The last time I met Phoebe Ryan I was wearing overalls, a Miley Cyrus shirt and a straw hat. Thanks to that outfit, almost immediately after describing my festival get-up from Bonnaroo last June, Ryan remembered me, grabbing my wrists in excitement. Today, she’s sporting a captain’s hat over her black-to-green ombre hair and toting a ukulele as we walk downstairs before her sound check.
“I always have a little stringed instrument,” she said. “When I’m writing, I noodle around on this to figure out what melodies I want to use. So that’s important. And this captain’s hat. I wear it in the van, even when I’m not driving. I just love the look.”
Before creating her own music, Ryan wrote on tracks for pop artist Bea Miller and rapper Skizzy Mars. Her solo career began when she rocked the Internet by releasing a mashup of R. Kelly’s “Ignition” and Miguel’s “Do You …” on her Soundcloud in January.
“(The mashup) kind of happened organically,” Ryan said. “I was experimenting with my producer, listening to what music I had listened to lately and we were like, ‘Why don’t we try this over this with this track and see what happens.’ It was really random.”
It was a random track that went on to garner hundreds of thousands of plays. Later that month she released her first original song, “Mine,” followed by her debut EP of the same name in June. Since then, she’s been touring consistently: opening for Smallpools currently, Say Lou Lou last month and sets at Bonnaroo and Firefly over the summer. After Smallpools’s American Love tour concludes in December, she will be headed back to Los Angeles to work on her full-length album.
“There’s already enough songs for a record. We have amazing songs done, but now we are trying to beat everything. We keep writing and writing to get the most songs to pick from and have them be the best of the best,” Ryan said. “It’s going to be a spring album, definitely. It’s a really fun record.”
Even on tour, Ryan is constantly writing for the new record.
“I have to write every single day, even if it’s just on a notepad, not a full song,” she said as she strummed on her ukulele. “I’ve got to keep my muscle memory going. I consider that part of the process because you have a creative muscle, and you’ve got to exercise it every day.”
Her songs are personal, often drawing from the relationships in life: with people, herself and the world. “Mine” has been featured on MTV, topped the Radio Disney charts and came second on Taylor Swift’s “New Songs That Will Make Your Life More Awesome” list that she posted on Instagram three weeks ago. While she doesn’t have a TV, she watches online when she knows one of her songs will be playing.
“It’s so weird seeing your songs on TV and knowing other people are watching. It feels so different. When it’s on the radio it’s just a song people are listening to, but when it’s worked into a script it changes it somehow, in a good way,” Ryan said.
And as far as her shout out from arguably pop music’s most visible artist, Ryan discovered it at the same time as millions of other fans.
“That was a complete surprise to me,” she said noticeably excited. “It was like Christmas. I was so honored.”
Before living in L.A., Ryan grew up in New Jersey by the shore with her parents and older brother, to whom she accredits some of her musical career. As a child she took piano lessons while her brother learned to play the guitar. Ryan would borrow her brother’s guitar and teach herself how to play whenever he wasn’t home.
“(Growing up) I was like, ‘I wanna play guitar. Why am I at the stupid piano? I want to play a freakin’ rock ‘n’ roll instrument,’ ” she said. “Just being jealous of him made me get into music.”
But her musical education didn’t stop at stealing her brother’s guitar. She went on to study production and engineering at New York University’s prestigious Tisch School of the Arts (other alumni include Lady Gaga, Woody Allen and Angelina Jolie). Ryan graduated two years ago, and left college eager to take on the music industry.
“(My time at NYU) was awesome — it was really rad. It was hard because I saw all my friends with careers happening and granted they were a few years older than me, but I was just like, ‘I need to be where they are right now.’ I was very impatient, but I ended up sticking it out and I think it was word it,” she said. “My parents are happy,” she added with a chuckle.
Ryan’s American Love tour made a stop at Webster Hall in Manhattan’s east side this month. Growing up in the city, Ryan was just around the corner from Webster Hall, making the show one of Ryan’s favorites.
“The first year I was there I lived right next door. I used to go there for shows all the time and I (knew) someday, I’m going to be on that stage and there’s going to be a really big audience and it’s gonna rule and it happened and I was in shock the whole time. It was insane,” she said.
But that doesn’t mean she’s done taking on the city yet. Ryan has a few venues in her mind that she hasn’t gotten to quite yet. None by name, but she offered her praise to fellow up-and-comer Halsey, who recently announced a show at Madison Square Garden.
Natural and confident on stage, it’s clear that Phoebe Ryan will soon be in the arena game. Her live show is as polished as her studio sound and she’s only got more to come. Seeing her about four months after Bonnaroo, her performance is more cohesive with her band and backup vocals, leaving her set with an enviable smoothness and she has deftly balanced performing and crowd interaction early in her career. Songwriting wise, she has songs already placed with artists, her favorites yet to come and her upcoming LP is sure to make a splash in pop music’s 2016 Spring season.
“I’ve been waking up for the past five years saying, ‘This is gonna happen, be an artist and kill it.’ Or at least I’m gonna try. I’ve been in that mindset for a really long time and I think that’s what makes me crazy enough to even attempt it,” Ryan said. “I’m so proud all the time, and truly the best is yet to come.”
Listen to Phoebe Ryan’s EP, Mine, on Spotify.