Aware that we had limited time (at the outset) RTL Today’s interview with the singer-songwriter behind the smash hit Lost Without You begins with very little by way of pleasantries. Odd for a pair of Brits nattering on the phone. We should have at least asked each other about the weather.
As with a lot of acts who burst onto the scene from relative obscurity, it is an often mis-held view that things go from 0 to 100 overnight. With Freya Ridings, however, it was years of gigging, open mics, schlepping gear from one place to another, a couple of live albums, cover versions and THEN, overnight success. Thanks to her unmistakable voice being placed in a reality TV show in a scene that would not only become a watershed moment for the musician herself but has also gone down as a defining moment in television for the last five years.
Throughout our chat, Ridings is relentlessly upbeat, fully aware of how precarious her position is and wholly appreciative of her growing fanbase, she does, though, say literally a lot. Literally. All. The. Time.
So, was it a case of opening the curtains one morning and suddenly being a star?
“It was probably not as simple as that. It’s one of those things…I’ve been playing and writing since I was nine and put on my first show aged eleven, so, for me it’s a culmination of all those years playing venues and pubs. You know, playing pubs opposite The Roundhouse (iconic London venue) to then playing The Roundhouse. It was literally, like, three years.”
Even so, the press would only really concentrate on the angle of Lost Without You, people have read the ‘musician struggles for years, then comes good’ story – this one though was different. Although attached to the artifice of a TV show, the public really took to the emotion behind Lost’s plaintive vocals and sparse keys. Not unlike the way that Lewis Capaldi has enjoyed phenomenal success with Someone You Used To Love, Freya’s track really struck a chord. The song is as much as the audience’s now as it is her own.
“I noticed a huge difference, especially over the summer (2019), it did feel like things were speeding up, when Lost… was on Love Island (hugely popular UK ‘reality’ show), after that it seemed that everything I had ever been working towards kind of had rocket fuel added to the rocket and it was all really exciting.”
Certain corners of the interwebs would suggest that this ‘sudden’ elevation from unknown London girl with big voice becomes a household darling was a little calculated. Those people can get knotted and ruin other people’s parties. Someone call the fun police. Ridings is adamant that the first she knew of the track being used by the show was when she got a call from her friends. Their voices, Freya says, made her realise just how big a deal this was. She was in a taxi at the time, so the story goes and was unaware that things were going to go mad. Really mad.
“I didn’t know it was going to be on the show. I literally…Look, I think what people don’t realise is that no one tells you if your song is going to be used on a show and also, songs are used on shows pretty much every day of the week and it doesn’t really make any difference. It’s in the background and people just go about their lives. So to have that reaction where it was so full of love and so extreme and I am asked about this still very often, it was a shock to me – the reaction, the outpouring.”
Following that initial moment of shock Ridings was immediately reminded of the good fortune that led to this (apply inverted commas) ‘meteoric rise’… “I was very fortunate to have a song on a piece of British TV show that struck a chord with the nation’s heart, that was really, truly spellbinding.”
It must be asked…and it’s a delicate question to phrase…would Freya Ridings be a household name without that defining moment? “It’s the strangest thing, I literally played Lost Without You at open mic nights around London…look, I wrote the song five years ago before THAT moment. So for me, it was playing that song for five years and never thinking that anyone would want to listen to it outside me or my family. So, when this lightning bolt kind of hit the song and it went stratospheric, it was strange because I had always loved it as this kind of underdog song that I had written, when utterly heartbroken in my front room, and to see it arrive on a platinum disc that was kind of ‘what is this?’ it was a whirlwind, that’s for sure.”
Again, this is delicate, for any number of artists playing the same track, and such a successful one time and again can be seen as a drag…I hosted a UK chart show on Eldoradio for two years, Lost Without You featured on that show for months. I am not saying I grew tired of it, but, then I am not playing it live night after night. I’ve not rehearsed it myriad times, I haven’t fine-tuned it, then gone on the road and had journalists (no inverted commas this time) asking me about it relentlessly…is Freya Ridings sick of the tune that broke her?
“In what sense, which part?” for a moment, the amiable Londoner is gone and there’s a tiny change in tone…does playing the track live now come with a sigh rather than a butterfly.
This is a relief, packaged and promoted, Ridings is embarking on a European tour that should win her hordes of fans in areas not versed in Love Island and people are going to fall in love (or out of love) to her most well-known track all over again. “I made a promise to myself, in those wilderness years, when no one had really heard of me, you know you’re just fighting every step of the way to get any gig you can. The struggle, if I can say that, is so fun but it is also very, very real.”
Ridings suggests that she identified early on that if she did have a hit, and remember there were no guarantees, that she would “never stop being grateful for that song.”
Taking the song, and the context into different places is part of what gives Ridings the energy to play to new audiences and have them experience it uniquely. “I feel a range of different emotions, every audience gives you a different reaction, a different energy. Some of them a re melancholic, more sad but it also feels euphoric because I overcame heartbreak and loneliness, and through that came a connection with so many people and now I get to do the thing I love because of that…so I will never stop being grateful for it.”
© Good Soldier
Audience interaction, as you might expect is a key driver in Ridings’ performances; “Over the summer I got to play at some of the UK’s biggest festivals, I’d never even been to some of them, and the feeling and feedback was just incredible…Isle Of Wight, Glastonbury…all of these huge gigs, because at the time, the biggest crowd I had played to was five thousand, as support for Tears For Fears a couple of years before, so, for me to walk on stage – and no one would tell me how many people where out there, the curtain goes back and there was this roar, the energy hits you like a wave and you get knocked back. It’s literally like something out of a film. You could feel that something that happened.”
