Sudden Death Syndrome, a blanket term for a myriad of cardiac diseases, including sudden infant death syndrome, plagues one in 7,000 people. The cause is unknown, seemingly branding an individual for a life of uncertainty, calamity and caution. The sheer thought of a heart stopping can strike fear in anyone; we all die eventually, and that fact alone is chilling. When a close friend disclosed to Jacque Ryal about her condition, “it really shook me,” the singer-songwriter, one-half of alt-pop duo RYAL, tells B-Sides & Badlands. “Just the thought of suddenly her heart, or anyone’s heart for that matter, just stopping. Horrifying.”
“It isn’t time to leave,” Ryal pleads on a song called “Take Another,” a flickering, synth-shaking song bookending her new album, Silver & Gold (out today). “Would you hold my hand and say I’m yours to keep?” she sings, extending her hand as a tribute to her friend’s trauma. The lo-fi full-length player, composed and produced along with teammate Aaron Nevezie, witnesses Ryal’s personal transformation, from fearful child (“When I was a child, I feared death. I was terrified of dying; literally the thought of it was all encompassing when I was five through seven years old,” she fixates on the album’s running thread lines) to tormented adult. “As I grew up, I decided fuck it. I’m living to the fullest and not being scared of death anymore….then, now that I’m not scared, what trouble can I get in?” she asks, hypothetically, of course.
That unfaltering fear ties into another standout cut, the jittery “Record On,” in which she chants “I couldn’t fall asleep without the record on” over abrasive synths. The hook is unsurprisingly torn from her childhood. She explains, “I was so scared of dying that I couldn’t sleep without my record player on. I had to have the sound. It was my only comfort. My parents were really absorbed in their work, and my sisters are 10 and 11 years older than me, so I was alone a lot. Music was my friend, a babysitter, a companion.”
Silver & Gold unravels more than just deadly afflictions and frightful, nighttime disturbances. On “Trees,” a slow-cooked, R&B-burnt downtempo, Ryal explores “a very long relationship I had with a man when I turned 18 and into my early 20’s,” she says. “He had a lot of dreams, and I had a lot of dreams. We promised each other a lot, but like some dreams, promises can’t always be kept or come true.”
The record, stretching across 12 defiantly-raw tracks, needles together her upbringing, from being born and raised in San Diego to attending high school in Colorado and her trek across the scorched western earth, Las Vegas, the California Redwoods and the dazzling lights of Hollywood. “I have traveled the West a lot, and it is a big part of who I am,” she notes.
Below, Ryal peels back the album’s political undercurrent, confronting her own turmoil and right wing upbringing.
How was this album rehabilitation for you?
From a lyrical standpoint, it was cathartic. The record journeys through my childhood to adulthood, and it surfaced a lot instances that needed healing and/or discussion. From a musical perspective, I definitely was pushed and continue to be pushed especially in a live setting working with synths.
Did certain songs help you handle or process specific things in your life?
Absolutely! Writing can be like one big therapy session – whether it aids to get something off my chest or is just super danceable. It’s been a really healthy experience making this record. Writing for me is such a necessity…a survival mechanism.
How does the album’s political nature tie so profoundly to growing up?
I was raised in a very right wing, conservative family, and I’m the furthest thing from being right wing and conservative.
Aaron and I wrote this record last year, which, needless to say, was a politically-charged year, and here we were writing this record that was from a lyrical stand point about me growing up. It was impossible for me to not talk about my upbringing and my political differences from that.
When did the political tone begin to seep into the songwriting?
November of last year. Aaron and I had about 4 songs that we wrote towards the end of the year, “Charity,” “Multiples,” “Divide” and “Hub Royal.” Those songs are emotionally-charged with political undertones.
Did you consider tossing out those songs to refocus solely your own personal journey?
There are a few tracks on the record that I feel could have been bucketed together, and we could have made two EPs, but we set out to make a full-length, so we stuck to that original plan.
Do you believe music should be used as commentary on greater social issues?
Not solely but when it happens, cool. Personally, what matters most is when music moves me, makes me feel good or when I relate and say “yes, me too.”
Did you find your own inner turmoil mirroring what has been happening in the world?
I don’t know anyone who isn’t having a hard time right now. Everyone I speak to has something going on, so yeah, I’m in the trenches with everyone.
How do you escape or alleviate both/either?
I don’t want to escape. I’m interested in facing the turmoil and overcoming it.
Were you aware the record was shaping up to be so atmospheric?
Our debut EP was pop and dance, dance and pop….Aaron and I didn’t set off to make this much darker record, it just happened. At least, we have the track “Take Another” on this record. It will be reminiscent of the EP.
There is such a rawness in the production, which really heightens the emotional weight. What was the ultimate approach?
Thanks so much! That is nice to hear. I think the analog synth is what does it, and that was the basis for this record.
Photo Credit: Shervin Lainez