We spoke to Moscow-born, Bristol-based indie-pop singer-songwriter Ria Timkin about moving to the city, Tolstoy and her biggest influences
While Bristol has proved itself a veritable breeding ground for young artistic talent, it also attracts plenty from further afield, thanks to its welcoming, diverse vibe and thriving creative scene. Solo singer and multi-instrumentalist Ria is originally from Moscow, and began travelling and performing around the world from an early age – her accent and quirky lyrics, along with Martin the Guitar, and her trusty loop station, these days earning her slots at the likes of Glastonbury Festival, Bristol Harbour Festival, Bristol Balloon Fiesta and the Acoustic Festival of Britain.
So Ria, what brought you to Bristol?
I moved here in 2014 to do my masters degree in commercial law at the University of Bristol. I didn’t know much about the city at the time, though I had heard it was quite a vibrant place, particularly in terms of art and culture. It sounded the perfect choice for continuing my studies while pursuing a music career simultaneously, and it has turned out to be one of the best decisions I’ve made.
Bristol is absolutely perfect for young artists.
Fill us in on your musical journey… I was a very musical kid with a lot of energy, so my mum took me to a music school to help me channel my hyperactivity in the right direction. I sang in a choir and really enjoyed playing the piano. I owe a lot to the wonderful teachers I had. After graduating, I joined some music clubs and studios, and together we went on a few German tours, performed in Greece, and took part in a lot of music competitions in Russia. So music has always played an important part in my life but at 14, I suddenly came to realise that it was all I wanted to do. I wrote my first song at around the same age, and because most of my favourite artists were either American or British, I decided to stick to English lyrics instead of Russian.
But it wasn’t until I moved to Bristol I could really say I had a music career. I had an open mic each weekday and after a month or so I booked my very first gig at Be in Bristol – it felt like I had conquered the world. I had only eight people in the audience but I couldn’t have been happier. I would often play at the Jelli Records open mic in Clifton and in 2015 started a collaboration with the company – they have been really supportive and booked a number of incredible shows and festivals. This summer, I released my debut EP Visitor, was invited to BBC Radio Bristol a couple of times and BBC Introducing played my single Dance With Me. Playing Glastonbury was a huge breakthrough. I couldn’t believe my luck; playing there is literally every musician’s goal.
What do you love most about this city and its music scene?
I think Bristol is incredible because it’s just full of artists, musicians, poets… Whatever you do, you can always find your community and fit in really well. Bristol is quite unique in the sense that it’s big enough to help you fulfill your ambitions, yet small enough to help you stay grounded.
Tell us more about Visitor…
People usually describe me as a one-person band because I play all the instruments myself, mixing my guitar, percussion, backing vocals and beat boxing on my loop station. The Visitor EP is a collection of four tracks that speak about my experiences during my first year in Bristol. Coming here was a bold move that I had been anticipating for a long time. That’s why a lot of my lyrics are about going out there and living up to your full potential, embracing your mistakes and misfortunes and learning from them. There are definitely a lot of emotions in this EP.
Who are your influences, musically?
I try not to stick to a particular genre and always look for raw honesty in lyrics along with a distinctive sound. Most of my recent favourites are young artists who are relatively new to the music scene but have already managed to make some noise: The 1975, Jack Garratt, Rae Morris, Lianne La Havas, George Ezra, Hozier. At Glastonbury I heard Tom Odell for the first time, and was smitten, and a few days ago I came across a Swedish artist called Tove Lo. Her songs Cool Girl and Moments are so catchy and almost uncomfortably upfront! I am also a huge fan of Ed Sheeran and can quote most of the songs by Imagine Dragons.
What are you reading at the moment?
For the whole of September all I could read was academic articles on regulatory penalties in banking law for my university thesis… As it’s done now, I have returned to War and Peace by Leo Tolstoy. I read it at school but it’s only now that I’ve come to recognise it as the true masterpiece that it is. I need to thank BBC for that, because if I didn’t watch their beautiful historical period drama, I probably wouldn’t have given the book a second chance.
Which other Bristol performers do you admire?
Mike Dennis. He creates an absolutely crazy sound with his violin, percussion, beatboxing, rapping and looping. I saw him at The Fleece and left with one thought: I need that magical loop machine thing! It really transformed my own sound and opened many doors, so I am really grateful to him for introducing me to the looping world. A few months ago at The Square Sessions I came across the Sam Evans Band and their incredible mix of soul, funk, reggae and blues. I’ve also crossed paths with Firewoodisland and am completely enchanted by their sound.
2016 has been a really good year, music-wise. I played live shows every week for almost five months but now I plan on taking a short break and developing my sound a bit further: new instruments, new effects! My music preferences have expanded considerably recently, so I can’t wait to lock myself in the studio and experiment.