year ago was called Promises, and it was based on my life leading up to things. I dropped out of school because I wasn’t fulfilled, and I was also running away from a bad relationship. I knew I needed to start over because I had kind of lost myself. “Octahate” was the first song written for the project, actually. It was about me finding out that he was unfaithful and kind of just coping with a breakup and thinking, I can’t believe it’s gone this far. It was about realizing that it’s not because I did anything, but because you screwed up. There’s a spin-out in any relationship. I started seeing someone else, and that was another piece of it. And moving on with the other songs on the EP, I was finally happy. Then my ex tried to weasel himself back into my life, and I had to finish the EP.
I went through a process; it was about me taking my sweet time to get things done and sort of lolly-gagging around, breaking promises to myself. It all started from a very confessional place, and I wanted to work that into the record. It was part of a much bigger story and a coming of age. I think with a lot of women—well, and a lot of men—a lot of anyone, a lot of humans!—it’s kind of about loosing yourself to something that’s bad for you. You pick up the habits of other people after a while, and it’s about me finding something beautiful and letting myself dive in and be engulfed. But it’s also about realizing that maybe I’m not perfect. Maybe I’m part of the problem. Maybe I have everything I’ve ever wanted, but maybe I’m not ready for it now? Maybe I would have been years ago, but maybe I’ve claimed my freedom now and I’m happy in it. The record is really coming from a place of, "You don’t know me and I don’t know myself anymore." That feeling of, "You don’t love me, and I don’t love myself." It’s about finding myself again, and the songs on the record are all the different rebounds, if you will!
The tracks seem to really have a sense of rebellion, freedom, and maybe even an underlying fear of commitment. Did you write them to relay those messages?It’s all about truly finding my independence and freedom, and being so happy in it. It’s also about finding something wonderful and displaying that attachment, romance, comfort, and comparing that to freedom, independence, and strength. It’s about feeling and thinking—is that more important to me? The song “New Constellations” is about that and talks about all the people that were out stargazing, and they were reaching for the stars. They figured out the world wasn’t flat and that it was a sphere; you weren’t going to fall off the edge. It didn’t stop there; they didn’t think, “Oh that’s all we needed. We’ve been trying to figure it out for a while, and now we’re good!” They figured that out, and then there was a whole, new world of questions. If you’re a dreamer, if you’re the type of person who is always looking for more or wandering. For me, I kind of relate that back to love. It’s not like “I knew it, I knew it! I found exactly what I was looking for!” Of course, I knew that it existed, but now I know that maybe there’s even more than this. Maybe it’s just my constant, oh God, maybe rebellion? I don’t know. I think it’s a feeling that a lot of young women feel. Especially coming off of years of having our mothers, and our mother’s mother’s, and our mother’s mother’s mother’s unable to make these sorts of decisions. There were always stigmas around choosing not to have children, or stigmas around being an older, single woman. I think we’re one of the first generations where it’s actually really okay. Because of that, I think we’re embracing our freedom and we’re not so afraid. We’re not afraid to question things, and we’re also not afraid to look for exactly what we want. Because of that, we are slightly—probably more than slightly—afraid of commitment. It’s like we’re disillusioned when it comes to the whole love thing. Not because it doesn’t exist. There’s this feeling of the oppression of women before us (at least in my opinion) that is about that internal struggle as a woman: Giving up freedom and being married. We think that it’s kind of like falling into the steps of our mothers, so I want to make sure I’m doing it right and for the right reasons. I think it’s something we all struggle with, and that’s just the story of where I’m at right now.
So, where does Ryn Weaver want to go next?Who knows what the next record will be! I wanted “New Constellations” to end with people being able to make a decision, being able to listen and kind of take the songs for what they are. There’s a concept for that song. I had the idea two years ago, and it was a bit of a love song, but more than that. I think it grows into something very different, because it’s almost like a rebel’s anthem! I don’t feel the need to just do something because I’ve figured it out, and this is where I am and where I’ll stand. It’s the same as a couple of years ago when gay marriage was unheard of. People felt weird about it, and now it’s strange that anyone would have felt weird about it. Time changes things. I wrote that song for the people who were like me—the people that were black sheep and didn’t really feel that they were normal, or that they were crazy for wanting more from the world. I think the older you get, the more you realize you can find exactly what you want. And even if you do find exactly what you want, you can keep looking. There’s nothing wrong with wandering or being lost, because everyone’s lost. Some people just cover it up a bit more…
People truly relate to you and your songs because of that shared need for freedom and the constant search to find what we all want out of life. You really portray that on the record, and it’s super beautiful and so human.It’s bittersweet. It’s a notion that’s almost a rebellion, but it’s also the fact that I have what I want. It’s a constant…well, I don’t know what it is. The idea of being a runaway. I think a lot of people feel that way.