Freya Riding’s childhood was not easy. Bullied at school for being tall, for having red hair, for being awkward and shy, these things are heavily addressed in any of the other interviews online and don’t need speaking about again, yet armed with a smash hit song, a soon to be released eponymous debut album and a growing fanbase, Freya still felt like an imposter; “I never thought that I wold get to stand on those stages. I was never cool enough to even go to these festivals as a teenager. So to be standing there with my band, in front of all those people was one of the best moments in my life.”
Those that caused her grief in the past, do they know slide in the DM’s and ask for backstage passes? (laughs) “Nnnooooo, the strangest thing is that they saw me as something so different from them. I’m from a family of actors (Freya’s dad voices Daddy Pig in Peppa Pig and starred as Bernard Green in Common As Muck), I was always close to my family and not social. I kept those that were close to me and supported me since I was a chubby little redhead begging them to listen to my songs on a plastic keyboard. The support and approval from them is all I need, everyone sort of melted away…which was lovely.”
So, as someone who has been (possibly) misunderstood through her formative years and now firmly in the public eye, what is the most common misconception that Ridings experiences from those that don’t know her? “I think people have the impression that I am really sad because my music is sad. Literally, my family and I spend the whole time giggling we are really quite theatrical (laughs). Although (pause) I do use my music as a means to challenge the more melancholic times of my life, the struggles and overcoming strife… I do tun to my piano. But when things are going well, I love just sitting around the table and having a laugh with people.”
If people, then, assume that the 25-year-old spends most of her time tethered to her piano, what wold be the most surprising music in her collection? “I love Lizzo, I really love all kinds of…well, strong, empowering females. I’m drawn to that. Growing up it was Amy (Winehouse), Florence (Welch), Adele…it spans older music too, I mean there is A LOT of Elton John. Anyone who is a redhead and has a piano.”
Lizzo’s attitude is a refreshing take on the modern popstar, she does not give AF. Not one. “I love her, we literally played the same festival in America two years ago, Lollapalooza, Chicago, she was on a MUCH bigger stage, obviously, and, at the time I hadn’t heard her music, anyway, we were getting on the same plane and someone pointed her out to me, and I wish I had known, as I would have completely gone up and fan-girled, as what she has done is massive.”
If Freya Ridings’s fame is not quite at the level of, say, a Lizzo, or a Lorde, is she able to skip on merrily in the street, or is she more often recognised these days? “You know what, it is happening, but in the outskirts of London where I live, people just don’t care (laughs). I feel like you have to be Benedict Cumberbatch before people bat an eyelid, or at least for me to (laughs)…There was a little girl who came up to me in Starbucks, near why I live, and that was pretty exciting. That Starbucks will never be the same.”
Did they spell her name right? (laughs. A. LOT) “No, they never do. I always get Fyre, and I am cool with that!”
Any association with the ill-fated Fyre Festival should be avoided and luckily Freya had nothing to do with it. We’ve talked a lot and we’ve barely mentioned Freya’s voice, a strident, booming full sounding thing of wonder. It can go from a whisper to a storm in seconds, does she need to take care of it, like a craftsman would their tools? “Massively, one of the biggest changes I had to make was taking more care in warming up. Before, I was just putting myself under strain. I mean, I knew that the whole thing relies in that. It’s such a delicate muscle that you have to take care of. I have a wonderful vocal coach, Ron Anderson, and I do an hour of vocal exercises a day, even on my days off. I do 30 minutes pre-show, 90 mins during the show and then a cool down. Treating yourself like an athlete (giggles) is the best way to think about it. For young singers, the quicker they get into that habit, the better.”
© Good Soldier
Having to stick to a schedule of sorts, must come in handy when avoiding having to speak to people she doesn’t want to though… “The hardest thing in the world, when you are on tour and you want to go and hang out with the crew and cut loose a bit… you do it the first couple of nights and then you feel it having an effect. And I LOVE talking to people…it is sad to have to conserve that energy when you want to be around people, but you know have five nights in a row and it just won’t cut it.”
That does not exclude days where there are no shows. “HAHAHAHAHA, if I know I have a day off, I can go a little bit wild…and you know…have a CHAT…hahaha.”
Ridings sees the meet and greet culture that has seeped into the life of musician as a perfect way to give back to the fans that have helped her achieve all that she has. Far from being a chore Ridings is all for meeting the loyal fans. “I love it, I do. Up until last year, when I was playing 400 or 500 capacity videos, I would do my best to meet every single one of the audience. On support tours in America, I would literally meet anyone that wanted to. I’d hug every single one them. Coming of stage, especially overseas, you can feel weirdly lonely and that’s a great way to get out into the crowd and get that connection right away.”
Those early days of being able to meet individuals has changed. It’s something that Freya misses a huge amount. “Now, we play to thousands and you just can’t do it, and when there’s some many people, there are those that get disappointed and that may make you not want to do it the next night.”
When Freya Ridings takes to den Atelier’s modest stage on Monday 27 January, she will be able to see the whites of the audience’s eyes. It’s going to be huge.
Check back tomorrow for part two of our interview.
Freya Ridings: Monday 27 January, 2020 - den Atelier. Support from Jack Cullen.
Doors: 7pm - ticket info via below link