Riddy Arman arrived in Nashville the night prior to our call, flying in from her home of Montana to prepare for her upcoming tour, leaving home for three weeks to play a string of shows with Colter Wall and at the prestigious Americanafest in Nashville. “It feels really exciting to me,” Arman says with a warm laugh over the phone. “It’s work but it doesn’t feel that way”.
Arman’s self-titled debut album, out now via La Honda records, is a beautifully crafted nine-track LP that sees Riddy wear her heart on her sleeve through candid lyrics and tender melodies. A cowboy herself, the record is a combination of songs from the plains, influenced by her upbringing, travels, inner conflict and turmoil. For Arman, it’s therapy; from when she started crafting songs in her early twenties to today, songwriting has helped her find a meditative state when the going gets tough.
To say Arman is excited over her new record is an understatement. She’s full of laughter and her genuine passion comes across loud and clear in our conversation. You’d be fooled into thinking that the record was from a seasoned professional musician, but Arman’s background of travel and ranch work sets her apart from her contemporaries.
Though her strong demeanour and emotional maturity is precedent in the record, it has been a nerve-wracking few weeks of her preparing to share with the world her stories. Nevertheless, the excitement overrides the reservations. “I’m so proud of it,” she says, “It’s scary putting something out into the world. I’m definitely in a place now where I’m just really happy for everyone to hear it.”
Would you best describe the release of your self-titled album as a dream come true?
(Laughs) Something like that. I wasn’t sure that it was a dream, but it’s actualised into one, but a big goal of mine is to be as good as a touring musician I can. Before, I was just writing and playing as a serious hobby; I’d play shows with friends because a lot of them are musicians, but it wasn’t something I had considered doing full time - not until it was presented to me or when I started getting attention from a broader audience through that Western AF video. That’s really when I reconsidered my relationship to music in terms of a career.
So you’ve been playing music for some time, just not in a career-driven mindset. You were writing long before considering putting together a record right?
Yeah, I have a bunch of songs that hopefully no one will ever hear and I have a load more from other little projects. I’ve been writing for a while, but this collection on my debut are the ones I really wanted to record professionally. It was the first time I felt like I wanted to record and put it out in a more permanent way.
Were you in the mindset of writing songs for a record or did it just happen to manifest into one?
I think a bit of both. For the most part, it was just a collection of songs that were written and conceived over the course of a year and over a major chapter in my life. ‘Barbed Wire’, the last song I wrote for it, was definitely written for the record.
Do you find it changes the dynamic of a song if you know that it’s going on a record and sitting amongst ten or so others?
Definitely - I think that writing and framing it in any other way than just being in the moment changes it completely for me. Even knowing folks are going to hear it really changes things. It hinders my ability to write in a way. I thought that ‘Barbed Wire’ really tied together the cowboy songs and the wistful unrequited love of characters that the others hold. It was the song that tied together everything.
'Spirits, Angels, or Lies' is a real standout. It throws the listener into the depth of vulnerability that’s present throughout the record. I really love how it centres around such a big name in Johnny Cash but is so personal to you. The song is a story that your mum told, right?
Yeah, it’s really sweet. My mum is so proud, she loves that song. I think that story has become a folk tale in our family, although it is a true story. It is very personal, thank you for noticing that - my relationship is always changing with it. There was a while when I stopped playing it, but people would always yell it out at the end of my sets, which was surprising. To me, I find it’s sometimes just a bit slow and sad; there are such intense emotions in the song.
I do think it’s important to feel those things though. It seems to have helped a few people through the grieving process of losing someone. I get so many sweet stories sent to me about it and that’s absolutely why I write music and share my songs. I want people to have something to connect and hold on to for comfort.
Do you find songwriting therapeutic?
Oh absolutely- that’s why I started writing. I lived in rural Virginia on a friend’s farm, and it was before we had smartphones. They existed but I didn’t have one, and it was before we were all on apps and all that. I had a lot of spare time, so that’s when I really took to songwriting. I was having a really hard time in my life in my early twenties, so my songwriting took off into tumultuous inner dialogue. It would put me in a meditative state and it still does. It’s just comforting having an artful way to express your emotions.
With this record, you’ve really put yourself on the line. You’re wearing your heart on your sleeve throughout. How much of the record is compiled of personal stories compared to fiction?
The songs that I write are all autobiographical in some ways. ‘Problems of My Own’ is a story that I made up based more on a feeling that I held as a young girl. The events that are depicted in the song aren’t of complete factual accuracy, it is just a story. I like the imagery of the young kid that realised their parents aren’t perfect, wants to get the hell out of there and start their own life. Everything else on the record is quite literal I would say. I have started to experiment in writing from a character point of view, to remove myself a little bit. It feels like a fun new creative endeavour.
That’s a great song. When you grow up living with your parents you don’t realise all the hardship of being an adult, then you turn into one and reality hits. There’s a lot of growth in ‘Problems of My Own’.
Absolutely. That song can be unpacked in so many ways. Once you’re an adult, you realise what your parents were actually going through. As a kid, you were too emotionally naive to really see through the hardship of being a human. Being a human is so hard, kids don’t know that yet! (Laughs)
On the record, you cover Kris Kristofferson’s ‘Help Me Make It Through The Night’. What made you want to cover that?
Sammy Smith made that song really popular in the seventies, and I saw Sammy’s son Waylon Payne cover it in Missoula. He said that when Kris worked at RCA Studios as a janitor, he had met Sammy in the hallway and he wrote the song for her. Sammy was ostracised for performing that song, because it was seen as too vulgar or risqué for a woman to sing - it pushed her out of mainstream Nashville country and into the outlaw scene. I just found the story surrounding the song to be interesting, being a woman myself in the industry.
Also, I think the sentiment behind it is so relatable and it can be translated in a million different ways. Finally, watching that damn fricking duet on YouTube of Kris and Rita Coolidge performing the song on the Old Grey Whistle Test was the first time I heard it - I just fell in love with it. There’s a simplicity to it that really speaks volumes. I’m pretty fussy when it comes to covering songs, sometimes I wish I wasn’t.
I think you have to be. You need to be able to fully understand the meaning and emotion behind a song if you’re going to cover it and to it justice.
Right? You have to be invested. I guess I don’t connect with that many songs that I haven’t written; so when I do, I’m able to feel convincing whilst performing it.
At one point you sing about bacon frying in a cast iron pan. It’s a very mundane and ordinary thing to pick up on, but you’ve crafted it into quite a tender-feeling lyric. Would you consider yourself to be an observant person?
Yeah, I actually consider myself hyper-observant. I think I am constantly taking everything in that’s around me, sometimes it can be a fault. That’s why I like storytelling and writing. I can translate the simplest of actions or moments. I can convey emotion from something as simple as bacon frying in a cast iron pan.
With the debut out, what’s next for you, Riddy?
I’m really gonna start focusing on writing again. I haven’t been able to focus on it whilst this album has been behind closed doors. I want to start writing again and tour quite a bit. I just want to take things day by day and take on the opportunities that are thrown in my direction. I’m a sponge for opportunities that are being presented to me. I’ll definitely start working on a new album soon too, I’m really excited to get back in the studio.
Riddy Arman’s self-titled debut album is out now via La Honda Records.
Watch the video for ‘Too Late To Write A Love Song‘ below.
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