Ryland James knows exactly where he should be. On the edge of the stage, under the spotlight, and behind a microphone, the Ontario-born singer and songwriter thrives. In this space, the artist’s voice rings out with a bold balance of passion, panache, and power, coursing through everything from the verses to the vibrato. His fusion of gospel roots, gritty soul, and anthemic pop resounds straight from the heart in the most direct manner imaginable.
“I love to stand at the front of the stage and just sing,” he exclaims. “There are no bells or whistles about it. It’s simple in that respect; I love being a singer. I want to continue to develop my voice as it really defines my artistry at the core.”
That voice already carried him a long way from his birthplace of Deseronto, Ontario. A Canadian town of less than 2,000 people, a two-hour drive separates it from Toronto as the nearest major city. With grandma playing gospel piano, Ryland started singing almost as soon as he could talk. Inspired by everyone from vocal powerhouses a la Michael Bublé and Josh Groban to pop titans such as Justin Bieber and Michael Jackson to soul favorites Whitney Houston and Aretha Franklin, he consumed music voraciously and honed his voice in the process.
He went from starring in school musicals to belting out the “National Anthem” at Rogers Cup Toronto, NHL games, and beyond. Between building a following on YouTube, he starred in the 2017 season of YTV’s The Next Star. Around the same time, leading Canadian brand Roots sought him out to be the face of its “Sweatstyle” campaign. In the meantime, YouTube covers of Shawn Mendes’ “Mercy” and Demi Lovato’s “Stone Cold” cumulatively tallied over 1 million views.
Signing to Universal Canada following early independent success, his 2019 single “Good To You” surpassed 2.9 million Spotify streams in just a few months’ time. Additionally, he joined a personal hero—Alessia Cara —on tours throughout Canada and the US. The jaunt marked something of a full circle moment.
“In high school, I was a loner,” he admits. “I felt like I didn’t fit in. I’m from a super small town that I love, but a lot of people didn’t understand what I was trying to do back then. Alessia’s lyrics and music helped me get through it. I had a vision where I knew I would open up for her at some point—and it actually happened,” he smiles.
Returning from the road, he kicked off his biggest and boldest chapter with the 2019 single “In My Head.” Co-written during a trip to Stockholm, the track highlights Ryland’s poetic songcraft and expansive vocal range over shuddering piano chords. The vocals reverberate with a combination of urgent immediacy and palpable emotion.
Fast forward to 2020 and “In My Head” has become a hit single; reaching GOLD in Canada in less than 6 months and now certified Platinum, an impressive feat for a newcomer.
Ryland is now ready share a larger collection of his material with the world in the form of a new self-titled EP. Made up of 7-tracks, the EP is a collection of intimate, relatable lyrics delivered with the signature soulful pop vocals the artist is known for.
Included on the EP is Ryland’slatest single, “Water.” A guaranteed crowd pleaser the new track stands out as his favourite to perform live. And while “Water” was written far from home, on one of his first writing trips to LA, the music video for the track was shot close to his hometown adding to its sentimental value.
In the end, Ryland makes a connection every time he picks up a microphone in the studio or on stage.
“When I write music and perform it, my intent is always to deeply impact people and make them feel something,” he leaves off. “My songs have different messages. I’m telling so many stories, and I’d love for audiences to apply them to their own lives. When a song connects, I know I accomplished my goal.”