Ralph lights up Glow­fair

Ottawa Citizen - - FRONT PAGE - LYNN SAXBERG

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.

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