By David DeRocco

Serena Ryder is hanging out in a studio in NYC, enjoying a rare four-day window with not much to do but revel in some well-earned recreational time – she’s chilling, touring Times Square, and talking music with friends. She’s writing again, recording songs, gearing up for an intimate tour of Canada before taking time to focus on a somewhat daunting task: recording the follow-up to Harmony, her 2012 breakthrough album that’s earned Serena chart-topping hit singles, multiple Juno Awards, a Tonight Show appearance, sold-out concerts and a lucrative commercial endorsement with Ford – not to mention a growing international legion of adoring fans.

If you said “it’s good to be Serena Ryder right now,” you’d be right. But what does Serena have to say when asked to consider if, in this epoch of astounding career success, she is truly “happy” with the way her life is unfolding?

“I feel like, people who are having the greatest moment in their life and aren’t happy are not truly experiencing the greatest moment in their life. The greatest moment in life is when you’re satisfied. It’s not about having success or not having success. It’s how you feel in your heart. And right now, I feel great, I’m satisfied. I feel like a little kid. Like I don’t know anything but I’m excited to learn. I’m here to witness it all, to be as present and involved as possible. I really am focused on how I’m enjoying life. I’m really intrigued by the mystery of it, because it is a mystery – being alive, being in this world of art and inspiration and music. That’s pretty exciting to me. I’m totally in awe of the fact that I get to be involved in all this stuff!”

All this recent good “stuff” in the life of Serena Ryder is directly related to the success she’s had since releasing Harmony in November 2012. With the anthemic – and inescapable – first single, “Stompa” finding cross-over success on multiple radio formats, Harmony quickly achieved Gold-selling status in just a few months. Ryder followed that trailblazing single with the equally monstrous smash hit, “What I Wouldn’t Do,” a perfectly written, brilliantly sung and exquisitely produced pop gem that skyrocketed album sales and gave Ryder her first platinum album certification.

When Harmony’s third single, “Fall”, became a radio mainstay it cemented Ryder’s status as a premier Canadian songstress and a songwriter. More important was the fact it earned her two of the biggest awards at the 2014 Junos: beating out the likes of Michael Buble and Celine Dion on the way to being named Artist of the Year, and the meatier Songwriter of the Year award for “What I Wouldn’t Do.” For Ryder, who also hosted the show, those two awards were a welcome acknowledgement of the years spent trying to hone her craft.

“They were both really huge awards for me,” said Ryder, who admits to not being able to appreciate those wins at the time given all the pressures involved in hosting the show. “It gives you the confidence – it actualizes what you want to be doing. I’ve been writing songs since I was 12; I’m 31, so it’s been almost 20 years of being a songwriter. I’ve been singing since the day I was born, so that part is natural. Songwriter is something I had to work on. So winning “Songwriter of the Year” blew my brain cap. It is so exciting to me. It gives me the confidence to want to keep it up, to get better, to be recognized for being passionate about writing songs.”

Where Ryder hasn’t been recognized by the Junos these last two years has been in the Single of the Year category, with “Stompa” losing out to Carly Rae Jepsen’s “Call Me Maybe” in 2013 and “What I Wouldn’t Do” finishing behind sister-duo Tegan and Sara’s “Closer” in 2014. Despite delivering two of the biggest singles of her career, Ryder handled the losses with a typically Canadian attitude.

“Winning awards is probably one of the most stressful things. People in our society find it easier to give; accepting things creates a gigantic pressure. And Tegan and Sara so deserved it. I felt so proud for them. They’ve been (recording music) two years more than me. I’ve seen them just working their butts off. I felt nothing but pride for them that they won it. They’re amazing winners.”

Ryder’s rising star status also earned her another rare opportunity: singing the national anthem at the NBA All-Star game.

“I was f’ing terrified to do that,” she laughs. “First of all, our national anthem is not pretty. It’s boring. Not to offend anyone, it’s just not a great song. I was definitely nervous. I didn’t rehearse. At sound check I didn’t do a good job. When the TV camera came on, I changed the version and added things to bring me into the moment. As I was walking up the NBA players were heckling me. I felt like I was in high school.”

Ryder’s passion for music has been evident since she first gained national recognition with her ballad “Weak in the Knees” in 2007. The Toronto-born singer turned heads early thanks to her powerful three-octave vocal range, her natural penchant for writing and her electric live performances. With her 2008 June for New Artist of the Year, Ryder served notice she was an artist to watch; her 2009 Juno for Adult Alternative Album of the year (Is It O.K.) and subsequent Video of the Year win for her song “Little Bit of Red” continued her ascent to the top of the Canadian music scene. Other accomplishments, including having “Stompa” featured in an episode of ABC Television’s hit series Grey’s Anatomy and her cross-over appeal on no-less than four radio formats (Modern Rock, Hot AC, Top 40 and Adult Contemporary) have helped raise her star-status on both sides of the border. Success in the U.S. has certainly been a career bonus according to Ryder.

“For me it helps make the family bigger. When you have success it means more people like what you’re doing. If more people like you, the more friends you make, the more opportunity there is to join in a bigger community. That’s so cool. I’m hanging out in Times Square with new friends because my last album made my world bigger. I feel like a kid in a candy store.”

While Harmony did make her world bigger, it also made for bigger expectations for the next project. Sixty five songs were written for her last album; for the new album Ryder is simply following her usual writing routine and dealing with the pros and cons of following up career-defining hit album.

“I write a lot at my house in California. There’s not a science to it for me. I write music when it comes naturally. If I don’t it’s usually a bunch of shit. If there was no success, the fear would be that it will never happen. When you have success, the fear is you won’t have as much the next time. That’s the way life is. You’re going to go up and down. Nothing is linear. You just have to enjoy the ride.”

That ride brings Serena Ryder to Hamilton July 4th for an intimate show at the Molson Canadian Studio Theatre, one of the last tour stops before leaving the road to focus on her new album.

“I love smaller shows, they’re great. I love to see people’s faces when playing. I kind of wanted to do 50 or 100 people a night. That’s how I started. I feel like connecting to a full room of people, to feel their presence. It makes the concert more intimate, us together, enjoying the moment.”