By Zoha Naghar
The early days of the COVID-19 pandemic were a time for people across the globe to pause and reflect. For some, it provided an opportunity to create and do more of what they love.
For Zoey Ryen, being in lockdown was her time to write the first song she’d release on an official streaming platform.
Titled, “A Place I Know,” the song helped the musician gain her spot in the professional music program at Toronto Metropolitan University (TMU).
The now second-year student was 17 years old when she started to use the time she had at home due to the pandemic, to expand her musical abilities beyond playing the guitar. Ryen said she taught herself everything, from using GarageBand to other professional music soundtracks to create her own tracks.
She said she was inclined to make music because she saw it as an outlet to release her feelings and emotions.
“It was wild to me that I can have all of these feelings and experiences bottled up into a song and people can hear that and understand what I was going through,” she said.
In November 2022, Ryen released her EP, “Listening Through Walls.” Her music falls into a crossover between the pop and alternative/indie genres.
She said the concept of the EP is the experience of living in isolation during the pandemic, going through growing pains and untouched trauma. Ryen said the EP is a reflection of all of her emotions in situations such as depression, break-ups, losing people and family troubles.
“Through making my EP, I was able to grow and start a new chapter in my life and let go of a lot of stuff,” she said.
Ryen also expressed the importance of authenticity and why she actively chose to write about what was currently going on in her life. She said when she released her first single, “A Place I Know,” people reached out to say that they related to the song and to Ryen, that was special.
“If [the listeners] can feel heard, then that is a win for me and that’s what I hope listeners can feel through my music,” she said.
“I was able to grow and start a new chapter in my life”
Alongside her emotions and experiences, Ryen said another experience that inspired the EP was being able to collaborate with her producer, Jacob Leger, a fellow professional music student at TMU.
She said she enjoyed collaborating not only to create—but for support as well. “Listening Through Walls” deals with some heavy emotions, Ryen said. She added that it was nice to have a support system that shared joy in her art and also cared for the accurate storytelling of her experiences.
“When you’re handling emotions that are so heavy…it’s a great feeling to know that someone else wants to hear this and they want it out,” Ryen said.
She also spoke about her love for the professional music program and the connections it has helped her make, including Leger. She said the program is a perfect balance between creativity and business.
When it comes to Ryen’s inspirations and favourite artists, she said she was a big fan of Phoebe Bridgers’ music and lyrics. However, as she’s grown into a better, happier space, she has been more interested in electronic music and has become a huge fan of British producer, Fred Again.
“It’s interesting to see how the artists you listen to kind of mirror how you’re feeling at the time and it’s interesting to see who my inspirations are and who they were back then.”
Looking to the future, Ryen said there is new music on the way, as well as live shows in the works, both in Toronto and internationally, in the upcoming summer. She said she also hopes to perform back home in Southern California.
Ryen’s music can be found on Spotify, Apple Music and YouTube.