Getting to Know Montreal-based Producer RYAN Playground

Author: Leah Lalich / Photos: Erin Brazeau
10.24 / MB Series

For Montreal-based producer Genevieve Ryan Martel, aka RYAN Playground, the last few weeks have been dedicated to promoting the release of her debut album 16/17, out now. Since her electronic project is one that “exists in playtime,” we decided to catch up with her in her hometown of Montreal and let her take us somewhere (anywhere) to exercise this idea of play. She took us golfing while chatting about why talking openly about her relationships is important to her process, how Sum 41 and Blink 182 helped evolve the sound of the album, and, of course, how playing golf is similar to how she makes music.

Your work has always been super personal, with 16/17 dealing with your own experiences between 2016 and 2017, exclusively. Can you tell us about what was happening while you were making the album?

I was going through a relationship that I knew was going to mark me for the rest of my life. It was also a critical time where I was asking myself lots of questions regarding the future. It's not so precise, it's more like a feeling of insecurity that needed to be expressed in some of the songs. Those two years were also very positive for me — I was really well surrounded, I was spending lots of time with my friends. But I tend to express things I have a hard time saying in my songs so that's why it often comes out as quite sad.

I try to be more general in the songs I write because I know some people might feel like it's directly talking about them. And it is, somehow. The people I love will always be the main inspiration to me. They make me vulnerable, as I am when I make music.

This is your first full-length release. How different is it from your EP, Elle?

They are different in the sense that they both talk about similar subjects, but in a different approach. They also sound quite different. I feel like Elle was maybe a little more complex and electronic, where 16/17 is more organic. With time I tend to simplify my music, but both remain very personal in a similar way.

You’ve also mentioned that pop-punk was a huge part of this record, listening to Sum 41, Blink 182, and nothing, nowhere while you were making it. Was the progression from electronic to pop-punk in your own music intentional?

It was natural. I'm influenced by lots of different genres but I've been inspired by pop-punk music since I was super young. I started to write pop-punk kind of songs when I was like ten, so I guess it just remained a part of me. I'm not saying that everything I will be doing from now on will take this direction, but I will always have a soft spot for this kind of music.

You have a few friends collaborating on this record. What was that process like?

I made two songs with Lontalius, which was quite an achievement for me for different reasons. I really love his work. I cried when I heard a song of his for the first time. It’s called “Comfortable.” When I heard he was in [Montreal] for Red Bull Academy, I reached out to him. We ended up doing a 'studio session' which I prefer calling a 'living room session’ because my studio is my living room. It always kind of makes me shy to have some new people around to make music at my place, so that was kind of an achievement to have him over and start a song from scratch. We ended up making “Tokyo,” which is one of my favorite songs on the record. I was so happy when we finished the session. I felt like we had a very special song in our hands.

I also worked with Robert Robert, who is one of my best friends. We've been super close since the first day we hung out, it's like we knew we had this very special connection — music and friendship wise. It's always super easy to come up with new ideas with him. And in “Pie In the Sky” I feel like we can really hear both of our sounds, which makes it a very interesting collaboration. It's also a very fun song to perform live together. We made a simplified acoustic version which I really like.

Your parents, who are classical musicians, also played on the album, right?

Yes! And I'm so happy about it. My mom played cello on “Start It All,” “Toyko,” and “Almost Died,” and my dad played clarinet on “Start it All.” It was important for me to have my parents be a part of this project. They are a huge inspiration for my music and everything else really. All three of us wanted and still want to make music together. So I basically just invited them to do a ‘living room session’ and I recorded them on a couple songs. It was special to have them at my place to record for my own project. I even felt a little shy because they're real pros. And it went super quick because they are pros.

The theme of ‘play' is a huge part of your image. How do you see music as a form of play, and what are other realms in which you play in?

It's important for me to have fun in anything I do. I never want to be bored. Music is for me the best way to spend time and have fun alone. I'm also very competitive (more with myself than with others) so I tend to see a lot of things I do and love as games. Like golf for example. I love technical and meticulous activities. They push me to become better, and it’s a great way for me to combine motivation, hard work, and fun together.

What do you hope people take away from 16/17?

I'd like people to find a way to reflect on their own personal ups and downs and go back to their core inspirations. And when I say inspiration I don't necessarily mean music inspiration. I mean general inspirations that help you go through your day. I want people to have as much fun listening to it as I did making it.