With roots in Central Jersey, this LA-based musician hasn’t strayed too far from her homegrown sound.
Ryan Santiago. You may not know her name exactly, but if you’re a music lover or a social media user (or both!), you’ve definitely heard her songs. Known as Royal & The Serpent, Santiago has taken her lifelong love of music and created a whirlwind career out of it. The intricately created underground pop stylings released under Royal & The Serpent has taken on a life of it’s own thanks to her almost 2.2 million monthly Spotify listeners (and counting) and the 4.3 million TikTok videos (also, and counting) made to the tune of her breakout hit “overwhelmed.”
Genuine emotion with grips on reality and bouncy, danceable electronic beats rarely work hand-in-hand so well, but this New Jersey native has honed in on it so well. Listening to Santiago’s work, especially her new EP get a grip, is almost as mesmerizing as watching her career take off into the stratosphere.
Your new project, get a grip, features an acoustic, stripped-down version of your breakout track “overwhelmed.” What made you want to reinvent this song and rerelease it on this new piece of work?
I really think that I was excited to kind of dive into the emotional aspects of overwhelmed as opposed to the kind of fun dance version, which I love, but I think there’s a lot of emotional depth in the song. It was really special to let that side out and let that side shine.
I think you did that well done on the entirel little album. You also have two new singles that came with it, “choke” and “warn you.” Both are exponentially emotive and showcase a relatable honesty that not every artist can truly put on display. How did the songs come to be and how do they work well together on this new EP?
Yeah, so all of the songs I wrote with some of my close collaborators, all the same people: Lil J, Jeff Harris, and Marky Style… and all pretty close in timeframe. They were all really about my journey with figuring out how to best handle keeping my mental health stable. I think all of the songs are representative of a different place inside my mind and how I interact with my inner voice. They all had this really similar undertone that I think brought them all together – and that undertone being mental health is something that’s so important to talk about. I’m really grateful that I get to make music and that people can relate to it. I think that is something I look for in songs, something that I can relate to.
Relatability is really and truly vital when it comes to music.You seem to have an ease and comfort in imparting your own truth and feelings, whether it be the lighthearted positivity or the nervewracking uncertainties, into your music and the overall sound of Royal and the serpent, so is that something you consciously strive to do or is that just the way you approach being an honest artist?
I think that it definitely comes naturally, but it’s something that I do make sure to make a point of. I definitely never want to say anything in my art that isn’t my truth. That’s just a personal choice. I know plenty of artists love to sing stories that have nothing to do with them, but for me, my art is this cathartic experience. Speaking my truth is why I make art and why I’m making music, so I think it is conscious to an extent.
I love that. And you have had some very aesthetically pleasing and monumentally representative music videos, so when going into creating a piece of visual art to mimic your songs, do you go in with an idea or do people approach you with an idea? How much of a say do you have in that process?
Thank you so much. It’s actually my favorite part of the process and one of my favorite things to do. I usually go in headfirst, get my headphones on, and start writing up the treatment when it’s time to greenlight a music video. I co-direct all of them with one of my close collaborators, Conner Sorenson, and I love bringing the music to life visually. I think it’s an entirely different element. It really brings it all full circle and together for me as filmmaking is just another passion that I’ve always had and always been drawn to. So getting to combine my music and filmmaking together in one world is such a gift.
That’s in the same vein as putting together an immersive live show, even now, knowing that it isn’t going to be set up fully in terms of the way we know and love. What has that process been like?
