Lou Ridley and The Duality of Authenticity

“Growing up, it was like, ‘You don’t sound anything like how you sing.’ I don’t know if that’s a good thing or a bad thing. It is what it is.”

Artists’ veins don’t just channel blood. With time, the songwriting journey reveals what that extra element is. It’s not a voluntary choice, just as you don’t get to choose your blood type or upbringing. Learning from an untraditional Texas hometown atmosphere and a palette of emotional experiences, Lou Ridley found her way to Nashville — by way of LA — with a daring circulatory system. December brought the release of her twisty standout EP Angel/Outlaw. After receiving my own Angel/Outlaw transfusion, I had the chance to speak with Lou about the duality of authenticity that her heart gleefully churns out.

Zac: What’s the difference between the artists you’ve connected with in Nashville versus LA?

Lou: Everybody’s been really warm … The cool thing that I enjoy about Nashville so much is that people are really eager to write. I can DM an artist—I don’t even know why they’re checking their DM’s, but they do—like “let’s get a write-in.” And everybody says, “Okay!”

People will actually take five minutes out of their day to listen to your music. And I enjoy that. I’m grateful for that. I gravitate towards them because they’re authentic, honest people.

I can tell Lou speaks with the loving conviction that any songwriter would want to share a room with. Thus, she’s found herself allocating a portion of her creative hours to others’ stories.

How do you get into the headspace of writing for someone else?

I’m not sure. I don’t question it so much. I have no formal training besides a couple of vocal lessons. I don’t know anything about the technicality of music…I feel like I have this ability to hop into another person’s brain, and I don’t want to lose that by knowing music too well… When I meet somebody, I know they can tell me about some fucking girlfriend or boyfriend that fucked them over, and my brain will know what they’re trying to say. And that’ll be how we do it. I just get in their skin a little bit, I guess.

I love that answer. So you don’t play any instruments?

I can. I play plenty of stuff, but I wouldn’t consider myself good at any of them. I can. I understand chords—I just know if something’s wrong. My ears know when a key is off, but I don’t know what key I’m in to save my life.

Do people with perfect pitch annoy you?

No! Charlie Puth is just annoying in general. I’m Benny Blanco through and through. I can’t wait to work with him. I think he’s so incredibly talented.

What was the collaboration process like with the production team for Angel/Outlaw?

I see things that I hear, and then brilliant minds put it together and make it sound better than I ever could. Sometimes I’ll hear a bassline, but I don’t know how to execute it. I’ll tell one of the guys, sing it to them, and they’ll lay it and add their own flavor on top.

Do you get worried about songs no longer applying to you upon release?

No. I’m always bitter about something anyway. It still is me. The same way I can put myself into someone else’s skin to write a song, I can put myself back into an experience. Our experiences are creating who we are.

No lies were told. Angel/Outlaw serves as a six-track anecdotal charcuterie board, sampling a handful of different past relationships. Conceptually, the duality of a woman leads the charge, as Lou reflects on these times with brutal authenticity.

Do ‘Angel Lou’ and ‘Outlaw Lou’ have different writing processes?

I just go into [writing] feeling whatever emotion I’m feeling, and then write from that perspective. The music is soul country. Outlaw is the bitter, country, gritty, cunt energy I have when I’m backed into a corner. So to me, soul is the music of God and the Angel; it’s the undeniable innocence that we all possess.

I don’t ever go into writing like, “who am I gonna be today?” Angel is the vulnerable part of me that I want to be more present. Outlaw is what many of my relationships have created me to be when they push me into a corner. If you want the monster, let’s fucking go. *laughs an amiable outlaw laugh*

Oh, yeah. I may have failed to mention that Lou Ridley makes soul-country music. Is your brain wrestling with the fact that you may have finally found a country artist you like? She’s used to such a reaction.

What I’ve found (at least with myself) is people say, “I don’t like country, but I like this.” I’m like, “Well, that means you like country because country is derived from soul and blues.” I’m just doing country the way country was done. I’m doing my best to do it justice. I’m just doing country the way that country started.

Lou’s influences don’t stop at country, though. Her Texan roots planted a love for chopped and screwed music deep into her ear canals. After spending much time in Houston when first getting into music, Lou was introduced to ChopNotSlop kings OG Ron C and DJ Candlestick. Naturally, they chopped and rereleased her 2019 “cowgirls don’t cry” EP. Candlestick’s fingerprints can also be found on Angel/Outlaw, an easter egg on the aforementioned charcuterie board.

Is there anything about hip-hop that you wish would apply to country?

The authenticity. 100%. No one in country is talking about the things that Kendrick is talking about. No one is talking about what J Cole’s talking about. There’s a level of authenticity to hip hop and the culture in general. Country is completely missing the mark on that…

I’ve been here long enough to see there’s diversity going on here in experience like there is anywhere else, but we’re not talking about it. We’re living in fantasyland, and it’s boring, and it’s a snoozefest, and I’m over it.

How responsible are artists for making that change?

If we don’t like something, we need to stand up together and say, ‘I’m not into this.’ Side chatter and lyrics that placate what your label wants aren’t going to get us where we need to go. To be fair, it’s very scary when you have a platform and have people staring at you, and they need you to be a certain way for everyone to make money. It’s a catch 22, and I think that’s where a lot of artists get caught up, especially in country. People are afraid. You kinda have to be this way from the jump…If everybody sticks together, they can’t blackball us.

Lou Ridley’s honest character and voice relentlessly attract authentic peers. She’s hell-bent on being a good person. Whether a hip-hop fan, a country fan, or something in between, it’ll be hard to avert your eyes and ears from such a down-to-Earth yet vicious storyteller. Lou has both the talent and the chutzpah to make a wave in today’s music industry. Don’t forget your surfboard.

I like pushing certain people’s buttons. You know, the same people I’ve been talking about, I don’t think I need to describe them. But there’s a group whose buttons need to be pushed here, and I wanna push every fucking one. I don’t care. I have no fear. If nobody else is gonna do it, I’ll do it. I don’t care.

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