Ryland James Speaks on New Music, Anti-Bullying and Opening for Alessia Cara

Photography: Nikki Jumper Stylist: Danny Reiner Grooming: Sutherland Artistry

Who is Ryland James and why do you need to know him? Contrast is here to answer exactly that! Ryland James Clark, better known by “Ryland James,” is an 18 year old musician hailing from a quiet little town just a few hours outside of Toronto, Canada. Ryland, who at age 14, placed in the top 6 on Canada’s “The Next Star,” is currently blossoming into quite the talented singer/songwriter. His single, “Good to You,” speaks volumes to the soul. With soft, but powerful vocals and heartfelt words, Ryland serenades you into the night with his promises of being good to you.

Growing up with two extremely dream driven parents helped mold Ryland into the passionate musician he is today. With a “never give up” attitude and a love for his “role model” lifestyle, Ryland is the epitome of a heartthrob. Older brother to two sisters, Ryland has his work cut out for him. His parents, Andrew and Melissa, are both avid hockey players who aspire to Olympic heights. It’s no wonder Ryland has a shoot for the moon and stars perspective on life.

Not only is Ryland inspirational in his musical endeavors, but he also took part in a free concert at Vaughan Mills Shopping Center, sponsored by “Make Your Mark,” to aid in the fight against bullying. Although Ryland was bullied for his passion for music, it doesn’t seem like he’s letting any negativity hold him back! He’s definitely a positive influence for anyone who is currently or has, in the past, been bullied.

In 2014, you earned your way to the Top 6 of The Next Star. Tell us about that experience and what you learned from it?
The Next Star was a really important stepping stone early in my music career, and it was my very first experience in dealing with the professional music industry. In the beginning, the show was nerve racking and overwhelming at times, but as the weeks progressed I learned to be more comfortable on stage and more comfortable working with other professionals. To me, it was a preview into what the real industry would be like, a kind of Music Industry 101. I remember after the show was over our mentors told us that The Next Star was only the first step in our careers.

We were told that if we worked hard, other opportunities would open up. After the show’s finale, I took it upon myself to work harder than I ever had before to make my dream a reality. I learned to play guitar and piano, and I began posting covers consistently on YouTube and Instagram to continue building a fan base. I feel like, because of the experience I had on The Next Star, I was able to give myself specific goals for my immediate future, and even today I carry a lot of the core values and skills that I learned during that summer, three years ago.

Shawn Mendes tweeted you last year mentioning that he checked out your videos… and even loved them! Did that nod of approval encourage you to push harder with your music?
Absolutely! I remember days before it happened I had been thinking about how cool it would be if Shawn noticed my covers of his songs. I woke up for school one morning and noticed my phone was going crazy with notifications, so I checked and saw Shawn had tweeted me. It was definitely an inspiration for me to continue working hard on music. I just kept posting covers on social media and working on writing my own songs.

My fan base began to grow really quickly and Shawn continued to like and comment here and there on my videos. I don’t know if he realizes how much of a positive effect his one tweet has had on my career. Shawn is such an amazing artist, and is close in age to me. His career has reassured me that great things can happen to those who stay focused and consistent.

Who are some of your musical influences?
I love music in general and so many different artists have influenced my music over the years. I began singing when I heard the Jackson 5 song “Who’s Loving You” on an episode of Britain’s Got Talent, and from then on I began learning and singing songs and posting covers on YouTube. Justin Bieber was another big influence for me because of how young he was when he made it big. He inspired me to work hard posting covers on YouTube because I thought maybe one day I could be discovered online the way he was.

Over the past few years I’ve been influenced by artists like Tori Kelly, Alessia Cara, Adele, Ed Sheeran, Shawn Mendes, and most recently The Weeknd. Each of those artists has inspired something different in my musical style and songwriting and because of them, I’ve become the artist that I am today.

You’re going on tour with Alessia Cara and Scott Helman soon! Are you excited?
I’m beyond excited. I’ve been a fan of both Scott and Alessia since they’re first radio hits, and to be opening for them is so surreal. I’ve never been on tour before so I think it’ll be a really cool experience, especially to finally be performing my original music in live venues and connecting with fans in person. Most fans know me from YTV or YouTube covers but this is an opportunity to show them what I’ve been working on and who I am as an artist.

What’s next for you, Ryland?
A lot of really exciting things are happening right now. I also just recently shot a national campaign with Roots Canada that will launch later this summer. More live shows and I’ll be continuing to write for my album. I’ll have an album out sometime in the near future. I’ve been in the process of writing it since last summer with a lot of really talented people, and I think we’re about halfway there now. It’s definitely been a process finding my musical direction, but I think I’ve got a good handle on it now. My first song “Good To You” just launched with a lyric video and music video on YouTube. To have my own original music out there feels great, and I’m looking forward to seeing what the future holds for me.