Ralph is a Canadian pop sensation in the waiting. At the age of 27 she’s put out her debut album A Good Girl. We sat down to a chat to talk about inspiration, music videos, collaboration and the Canadian music scene.
First off, how did you get into music?
I went to a performing arts high school and studied music theatre and vocal performance for four years, so that really helped me develop stage confidence (although the first two years I was petrified). After high school I was in a band with five male friends, we wrote our own songs and had so much fun.
I realized quickly that being on stage, singing my own songs was really what made me happiest. I did folky/singer-songwriter stuff after that, then got approached by a producer who was making these cool 80s synth-pop tracks. I had obviously grown up listening to pop music, so I easily just fell into writing within this new style of music, it was a nice change from what I had been doing. And ta da, Ralph slowly evolved!
What musicians have influenced you?
I grew up listening to a lot of oldies on vinyl with my parents. I’ve always loved Joni Mitchell, Joan Baez, Neil Young and Bob Dylan for their narrative songwriting, I loved that it was emotional and political and honest.
Fleetwood Mac has always been one of my favorite bands, the songs are so dynamic and well written, and each album has such a unique and different sound while still feeling cohesive to the band and their sound. Diana Ross, Aretha Franklin, and Nina Simone showed me how to use my voice to connect with the lyrics, such joy and sadness and power in those women. Currently….Beyonce and Solange, Rihanna, Celine Dion!
What’s the music scene like in Toronto?
It’s amazing. Toronto is a great place to make music because it has such a diverse scene and there’s so many cool collab opportunities. I’ve met and worked with some amazing people from the city, all because I just DMed or got a friend to put us in touch. It feels like everyone is just one degree of separation away, and so many artists and producers are hungry to create with each other. It’s insane to see so many artists from Toronto (Daniel Caesar, Charlotte Day Wilson, Majid Jordan, Jessie Reyez) blowing up these days, and I think it only helps the city become more internationally regarded as a hotspot for talent.
You release your debut album yesterday, what’s it like to be putting your work out in the world?
Putting out work is always scary but exciting. I’ve spent the last year and a bit writing these songs, sitting in dark studios for hours just listening to the same hook over and over again. You start feeling a little insane and like you miss fresh air a lot, but it’s such a crazy rewarding experience to create a body of work – you’re literally creating something from nothing.
You enter a studio with nothing except an idea and leave with a tangible song that didn’t exist mere hours ago. I think with this album, I wanted to try adding more of a contemporary flare – experimenting with vocal samples and more rnb/soul/funk melodies and sounds. There’s still that nostalgic flair that I think people expect from me, but I wanted to present something that felt a little more current this time. I’m stoked for people to hear the songs and to get feedback from my fans!
How was the process behind creating your debut album?
I literally just wrote songs for the last 16 months. Hundreds. Luckily my songwriting is inspired by anything and everything, so I was writing songs about overheard conversations on the street, moving scenes from a movie, dreams I had, conversations I had with lovers and ex-lovers (I literally pulled lines from a text conversation and used them in a song).
I’m largely influenced by emotions and relationships though, so a lot of my songs were about the complexities of my love life over the last year and a half. Thankfully I work with wonderful producers and co-writers who know me very well and encourage emotionally honest sessions, so the songs are all very meaningful and real to me.
It was hard picking only 10 to go on the album, but I’m really happy with the selection – they felt like the strongest songs and also made sense as an album, it’s almost like they tell a chronological tale front to back.
Your album has features with TOBi and Milk & Bone, how did they come about?
Like I said earlier, I literally DMed both of them and asked if they would be down to sing on my tracks lol. With ‘Girl Next Door’, I had actually written an entire song but my manager and I listened back and were like…this would be a sweet opportunity to get a rapper involved. Funny enough we had both made a list of Toronto-based rappers/MCs and TOBi was on both lists.
I contacted him and he loved the track, he had actually recently written a song with similar context so he used those lyrics and they fit perfectly. The girls from Milk & Bone know me because I opened for them years ago, we’ve sort of been on each other’s radar for awhile. I love what they do, their songs are so beautiful and their harmonies are chilling. When I sent them ‘Cereal’, they were just like “yes, this is lovely, we want to be a part of this.” Their additions on the track took it to a new level, I just love it so much.
How do you think your music has changed, comparing your first single ‘Trouble’ to songs on the album?
I actually still think ‘Trouble’ is a wicked song. Maybe someday I can revive it. But I think I’ve just grown a lot as an independent, mature artist who knows her sound. I had very little part in creating ‘Trouble’; the track was written and recorded by the producer, then he sent the song for me to write lyrics on top of.
At the time, I was fine with it but now, I wouldn’t feel comfortable using a song that I didn’t help create in the studio. I’m so picky about my sound and staying true to what makes me ME, I think that’s the biggest change. I’m much more comfortable and confident in who Ralph is and where I see my sound going.
What song are you most looking forward to playing live?
‘Tables Have Turned’ is really fun to play live – we have a choreographed dance for the chorus. I can’t help but laugh and smile when we do that song.
Music videos are a big part of music, and yours are directed by your friend Gemma Warren. How did this collaboration happen and how does it work?
Gemma has been such a huge part of developing the Ralph aesthetic from the beginning, it’s so great to have friends who are talented and want to collab and create with you. I’ve also done two videos recently with my good friend Ally Pankiw, who I met 8 years ago while working at American Apparel. With both of these women, the friendships existed before the work relationship, but they naturally just went hand-in-hand.
I admired what they did, they admired what I did and wanted to help evolve it. Working with friends is awesome because they already know you, they know your personality, your strengths, your aesthetic taste – when we write the video treatments together, it’s truly a collaborative process.
I love helping with the video concept, the casting, the scouting, the styling, and my friends know this and embrace it. I think this level of comfort and respect for each other is what makes for such great videos – we’re putting together these visual stories that we both agree on and feel good about. Creation should feel joyful, and these women have helped facilitate that in such large ways.
Clearly this is a busy time between the album and a headline tour but is there anything in the pipeline for 2019?
Heading to San Francisco in early October, then the UK and Paris, then back to NYC! Doing shows outside of Canada is wicked because I get to expose my music far and wide and get to meet my international fans. I think we’ll be doing a lot more of that in
2019. I’m also looking forward to more festivals! And of course I’ll start writing my next album – no sleep for the wicked.
Listen to A Good Girl here and be sure to check out Ralph as she goes on tour.