Ralph lights up Glowfair
With every soulful synth-pop song she releases, more people fall in love with Toronto pop darling Ralph, born Raffa Weyman. Last year’s self-titled EP established her as a Spotify artist to watch, while her latest tune, the percolating summer jam Girl Next Door, featuring Canadian rapper Tobi, offers a tantalizing taste of her full-length debut album, due to drop in the not-toodistant future. In an interview with Lynn Saxberg, the 27-yearold talked about growing up with hippie parents, the influence of Canadian roots-rockers Blue Rodeo and the demographic that makes up the biggest chunk of her fan base.
Q: Should I call you Ralph or Raffa?
A: When I’m doing anything professional, I go with Ralph. Growing up, everyone called me Raf. That’s why I liked Ralph. It felt like me but also not me when I wanted to have a distinction between performer and real self, which I think is kind of important. If I was Raffa on stage, I would never have a chance to separate myself from that performer and just be at home in sweatpants.
Q: What’s your musical background?
A: I grew up in downtown Toronto with these hippie parents, and we listened to a lot of Joni Mitchell and Bob Dylan and The Band and Fleetwood Mac, and I loved that those artists really tell stories in their lyrics. I studied musical theatre in high school but then I went down the folk route at first because I loved being able to write narrative songs. I had a band with three other women called Queen of the Fleet.
Q: You also have a family connection to Blue Rodeo. Tell me
about that influence.
A: Blue Rodeo is like royalty to me. They’re such a huge and important band. My aunt, Anne Lindsay, plays fiddle with them, and with Jim Cuddy’s band, so we would go see them a lot. She is unreal. You forget how amazing it is to see someone play an instrument like they’re speaking through it. I remember her up at the family farm, listening to her play. My dad would play the mandolin. It was lovely. It made you realize how joyful and inclusive music can be.
Q: Your music is definitely pop but you’re not a slave to the trends. It has a timeless feel. Is that important to you?
A: That’s the biggest compliment someone who is doing pop music can get. The idea of being timeless is like such a huge goal … at least for me because I find that a lot of contemporary pop music is super catchy and really good but I don’t know if in three years we’ll remember that kind of Drake-esque soca beat. And there’s a lot of slang words that become trending. I like trendy songs but I find when I’m writing, I try to stay away from placing words that I feel are too time-associated.
Q: The song Crocodile Tears was a creative turning point. What was going on around you when you wrote it?
A: I had a writing session with these guys I’ve been playing music with and we wrote Crocodile Tears. It was the first time I’d written a song from the bottom up, music and lyrics, and it was a personal song. It was about someone I dated who cheated on me. Finally the lyrics meant something to me. I wrote it with people I love, and I left feeling like, ‘Oh that’s the difference.’ That was a big changing moment. I changed the project entirely after that, and I had to tell the producer I’d been working with I was going to take the project as my own, which was a scary thing. It was one of those moments you have to be a hard-hitting boss. It was very challenging for me as someone who hates confrontation. But that’s how you grow and you get better at it.
Q: And now all of your songs have that perspective of you, a young woman in 2018.
A: Yeah, I think writing songs that have topical relevance about being a woman in 2018 is really relatable to a lot of people and really interesting for listeners. When I’m writing songs, I don’t go into it with a political agenda, it’s just whatever comes out. But a lot of it has to do with relationships and power dynamics.
Q: Such as Busy Man?
A: Yeah. Busy Man was about a guy I was dating who was a director. I loved that he had a lot of passion for the craft but I started feeling like his time was the most important. He was so busy with his career that I had to drop whatever I was doing to get that slice of time that he had for me. It was starting to make me feel, ‘Wait. You’ve never come to one of my shows. I’ve supported you a lot. I think you might even be intimidated by the fact I’m just as busy as you.’ So yeah, I tried to hone in on that in the song.
Q: Do you strive to be the voice of a generation?
A: No. I don’t go into it with that being a goal. I’m just trying to write honest songs. I love getting messages from listeners who are like, ‘Oh my God, I so connect with this song. This is my anthem. This is getting me through a tough time.’ That is so cool to me. And it’s always a diverse audience who will message me. A lot of young gay men connect to the music. I would say that is my largest audience.
Q : I bet they make great fans. A: Absolutely. They’re always in the front row at every show, all these beautiful young gay men come in these beautiful outfits and they’re the ones who buy the merch, and comment on Instagram. I love that they can relate to these songs and stories. It makes me feel more conscious of writing songs that have less of a specific gender connotation. Yesterday, I wrote a song and we made sure there were no gender pronouns in it. And that makes it relatable for every listener. It’s just a song about connecting with another human. I keep learning from my listeners what they want to hear and who’s listening. I’m not necessarily trying to be the voice of 2018, but if I can be a little voice and give people inspiration, that’s great. I love that.
Last year’s self-titled EP established Toronto-born popstar Ralph as a Spotify artist to watch. Ralph is performing at the Glowfair Festival June 14-16.