Right now I’m actually on a virtual tour with Yungblud. I think that we did a really good job on the shows. I had a great team and we’re doing a great job of giving an experience that feels as close to a live show as it can while still being on your living room television, you know? I think it’s a completely different experience performing for a camera than it is for an audience – it’s a little bit more intimate. You get more of a close moment. I was actually just talking to a friend about it yesterday; I think virtual touring and virtual concerts are kind of a beautiful thing. Even when regular concerts come back, we now have this new thing that is accessible to people that maybe could have never gotten out to a show before, so I think just kind of trying to make the best of what we have right now and still getting to perform, even if it’s only for a camera is good enough for me. It’s really, really great and people have been loving it. It’s really cool to see all the fans putting their makeup on and getting ready for the show and posting videos of what they’re doing in their rooms watching. It’s different and it’s not quite as connected, but I’m trying really hard to still find the time after each show to personally connect with all of those fans that have came out and that have watched, because otherwise I would be standing at a merchandise booth talking to all of them. It’s just taking the time to really make the fans, I think, feel special and feel appreciated, too.
That’s so amazing. I agree that people are going to continue to enjoy that aspect of virtual touring, because, like you said, you might not have been able to have gone to a certain location or see a certain artist at a certain time, but now that is legitimately at your fingertips. What has been your favorite part of being on this virtual tour? I know it just kicked off, but what are you looking forward to? What are you loving about it? Because it is different, but still very exciting.
Oh yeah. Genuinely it’s all of the new connections I’m getting to make. Yungblud’s fans are such diehards for him – they’re so loyal. So far everybody that I’ve come into contact with online has been so sweet and so uplifting and it’s been so special to connect with these people. I think it’s really reminding you why I’m doing this and why I’m making music in the first place. I think sometimes it can get lost and it can be easy to forget that there’s a listener out there, but that’s why I’m making music and making art and to actually get to tangibly connect with these people is something that is really lifting my spirits, especially in a time like this.
Absolutely. It must be so heartwarming and certainly a necessity nowadays. Have you found this time of being locked down and feeling an air of uncertainty to be something of a roadblock creativity wise? Or have you actually found this time to be somewhat of an inspiration?
I’m a big silver linings person, so I think there’s good and bad in everything. I do think that I’ve really tried to take this time to cultivate some of the things that I’ve always wanted to. I’ve been taking guitar lessons and piano lessons and bass lessons and vocal lessons, just really trying to get as good as I can in what I want to do for a living for the rest of my life. I think it has not been super inspirational when it comes to actual songwriting, but I think with all of the other skills I’m kind of trying to learn, I’ll be even better when we come out of this thing and ready for whatever is to come next.
That’s so lovely. You can build off these new skills and create possibly something new. That’s awesome. Now it is an interesting time to be making music, I think in general, and just putting songs out in the world, and as you yourself have experienced places like TikTok and Spotify are really helping people make their mark. What is your opinion on this new era of the music industry as an artist and a creative yourself?
Well, I think there’s a lot of access for people. I think it’s really cool that anybody can make something and put it out and have the opportunity to get heard. I think TikTok is a really cool place for people to stay connected, to get connected. I think for me, at least what I’ve experienced from TikTok, is very positive. I don’t know if the industry has changed that much since I started putting music out, but I think with the terrain of this year, people are definitely centralized online. I just think things are easier to hear and easier to discover now, which is so cool.
That’s true. Accessibility is at an all time high, even for a Jersey paper like use to discover a Jersey native like you, so I was wondering: How has New Jersey, their music scene, and the east coast has shaped you and your career?
I grew up in Central Jersey, down the street from some friends of mine, the Missal Family, and I was very close with their younger siblings, but the older sister was Donna Missal. She’s an artist and she was a huge inspiration to me, even as a young girl because she was already making music. When I was a young girl, she was a teenager and already writing music – and we’re still friends to this day, but I think watching her journey especially was super inspirational for me.
Then as far as other music goes, I think growing up in New Jersey definitely made me like an all rock and roll, Warped Tour loving, pop punk emo kid at heart; which is really starting to come through in my music more and more. I’m getting back to the roots, so that’s been really cool. I think where we come from shapes us in so many more ways, probably more than we get everyone to understand, but I’m super grateful for where I grew up. I grew up with a bunch of super talented, amazing friends that all sing. Somehow we were all in chorus together, so I’ve been writing songs since I was little with my friends in Jersey. I love Jersey.