Serena Ryder is back, and bigger, than ever. And she’s certainly feeling better — about everything. After four well-received albums, the Canadian singer-songwriter releases her latest set, “Harmony,” on Tuesday (Aug. 27), nine months to the day after it came out in the Great White North. 
Ryder is riding the success of its first single, the buoyant and anthemic “Stompa,” which was her first Top 10 on the Canadian Hot 100 and spent eight weeks at No. 1 on the U.S.-based Triple A airplay chart. That was enough to convince Capitol Records, her new U.S. label following her departure from Atlantic, to push “Harmony” forward from a planned October release, partly to also take advantage of Ryder’s current road trek with OneRepublic. What’s going on is pretty amazing,” Ryder says. “I’ve never quite experienced anything at quite this level before, so it’s really exciting, and I just want to be out there playing the music.”
These days Ryder is happy to be playing music at all.
After promoting her 2008 album “It’s O.K.,” Ryder ironically went “through a really severe clinical depression” that led to a four year gap before “Harmony.” “I was putting a little too much weight on myself,” she explains, “trying to articulate what I’d been through in life and what I’d gone through and find some sort of answers about what we’re doing and why we’re here instead of just having fun and enjoying music.
“Finally I realized that what I wanted to do more than anything else was just have a good time and write music for the sake of writing music and sing songs for the sake of singing songs.”
In that regard, “Stompa” was “an experiment” for Ryder, who co-wrote the tune with “Harmony” co-producer. Jerrod Bettis.
“That song brought me to a whole other level,” Ryder says. “There was no weight in writing ‘Stompa.’ I just came in with a guitar riff and showed it to Jerrod, and literally within three hours we had the song written and finished. There was no preconceived idea or expectation. We just wrote something.
“And it just works. We had a really great energy working together, and that spared the rest of [the album]. It felt like you’ve been slapped in the face, but in a good way. It’s exactly what I needed at the time.”
It was what Capitol needed, too, according to Vice-President of Marketing Wendy Ong. “She’s been on EMI Canada for a few years, and we’ve always been very fascinated and interested in her,” Ong says. “Stompa” was particularly impressive. “It’s such an incredible single and video.”
Despite a strong track record, a loyal following and plenty of critical acclaim, Ong says Capitol’s strategy for Ryder was “to start from scratch” and treat her like a new artist, albeit one with some history. “In the past five years her sound has changed quite significantly,” Ong explains. “Previously she was more of a folk singer, I would now. Now she’s made this incredible transition. She’s gone through some life changes and come out a much stronger and more positive person. That really comes across on this incredible pop-rock album.”
Ong says Capitol is now pushing to cross over “Stompa” to the mainstream pop market, while sync opportunities “keep getting stronger and strong.” The song has already been licensed for episodes of “Grey’s Anatomy” and a Cadillac commercial. Now, Ong says, the sports world is taking notice. “This song is resonating with sports teams across the country,” she says. “We’re fielding interest from various football and basketball teams, and particularly hockey.” Capitol is also trying to line up Ryder performances at some games in the future.
“I think she’s really going to hit mainstream America as we continue working this album,” Ong says.Meanwhile, a second single from “Harmony” — “What I Wouldn’t Do” which, like “Stompa,” also hit No. 8 on the Canadian Hot 100 — is just out, along with a video that premiered on VH1. Ryder is mixing headline shows with OneRepublic dates through September 8, then has a one-off with the Goo Goo Dolls on Sept. 11 in Minneapolis before she’s slated to hook up with Michael Franti & Spearhead.
“My favorite part is being on the road; that’s where it feels like these songs really live,” Ryder says. “I love making records, but being on stage is where I’m more comfortable than anywhere else.”