Earning a Juno nomination has long been a dream of Ryland James, so it only seemed fitting he was fast asleep when it actually happened.
The 21-year-old singer from Deseronto was catching some Z’s on March 9 when the Canadian Academy of Recording Arts announced he was up for Pop Album of the Year and Breakthrough Artist of the Year at the 50th annual Junos. The awards will take place May 16 in Toronto and will be broadcast on CBC Television.
“The day it happened I was sleeping in and my mom actually called,” recalled James. “I was thinking why is she calling me right now?’ And she was like ‘Pop Album of the Year!’ and I was like ‘what?’ And she was like ‘yeah, Pop Album of the Year with the Junos’. I had totally forgotten that the nominations were coming out that day. I always like to look at the Juno nominations but I never expected to see my name.”
Once jolted out of bed, he logged on to Twitter in time to see he’d also been nominated for Breakthrough Artist.
“I’ve been thinking about it for my whole career really ever since I knew what a Juno was,” said James. “I pictured what it would be like to be nominated, especially when I saw Alessia Cara, she’s always been a humongous icon for me and then I remember seeing her when she was first nominated and watching her perform. Just seeing the whole event and I was like ‘this is like the Grammys of Canada’ and it’s something you picture your whole entire life and then when it happens it’s so crazy. It can be so hard to be present in it.”
Making it all the more incredible for him is the fact he’s up against one of his idols in Justin Bieber for Pop Album of the Year.
“I’m very proud of the accomplishment,” said James. “Seeing Justin Bieber’s name on there for example, I grew up listening to him and he was one of my favourite inspirations when I started making music and making those covers on YouTube. Just being in my house in Deseronto with my mom helping me make videos. Justin Bieber was just a huge idol of mine and that world and that stage just seemed so far away at that time. To now be nominated next to him for an award, it’s just so hard to explain, it’s very surreal.”
Though up for two separate awards, one ties in perfectly with the other.
“A huge breakthrough for me was putting out my EP, which is the Pop Album nomination,” said James. “That EP that I put out was a huge milestone for my career. Before that it was a lot of singles, a lot of touring and I had been doing a lot of different things but I hadn’t put out a full body of work yet. And so to put that EP out back in August 2020, that was a humongous milestone for me and a huge accomplishment for me personally.”
The EP includes the single In My Head, which was has already been certified gold in Canada. A second single, Water, was released shortly after as well as Better Off and Shoulder To Cry On.
Earlier today he released Save Me, a collaboration with Canadian DJ Shaun Frank.
James is also putting together the final touches for his first show of 2021, which will take place virtually on April 3 at 8 p.m. eastern time. Tickets are available at https://sessionslive.com/rylandjames/tickets?fbclid=IwAR2YP4KtAiwofcu14exUgv11kZwcUJ2ZhpOlqM-Pgn6lA_ucEFeKoPwr9U0.
A virtual show is just one of the ways he’s found to make the most of the current times.
“I’ve been doing a lot of writing during this whole pandemic situation,” said James. “I’ve been stuck at home so there’s been a lot of creativity happening, kind of finding myself, really going inward. So much has come up to the surface because of that. I’ve been working with a lot of different people. I’m actually writing today on a Zoom call. It’s been a lot of Zoom writing with a lot of people that I’ve been working with and the sound is changing a lot.”
Part of the self-reflection was on display last month when he made the brave decision to come out publicly as queer.
“There’s something I’ve held inside for a very long time that wants to come out so badly, and now I think it’s more important than ever that I just own it,” James wrote in a February post on his Facebook page. “It’s very simple and shouldn’t even constitute the extra blink of an eye, but somehow it’s so scary and strange to say even in this day and age because of my past. I’m queer. That’s it.”
He added growing up in a ‘very conservative part of Canada’ was difficult at times.
“At first I didn’t think it was important to share this in a statement because it really doesn’t change who I am, but after thinking about it and having many conversations on the topic with loved ones, it’s important to me that I now share my story publicly,” he wrote. “I owe it to myself and to you guys to be the most authentic version of myself I can possibly be and to help guide others who may be battling with themselves the way I did.”
When asked if he had a message for teens going through the same back in his hometown, he offered some advice.
“There’s always been a little bit of an attitude of closed mindedness where it could be hard in the past to be open with who I was without the fear of being ostracized or criticized for it,” said James, though he says he felt it has gotten better since he was younger. “That’s just something I always struggled with. The message I would give anybody who is battling their inner sexuality or battling who they are, identity or anything in an environment where it’s really hard to be yourself or there’s fear around being yourself: It’s so easy to say be yourself, that’s obviously the number one thing. Be yourself, don’t be afraid to be yourself, the longer you wait the more it’ll keep bubbling to the surface and it’ll just want to come out. Just own who you are. Secondly I would say it’s so important to find support in some sense. It can be hard but find people who are supportive of you, whether that’s friends or family members or people within the community or even online. There’s a lot of places you can go to find that support. I would say just find that support and be you.”