Jo Ryder unveils new single, “Fictional Dreamer” (Interview)

Jo Ryder

Toronto Electro-Shoegazers Jo Ryder Release Single “Fictional Dreamer”

Nostalgic cityscapes and urban grit inform “Fictional Dreamer,” the single from Toronto electro-shoegazers Jo Ryder.

An audio-visual project that began when two friends were reminiscing about Toronto’s DIY music scene circa 2009, Jo Ryder is the duo of Lauralee Sheehan and Owen Norquay, two unique artists with interdisciplinary minds: Sheehan is an award-winning entrepreneur working in digital media who used to front the Lovely Killbots; Norquay is a music producer and photographer who plays bass in the Mooks and Simple Sailor. Together, they toy with analog and digital tools to create a mesmerizing soundscape that reflects on the isolation of modern life in a super-connected world. Fans of Beach House, Purity Ring, and 1970s film soundtracks will find plenty to love here.

“Fictional Dreamer” first took shape in 2021, after the passing of Sheehan’s uncle, who was a big influence on her musical career; his was only one of several funerals that season. The writing took a non-linear form: more of a journey than a traditional verse-chorus structure, anchored on arpeggiating synths, icy drum machines, and reverb-drenched vocals.

The song was recorded at a now-defunct rehearsal space in Toronto that was home to dozens if not hundreds of acts; its loss to the city’s inflated real estate market only underscores the sense of melancholy and loss that haunts the song, a song that itself aims to conjure memories of a vibrant scene from 15 years ago.

“Fictional Dreamer” was produced and mixed by Evan Sutton, whose credits include Shawn Mendes, Imagine Dragons, Chromeo, Oneohtrix Point Never, Robert Glasper, and more.

Listen to “Fictional Dreamer” below and learn more about Jo Ryder via our mini-interview.

Care to introduce yourself?

We are Jo Ryder, an audio-visual collaboration project between Lauralee Sheehan and Owen Norquay. We have been long-time friends and grew up together musically in Toronto during the heyday of the indie music scene between 2008 and 2012. While both of us do other things professionally, we feel an enduring connection to music and communicating through art. While we feel that a lot has been lost in this city, namely music venues, rehearsal studios, and cheap rent, we also acknowledge that time moves on and things change. This project is, in a way, our therapy for dealing with that. Also, our way to make cool shit.

Tell us about the process of writing “Fictional Dreamer.”

Our writing process has always been very organic and unplanned. We usually start with something, anything really. In this case, it was two-chord changes. We talk a lot about how a song should “feel” before we start writing. In this case, we wanted something at a nice walking tempo, methodical, and not too stressful. Of course, as we developed the song, our need to express anxiety, stress, and urgency seeped into the song, but we saved that for later on in the journey. A journey, that is a good word to describe our process. We don’t think about verses or choruses, or traditional forms. Rather we pull a bit from shoegaze, house music, and of course, glitchy weird indie electro-rock. This song really captures that ethos. And, of course, abstractly personal lyrics that seem very intimate.

What’s it like being a musician in Toronto?

Owen: Right now? It’s interesting. The scene is smaller than it used to be, with fewer venues, fewer blogs, and higher rent/cost of living, and the energy around projects is driven by social media rather than word of mouth. This project hasn’t tried to get involved in the live music scene, but I am in other bands that are active. It used to be that your live show was what drove attention, but these days, it seems that social media and online presence, and popularity matters most. But what do I know? Maybe I’m just an old geezer telling kids to get off my lawn. I play music because I have to. It is integral to my mental health, and I do it out of love for the craft. That being said, there is definitely a lack of rehearsal space in the city, which in my mind, drives production more toward computer music and less toward bands. Life has gotten expensive here in the city, so I imagine it is a lot harder for young people to dedicate time and resources to making music than it used to be. One thing Jo Ryder is interested in is the connection, the meeting place of the analog and the digital, the past and the future. Musicians now have to be well versed in digital, but I wonder, in 10 years, how important the analog will be.

Who was the first Canadian artist to blow you away?

LL: Metric, hands down. Well, I guess it was Broken Social Scene first, and from there, a treasure trove of new indie artists to unpack and explore. Before Lovely Killbots started, I was listening to BSS “and friends” constantly, it was addictive and really, really inspiring as they were just a few years ahead of us, and they were making it big time! And it wasn’t out of reach because a friend of a friend of a friend knew Kevin Drew, Fiest, whoever from that scene, so they were in reach in terms of thinking that our indie scene could have the same success. I was very much taken by Metric as soon as I discovered them, and many people tell me that the influence is clear in my composition, songwriting, vocal approach, lyrical style, phrasing, etc. It can’t be denied that they were a huge influence.

Owen: I grew up in California (I am Canadian and migrated to the states when I was young). I remember sitting in my friend Evan’s car (our producer for this song) on a rainy winter night outside of the Hard To Find, a local indie venue that was all ages when I was 17. He made me listen to Broken Social Scene’s “Anthem for a Seventeen-Year-Old Girl.” I remember sitting there thinking, this. “This right here. This is so beautiful. wtf is this?” A few months later, I saw them play the 11 am set at Coachella in 2004. Seeing so many musicians on stage, learning about how they all had side projects, how they were all part of a music community in Toronto and could come together to make this crazy, loud, unorganized, beautiful, and joyful sound, truly inspired me. I wanted that. I decided to move to Toronto to go to university that day. And here I am, 19 years later, haha.

You’ve been making music for a while now. What’s one piece of advice you can offer to those starting out?

Be kind to the sound guys (or gals) at gigs, and be open-minded. It’s all about collaboration, even when it’s uncomfortable, try to limit your alcohol intake, especially before playing, and most importantly, find the joy in it all. If you lose the joy, do something else.

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