Ryland James

Ryland James

Though he hails from the tiny town of Deseronto, Ontario (population: 1,774), Ryland James is already a veteran of the jet-set lifestyle at the ripe old age of 21. Since embarking on a singing career in 2016, James has been racking up the frequent-flyer miles, bouncing between songwriting sessions in LA, Toronto, London, and Stockholm. So when the time came to put together his first record, he was hardly lacking for material—over the past four years, James estimates he’s workshopped over 100 different tracks. But as he tells Apple Music, the selection process was fairly simple. “I wanted a diverse collection of songs,” he says, “but at the end of the day, it was just an intuitive thing—you listen to each one, and it's like, ‘Which ones grab you off the bat?’ I made a list ranking my favorites to least favorite, and just went with the ones that ended up being at the top.” With his debut EP, you get James’ premium six-pack. Raised on his grandma’s gospel records, James makes his urgent, preternaturally souful voice the undeniable focus of every track, many of which do away with intros to thrust you straight into the drama on the first verse. Naturally, the record’s globe-trotting genesis yields an array of different showcases for that voice, spanning piano ballads, electronic R&B beats, indie atmospherics, and stomping rock ’n’ roll. But James’ intense lyrical preoccupation with love and betrayal practically renders this eclectic collection a concept album. “The songs do reflect a time in my life when I was trying to figure out my life and all my relationships,” he says. “That's definitely a theme that runs through the whole record.” Here, James offers his track-by-track explanation of how his debut EP came to be. Water "I wrote this on my first trip to LA. I sat down in the backyard of Jon Levine, who produced pretty much the whole EP, and Lauren Christy, who I have such a deep connection with. I grew up in Deseronto, just outside Napanee, where Avril [Lavigne] grew up, and Lauren wrote most of [Avril’s] first album—there's that legacy in my small town, so being able to actually write with Lauren was just incredible. We were sitting at Jon's piano, and he had the chords for 'Water' and Lauren had a melody idea, and I immediately was just like, 'Yes, this is the one!' It started very organically.” In My Head “I wrote this one in Stockholm. The original demo was very piano-driven with some electronic elements in the background. But then I brought it over to LA and had Jon play with it. He's such a genius producer—he has this way of creating things that just work so well, but in a way that you would never expect. The song is building, building, building, and then it drops into this acoustic-guitar chorus where it's like very vocally led. I love weird, unexpected production elements like that.” Better Off “Whenever I think of the songs on the EP, 'Better Off' is the one that is the most meaningful to me and the deepest to my core. I also feel like it has the most important message that I've shared with people. I wrote it with James Bryan and Liz Rodrigues, and I remember going into that session feeling super down and I just wanted to write this song about how, with all the disappointment and struggles you go through in life, sometimes you just have reflect and be like, ‘You know, I need some time for myself and I need to really believe in loving myself.’ I feel like everybody goes through that phase of feeling like you're not enough or not worthy yet. And with this song, I just wanted to say you are, and once you do fully love yourself, then you'll be able to love other people. When we recorded it in Toronto, Jon took it from acoustic guitar and put it on piano and added in that electronic, 808-sounding modern production. He melded it into this hybrid of organic old-school sounds with a modern twist. It definitely reflects my soul/gospel upbringing—my grandma played the piano all the time when I was growing up and had that kind of music playing, so this song just comes so naturally to me.” Day Too Late “This was another song I wrote in Stockholm. We wanted to create something a little bit more anthemic with a very soaring chorus. I remember we were talking about concepts and we were relating it to the way the world's going, and how there are just so many things that are on the brink of disaster—like, ‘If you don't act now, it'll just be a day too late. When you're feeling discouraged, like you can't do it, just reach out and grab it.’ Again, I took it to Jon and he did his magic—when I hear it, I always picture it being on a wooden ship for some reason. It just has that soulful, raw piano playing. When I was writing the list of songs I loved the most, this one was my number one, before all the production was added. The core of it was my absolute favorite.” Shoulder to Cry On “This one almost reminds me of The Rolling Stones. I actually didn't write it—I was in London, and it was a demo that one of my producers had pulled up. I took it with me, but I was kind of unsure about it for a bit: 'Is this a sound I like?' But I feel like it was the catalyst for opening my mind up to that kind of UK rock sound. And since then, I have become so in love with old-school rock from the '60s and '70s: The Rolling Stones, Queen, and Electric Light Orchestra. I've been digging into that a lot lately.” This Moment "This was the only other one that I didn't write. I was working with [producer] Andrew Dawson in LA, and he was going through some files in his libraries and came across 'This Moment' and started playing it. And I was just like, 'I really hope this isn't taken—I want this song so bad!' So the next day I recorded it—I was just kind of learning it as I was singing it, and the final version that you hear on the EP is actually from that day. I feel like there's like a beauty to it in that way, just in the conversational quality of it. There's something so, so different about it—like, it really is just a moment. I feel so intimately connected to everybody in the audience when I sing it—it creates this unbreakable beam of connection. I felt like it was such a good track to end on, because it's almost like you're floating out of the EP in this soft kind of crescendo.”

Select a country or region

Africa, Middle East, and India

Asia Pacific


Latin America and the Caribbean

The United States and Canada