Welcome to The Drop, Refinery29's new home for exclusive music video premieres. We want to shine the spotlight on female artists whose music inspires, excites, and (literally) moves us. This is where we'll champion their voices.
Maybe you recognize Phoebe Ryan's song "Mine" from the How to Be Single soundtrack, or the soundtrack from the first season of Scream. Or maybe you know the songs she's written for artists like Britney Spears and Oh Honey. And if you don't know Ryan yet, you should. Her upcoming EP James promises plenty of fun pop songs; plus, she's going on tour next month in what's sure to be a great time.
Refinery29 is exclusively premiering Ryan's video for "James Has Changed," the third single off the James EP. She filmed the video at the Layman Drug Company, a recording studio in Nashville — though she's not a country artist, Ryan has nothing but positive things to say about Music City.
"I thought that was a really interesting place, just because it has that healing vibe to it," Ryan says of the recording studio. The "healing vibe" is fitting for the song, which, despite being about a breakup, is incredibly upbeat. Check out the video below, and scroll down to read our Q&A with Ryan about her music.
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Refinery29: Did you always know you wanted to work in the music industry?
"It's funny, because I always knew I wanted to work in entertainment. I always knew I wanted to be on stage. I think it was kind of open-ended how I was going to get there, because I was very into acting when I was growing up. And I always thought I would be a Shakespearean actress, to be honest. But then, once I realized I could actually do music on stage, I was like, Oh, hell yeah, let’s go."
How did you transition into music from acting?
"In high school, all of my friends were musicians. And I always just grew up loving music. I always just was so obsessed with it. And once I realized all my friends were doing music, I was like, 'Oh, can you teach me guitar? Can you teach me chords on the piano?' So I slowly just absorbed information from them. And then I started writing my own songs and performing in coffee shops, and I really thought that there was something to it."
What is the songwriting process like for you? Is it different when you're writing songs for yourself, versus for another artist?
"Lately, I've just been writing. It usually becomes pretty apparent within the first 20 minutes. Actually, maybe even less. Maybe within the first 10 minutes, I kind of know if a song is for me or if it's for somebody else. And it's more of a gut feeling thing. And it actually has not failed me yet."
With "James Has Changed," specifically, how much of it is based on personal experience?
"It's funny, because that song is super personal, just because the whole idea for it started from a dream that I had where somebody just changed their mind about loving me. But I feel like that happens to me all the time! In the past few years, I've just met somebody who I was kind of in love with, and then all of a sudden, they're just like, 'Oh, never mind. No, we're good.' Just changing your mind on somebody is such a harsh thing to do, but it just happens. You can't control how other people feel, so the only way you can control is how you respond to it. And my response is to just make silly little songs. What else am I gonna do?"
How did you come up with the concept for the video?
"It was kind of just something I really had been wanting to do for a while, just singing in a stripped-down kind of way. But I wanted it to be a little bit more of an event than just singing with a guitar or a piano, because that's kind of stripped down. I thought that it would be really special to do something with a little mini orchestra behind me. Especially because I think a lot of these songs, I feel like people could hear these songs and pass over them and be like 'Oh, that's a nice song.' But I think that if they're given this treatment of these really phenomenal musicians coming together with a beautiful arrangement, I think people can hear the songs in a completely new way, where maybe they'll think, 'Oh, actually, that song is really special. The whole form of the song is very special.' I think I wanted people to hear the songs the way I hear them and feel them."
Why did you want to keep the video focus on you performing, rather than visually telling the story of a breakup?
"I don't know, I guess I haven't really thought about that. I think the song is so on-the-nose about a breakup, I think it's too obvious for me to have a video where it's me and some guy breaking up. I think it's too obvious. And I think I just wanted to highlight the song itself, rather than, maybe like, what the content is. I wanted to express more of the feeling and the emotion behind it, rather than the A to B storyline."
Speaking of the emotion, I wanted to ask you — you make a lot of facial expressions while you're performing in the video. It looks like you're almost smirking at some points, even though it's about a breakup. What was going through your mind while you were singing that day?
"Honestly, what I love about performing so much — and this is why I was so into acting when I was younger and really wanted to do Shakespeare my whole life — there's something about being able to slip into a character and really feel these words that you're putting out into the universe... I guess it's selfish, but that is all I want to be doing. All I want to be doing is putting out these emotions and being expressive. That's just what I feel like I’m meant to do. And so when I am making these crazy faces — and also, for the record, I feel like John Mayer makes the craziest faces when he sings, so hopefully I'm not John Mayer status, hopefully I'm a little bit toned down from his faces — but I will say that I really am feeling it. I'm feeling something. And looking back, I watch the videos, and I'm like, 'Oh, man, that face is ugly,' or whatever. But I kind of am just like, 'I'm really feeling it, shit!'"
Do you feel like you're playing a character when you're performing?
"When I'm performing, I feel like I'm playing a character, but I feel like I'm playing myself, in a way. So at some points, it's like, I'm being a little more vulnerable than I need to be, or I'm being a little less vulnerable than I need to be. It's always been very interesting to me, the give and take of my relationship as a performer and with the audience. And me as a human, and then me as a performer... I definitely am just in character, but I feel so comfortable in this character, because it's me. I don't even know how else to describe it. It's me, but magnified for the purpose of being exciting."
Where did you shoot the video?
"I actually went to Nashville. And that was kind of fun, because my whole first EP was recorded in Nashville. So for some reason, I was like, 'I need to get back to Nashville. This has to happen in Nashville.' And I was working with my really good friend Dan Knobler, who helped me get the whole thing together. He engineered and produced it. It all came together really just magically, in a way. And that's just always how I've felt about Nashville. It's just a very magical place for getting to the root of music. Which I know sounds crazy, because I'm not from Nashville, I'm not necessarily really doing country music. But every time I'm in Nashville, I feel very grounded, just as a musician."
Who do you consider some of your musical influences?
"Let me think, I would say — I'll just rattle off some names who I've been listening to lately, and I'm like, 'Oh, you're my musical influence.' J. Lo, and I'm talking 'Jenny on the Block' J. Lo, really going back here. For some reason, she's the only one I can think of. She's a spirit influence. I just admire her whole vibe. And for some reason, I've been on a really big J. Lo kick recently. I was just listening to her song 'All I Have' with L.L. Cool J, and I'm like, 'Oh my god, this is the most beautiful song that's ever been written in the universe.' Because she's my musical influence today, and maybe my whole life."
This interview has been edited for clarity and condensed.
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