Also, those were my favorite kinds of artists growing up. Fiona Apple’s records were a contradiction in themselves. Half of it was this, half of it was that. Joni Mitchell, too. I grew up listening to emo music, you know what I mean? I listened to Death Cab! I was one of those little girls, too. A lot of what I listened to was also about questioning things all the time. I’ve always had these questions, and I’ve always been drawn to artists who have the same ones. I think they’re never really answered, but they’re explored. Through that exploration, people don’t feel as alone.
You’re always rocking such cool outfits onstage. Do you have a style icon?I have a couple! I love Penelope Tree. She’s kind of like the evil step-sister of Twiggy. I love Prince’s clothes; I’m a big fan of that type of flamboyant fashion. And of course David Bowie. It’s a nice combo. It’s slightly dark and playful, but also psychedelic and fun.
What kind of music do you listen to on the road? I’m awful, because I used to really research music all the time. When I’m writing, I don’t listen to anything. Especially anyone who’s out and about right now, because I really don’t want to be influenced by it. That’s the funny part—I’ll be compared to, like, seven different people. I’m not comparable, because I’m doing my own thing. If you’re across the board like that, you’re doing your own thing. That’s exactly what I wanted to achieve with my music. While I wrote the album, I didn’t listen to any music. That’s kind of extreme, I guess, but that’s what I do. So now, I just rely on my friends making me cool mix tapes. I’m like, "Please help me get back in!" I love Temples, I love Tame Impala, I love Perfume Genius. Aside from that, I always go back to old favorites. Whenever I travel, I listen to Joni Mitchell. I think she was such a lost lady, and I feel her there. I’m all over the board. I’ll literally listen to a country song, and then it will be pop and then folk. I think you have to listen to what you want to listen to and not feel weird about it not being cool. I like so much cheesy music, and I like so much credible music. All that matters is how the music makes you feel.
It’s so weird to me. I understand there’s a scene that goes along with music. But you can’t say you like the song “Teenage Dream” because Katy Perry wrote it?! Guess what? I fucking love that song. You know what I mean? People get too worried about not sounding cool. At the end of the day, the people who are the coolest are the people who do themselves completely. They’re not worried about being embarrassed. You know what’s embarrassing? Thinking that something’s embarrassing! You’re not leading your own path and being true to you.
What three words would your friends use to describe you?Honest, passionate, and wild.
Tell us a fact about yourself that most people don’t know.I was stung by a Portuguese man o' war when I was 15! I also don’t have any tattoos. I’m planning on getting some, but I feel like people always assume that other people have tattoos. I don’t. Oh, I also used to make people call me different names. I feel like I’ve had about six different names. My freshman year of high school, I asked people to call me "Willow." I just decided one day that was my name! I love it so much. And in seventh grade, I told people to call me "Charlie," which people said wasn’t a girl name. I was such a young girl, but now I’m friends with Charlie [XCX]! I feel like I was always sort of joking around saying, “Now you must call me Luna!” And people were like, “Okay, you’re Luna now!” In those times, that’s what I believed my true color was. Like when kids wore punk clothes and then grew up and became hipsters. You just kind of alter and with time, you change. I was such a weird little hippie kid, and then I got a little more dark and goth in high school. I think your emotional state dictates it, too. When you’re super happy, of course you’re going to be a little flower child. When you’re super sad, of course you’re going to be gothic and wonder what’s going on in the world…
If you could collaborate with a group of artists and make a big super-group, who would you choose?That’s tough. I would have loved to work with Syd (Barrett) from Pink Floyd. Actually, let’s do an all ladies super-group: Fiona Apple, Tori Amos, Joni Mitchell, Carly Simon, and Carole King. And who else should we throw in there? Joanna Newsom! Susanne Sundfor, she’s a Norwegian artist. Who else for good measure? Okay this is an obnoxious super-group. It’s like too super of a lady super group.
Of course, I love boys. Boys are awesome but it’s kind of nice not to have boys around sometimes. I feel like gossipy mags focus on keeping women down, and I think we need to make [women] feel really good about themselves. I think that’s what we’re missing in society. Okay, I have one more: Meredith Monk, she’s from the '80s. Oh, and we can throw Grace Slick in there? And Heart! Okay, that’s it—it’s officially done. There are too many ladies! Can you imagine? What if we got all of us together for a writing camp? Everyone could come together and write like one giant song, like “We Are The World.” But instead, it will be “We Are The Babes!” It would go: We are the babes, we write our music! It would be amazing. That’s my goal in life!