Freya Ridings Chats About School Troubles and Love Island at Outside Lands Festival

There are few singing voices that hit quite like Freya Ridings. Her soulful sound brings tears to her audience as everyone gets swept up in the emotion on stage. From humble beginnings as a terrible student to having 3 songs on a popular television show, Freya’s journey is somewhat of a fairytale. We caught up with this phenomenal artist at San Francisco’s Outside Lands Festival this past weekend. Her newfound fame has shot her straight into the spotlight, so we wanted to know more about her story.

Sensible Reason: Your set was pretty early today, but your voice brought people from all over the festival. 

Freya Ridings: I know! I was honestly shocked. I’ve never had that at a festival where the stage wasn’t all that was there, so people were walking past and watching, so it was a bit like a challenge. I have a bit of a chesty cough so I was worried because there were so many people there.

SR: How did it feel?

FR: Incredible, almost overwhelming. I could hear people singing along.

SR: It seems to be that this is your MO. You start playing and people come from all around. We’ve seen a lot of videos of you playing on pianos in subways and in public and people surround you on all sides. Are these pop-up sets something you do often? 

FR: Finding secret pianos around London has been something that has followed me my whole life. Whether it was at school or on trips, I would always find a piano no matter where I was. Now they have them in the Underground station in London, so I’ve been doing some guerrilla-style sets with my friends and a camera. It started off as this tiny thing and then we went back to the same train station a couple weeks back, and since my song was on Love Island, hundreds and hundreds of people came. It shut down the station, the police were called, it was insane. I can’t believe that it’s happened in such a small space of time. People’s support is incredible.

Courtesy of Outside Lands (Photo by FilmMagic/FilmMagic)

SR: How did you learn to play the piano and sing so beautifully?

FR: I have some classical training because when I was in school I was incredibly dyslexic and I struggled with reading and writing, I was so bad. So when I found that I could work part by ear – all my teachers gave up on me one-by-one because I couldn’t read the music. I could barely read normally, so I couldn’t read music, but I could hear what I wanted to sing about. I was definitely isolated at school, I was rather tall, I was quite different. I would go to the rooms at school and sort of sing what others would go and tell a friend.

SR: A lot of your music is very heartfelt, there is a lot of emotion. You can hear it on stage, you can feel it in the crowd. What events in your life have sparked such an outpouring of emotion in your music?

FR: I think it starts with the fact that I love people. The relationships I have in my life mean a lot to me. That is #1. There isn’t anyone I love that I wouldn’t kick a piano into a volcano for, you know what I mean? There are people who have something that they love and for me it’s people. When there are troubles in a relationship or hard times or definitely the isolation I felt at school, not having anyone…for someone who loved to be around people it was like solitary confinement. It was so hard to deal with, so I turned to music as the only sort of escape. It’s strange that a song I wrote in such isolation is now connecting me with so many people. It seems like a different world, but I was in that world. It’s been a journey.

SR: That’s where that connection is in the first place. A lot of people feel isolated, we can all relate to that. 

FR: I know! It’s shocking, isn’t it? Everyone struggles in school but when you’re actually in school you don’t realize. It seems like some have an easy time and some don’t. I think we’re all struggling a little and it got me through that stormy time.

SR: What would you be doing if you didn’t have music in your life?

FR: I honestly don’t know! It’s always been my dream to start a foundation for animals who had been kicked out for being Ginger. Start a little farm of rejected Ginger animals. “Come to me Ginger animals! You can be mine!” Because I feel a kinship with that.

Courtesy of Outside Lands (Photo by FilmMagic/FilmMagic)

SR: Rejected Ginger animals?

FR: My little sanctuary.

SR: Your growth has been exponential, even down to the past couple months, couple weeks. Is it too much? Is it overwhelming or are you just rolling with it?

FR: There are moments where you literally have to pinch yourself. You always have a thought when you’re little but you never actually think about the logistics of something happening, the fact that you get to travel the world doing what you love. To compile a video that’s just you and then you go to shows and people are there singing with you, something that you wrote all on your own. There are moments where you’re like “What. Is. Happening?” Nothing happened for so long I’m just grateful that it’s happening at all. I know a lot of people have asked “Are you scared that it will disappear?” and I know too many talented people who have never had this so I’m incredibly grateful.

SR: Your music was recently featured on Love Island, a popular British TV drama. What are your thoughts on the actual show? 

FR: Honestly, for a long time, I didn’t understand it and I was very confused by it. I remember seeing the first and second seasons on Netflix. I turned to my family and said we should watch a couple episodes ironically and I literally got so hooked on it, 35 hours later I’m so into these people and their lives that when their families showed up and everyone’s saying goodbye I was crying with them. It blew me away at how human it was and the human dynamic in these relationships is so primal, it’s so fascinating. So when the third season started, I was still on the second. I was keeping tabs on the fourth season but I wasn’t keeping tabs as much because I was traveling, it wasn’t on Netflix so I hadn’t caught up yet. All my friends were at home watching it, so I got all these messages one night in a taxi on the way back from the airport. They said, “You’re on Love Island!” and I said, “No I’m not, I’m in a taxi it must be someone that looks like me.” But they’re like, “No, your song!”

SR: They didn’t tell you or ask for your permission?

FR: No warning. They’ve used 3 of my songs.

SR: Are you not getting any royalties from it?

FR: Honestly, people say that everyone should be asked but at this point, there’s so much invested in this group of people, it’s like a little family. I’m with an independent label so it’s also very family based. It’s not like a big machine. Plus it’s the biggest show on TV at the moment. So being featured on it so heavily, I want to actually send someone flowers. They didn’t have to do that and it meant that I could reach a bigger audience than I ever could before. People have responded to it so warmly, it’s the most Shazammed song of the whole series. These people felt the isolation and heartbreak with me. I’m such a huge fan of music in film and TV, it’s an honor.

SR: Now you’re not so alone anymore. You have the world singing with you. Tell me about your latest single “Ultraviolet.”

FR: It’s after having 3 songs with a piano, I wanted to do something a bit different. I’m a big fan of cinematic music, some say it has a James Bond element to it. I’m a huge fan of those songs. I wrote the song about that sort of fear you feel in relationships where someone may see the darkness in you. There’s a moment of freedom when someone does see that and accepts you for it.

SR: You have a couple live albums out, but nothing full length in the studio. Do you feel your music is better represented in a live setting? 

FR: I love playing live so much. It’s that instant connection you get, you can feel the room and it’s like anything happens you can’t overthink it. It’s there or it’s not there. There’s a feeling where you want to hold everything back until it’s perfect, but that’s not what this is about for me. It’s about accepting myself as my truest self and these songs were never really meant to be shared in this big way. I thought to share it live, just me in a theater with a piano before going to the studio, which is different since I’ve never made a studio album, I just wanted to share the most authentic raw version of the songs first. It has been great because people still come to the shows and sing the songs, it’s a beautiful thing.

SR: So what’s next?

FR: I’m in the final stages of finishing a studio album, which is so crazy! I’ve spent 10 years writing and recording so to actually have something that’s a finished record, that’s going to be a very strange feeling. I can’t wait to get it just right and share it with people. They have been so supportive so I want to give them something to be supportive about.

Check out Freya performing her most popular single “Lost Without You” at the top of the page, and watch for her debut studio album coming soon.

Ashley Cizek

Went to school at UW-Madison, graduating with a BA in psychology. I hula-hoop, I write, I enjoy sunlight.

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