With smoky vocals and emotional insight beyond her years, emerging pop singer songwriter Julia Ryan has been captivating listeners with her compelling singles blending elements of soul with poignant songwriting.
Returning with the release of Human, Girl Underground catches up with Julia on the meaningful experiences that shaped her career, and the pursuit of other creative endeavors that challenge the toxic tendencies of the fashion industry. Inarguably a well-versed artist in a variety of senses, Julia Ryan intertwines her passion for upcycling with the deeply empathetic objectives within her music. In Human we get a glimpse into Ryan’s introspective world and the different aspects that culminate into her artistic and human-centric vision.
Tell us a little about yourself, where did you grow up and how did you start making music?
I grew up in a town up in Northern California called Fairfax. For my 15th birthday my parents gifted me a singing lesson just for fun and to explore something new. After that first lesson, that was it. I fell in love with singing because it was a new creative way I could express my emotions and tell stories through my own voice. I’ve always written stories and poems but once I figured out what I wanted to write about, I think I really started to explore what kind of artist I wanted to be through my lyrics.
Do you remember the first song you wrote? And any artists that you’re particularly influenced by?
To be honest, I don’t really remember the first song I wrote but I do remember when I started to really explore the art of songwriting. I started writing music when I was at USC and a lot of what I first wrote was jumbled emotions. As I wrote more and more I started to get more intentional with my writing and spoke to things that mattered to me. Artists that have really influenced my writing would be Alicia Keys and John Legend. I love their style of writing and how they arrange their vocals to fit the story of their lyrics.
You recently graduated from the pop program at USC, what was that experience like and how did it prepare you for a career in music?
The Pop Program at USC was an amazing experience! It could get very difficult at times but looking back it was because I had inspiring professors that would really push me outside of my comfort zone which ultimately made me a better writer, performer, and overall musician. I do believe that’s how the program really helped me grow and prepare me for a career in music.
We’re loving the new video + EP. Why did you want to name the EP Human?
I named the EP Human because I wanted each song to eluded to an emotional aspect of the human experience. I want this EP to embody the idea that the experiences we endure aren’t “cookie cutter,” and each individual will experience life through their own unique lenses. Therefore, we must learn to have empathy and hold space for other’s emotional and/or physical experiences.
Overall, each song resembles a sense of self discovery to help understand ourselves and others during the good and bad. This project embodies an artistic mirror of what we all go through, no matter who we are. Though our experiences may be different based on how we were raise, our religious beliefs, the color of our skin, our sex or who we choose to love, we can all come to the same conclusion: that we are all experiencing the growing pains of being imperfectly human.
When did you write the song “Human”? lyrically it’s very relevant for the current moment in time.
I first wrote the lyrics of “Human” in May of 2020 in support of the human rights movement, Black Lives Matter. To touch on the subject that as a society, we have forgotten how to have empathy for other people’s realities. Even though we may not experience the same, we can listen, learn, love and support by holding a safe space for others.
In addition, the song was written around the fact that many of us have lost our connection to the Earth. I truly believe that reconnecting with nature can also help create a calm space to connect us back to the core of our humanity. Nature allows us to reflect in silence, be present, and find peace.
How did the video come about? Where did you shoot it?
The music video came about when a friend from high school reached out and said he’d love to collaborate on a project. I loved his work and agreed. I would send him lots of my music but when I sent “Human” he really connected to it and we began to brainstorm ideas. I told him the intention of the song, the inspiration, etc and that’s how it came about.
We decided to film the video in the town we grew up in, Fairfax, CA because the song speaks to our connection with Earth and we grew up in such an incredible beautiful area and knew all of the private/remote areas to film.
You also have a side hustle upcycling thrifted clothes, tell us a little about how you got into that.
I’ve been a thrifter since I was a teenager but really got into up-cycling this past year during the lockdown of 2020. This past year it’s really transformed into a shared passion alongside my music.
At the beginning of the pandemic, I started taking some of my old clothes and turned them into something different and unique to pass the time. I cut them up, did some simple sewing, and used bleach tie-dye. I posted a few of them on instagram and I got DMs asking if they were for sale. At the time, I didn’t expect to sell any but rather share what I’ve been doing to pass the time. Within the first 24 hours of posting, I sold them all. I realized this could be something that could keep me creative and recycling. I started making videos and posts of new items I up-cycled on social media and people would buy them. This inspired me to start using the money toward my music and that’s when I started selling even more. I wanted my fans to feel like they were not only helping the earth by buying up-cycled clothing but also that they’re a part of my next recorded project which is now this EP, Human.
The fashion industry has been criticized for its negative environmental impact, how can upcycling clothes offset some of those problematic aspects?
The fashion industry is one of the most polluted industries out there. We have developed a system that is constantly making new trendy designs for profit rather than focusing on the creativity of the art form. Fashion is an incredible form of self-expression, and up-cycled fashion brings us back to why we love fashion designers and different styles! In the up-cycled world, if you connect to an artist’s style and they’re recycling materials, that’s just a win-win! You’re decreasing your carbon footprint while supporting an artist! I think that’s so beautiful!
Therefore, I believe up-cycling can offset some of these problematic aspects when people start purchasing more up cycled or thrifted clothing. This is more sustainable and a form of recycling!
What’s next for you? Any plans to play any shows or tour?
What I aim to accomplish for the rest of 2021 is to launch my platform of music and up-cycled fashion. Through my music and designs, I want to remind people of their connection to the earth and each other. A big part of my artistry I aspire to accomplish is to talk about the fact that we all experience life through different lenses and to recognize that our realities can be very different from someone else’s yet we can all connect on a empathetic/sympathetic level, our humanity. The rest of 2021, I’ll be releasing music and content that touch on these points.
Thanks so much to Julia for this incredible conversation. Be sure to keep up with her below.