An interview with rocker Serena Ryder on the cottage and mental health

Musician Serena Ryder Photo courtesy of Serena Ryder

Want to hear more from Serena Ryder? We sit down with her for a full episode of the Cottage Life Podcast. Listen now:

Headlining this year’s Tall Pines Music Festival in Gravenhurst, Ont., is indie rocker and Ontario native Serena Ryder. Catch her at the Muskoka Wharf Sports and Event Complex on June 16 and take advantage of a 15 per cent discount when you buy tickets online using the code CottageLife15 at tallpinesfestival.com.

We recently sat down with Ryder to chat about her music, her cottage, and her advocacy work around mental health. You can listen to the full conversation as part of season 4 of the Cottage Life Podcast, launching June 29. Until then, here’s a portion of our chat with the Juno award-winning singer-songwriter.

You grew up in Millbrook, Ont., just outside of Peterborough, so you know cottage country. Do you have an extensive cottage background?

My cottage background is actually fairly new. About eight years ago, I bought a cottage with a dear friend of mine and we started going up there. I was always so intrigued with people who had grown up with cottages—I’d never been to one, and it was always this fantasy mystery situation where it’s like, what happens at the cottage? Now I have my own cottage—we’re working on it and it’s going to be done by the end of the summer. I’m very excited.

But I’ve always been a nature person. Growing up in Millbrook, there’s a lot of beautiful nature there. I spent a lot of time alone, walking the trails in the woods, using my imagination. I believe that nature is supposed to be a mentor, not a resource.

Has that always been your philosophy? 

I’ve been learning from books and podcasts. A lot of it comes down to Indigenous teachings from the very first people that were on this land. The reason why settlers came and colonized was because they thought that Indigenous people weren’t utilizing their resources enough. And that’s the reason why nature is struggling—because we’re seeing it as a resource. So I’m shifting my perspective now and realizing that nature can teach us things. Being at a cottage feels like an opportunity to do a lot of learning—and what an amazing privilege it is to be able to have a space to do that.

Does your time at the cottage inspire you to write music?

No, it’s time that fills me up. I feel like it’s important for your proverbial fields to fallow sometimes in order for new growth to come. And so, as someone who’s been touring for 22 years, the cottage is when I allow myself to be still and to have space. It’s the space that fills me up. Before I feel like I have something to give, I need to be able to receive. And I feel like nature does that a lot for me, where it gives me that space to listen, regenerate, and unwind. I love that about being up at the cottage.

When do you think you’ll get up north next? 

I’m planning on spending most of September and October up north. I have an exciting and busy summer schedule, so to be able to go up there and fill back up, I’m super grateful for that.

You’ve been very open about your mental wellness journey, including a very personal video you recently released. How would you summarize what you’ve been through?

My journey is long, complex, and nonlinear, but to distill it down, I’d say that to me, mental wellness means trusting yourself, and I stopped trusting myself. I thought that other people knew better than I did about what I needed in this world, and I pushed myself for a long time to be the things that I thought others expected and needed of me. The result was that I lost my sense of self, became very confused, and struggled with depression, anxiety, and big ups and big downs. I was touring all of the time, I was drinking a lot, and I was doing drugs—anything to make me feel better, to ignore the fact that I wasn’t paying attention to myself and my feelings.

When emotions came up that were uncomfortable, I thought that I needed to push them down and tell them to go away. I thought that when you’re not creating, you’re not contributing. I became exhausted and had to cancel tours and interviews. I was having lots of anxiety and was going on and off of medication. I was trying to figure out who I was. I ended up in the hospital with mental health issues and had to figure out how to get myself back. It was a long journey and it still is. A big lesson was that those feelings I used to ignore and push away have a function. They’re there to tell you something.

Why did you call your new album The Art of Falling Apart?

As humans, when we’re going through something really intense and become overwhelmed, we tend to say, “No, no, no, I need to keep my shit together, I can’t fall apart. I have too much going on.” But you actually have to create safe spaces, like a cocoon, for yourself to fall apart. There’s a movement right now towards embracing vulnerability and there’s a beauty to that. But in order to truly have the medicine of vulnerability, we need to have safe spaces in order to be vulnerable. And then transformation happens. It can take a really long time, years and years, but it’s an amazing process. 

Listen to songs from The Art of Falling Apart on Serena Ryder’s YouTube channel. Learn more about the Tall Pines Music Festival and buy tickets by clicking here (use the promo code CottageLife15). This interview has been edited and condensed. 

Feature Video