IN CONVERSATION WITH RALPH
Queer pop diva Ralph released her EP ‘222’ on 30th June. Packed with smoldering sapphic bops, upbeat pop anthems and tenderly introspective love songs, ‘222’ is as dynamic and intriguing as Ralph herself. The 6 track EP brims over with danceable rhythms, groovy hooks and Ralph’s connected lyricism, creating a sonic experience that is equal parts meaningful and fun. After the release of her 222 EP Ralph will embark on a headlining North American tour in the fall.
Where did your passion for music come from and when did you know you wanted to become a singer?
I was always surrounded by music growing up, my parents have a fantastic record collection, but I actually wanted to be an actor. I never thought of myself as a singer, but when I was 12, my cousin heard me singing along to something and she was like “Wait, what??? ” I was so nervous to sing in front of anyone, so she turned off all the lights and I sang along to ‘At Last’ by Etta James in the dark. After that, I got cast as the lead in my school musical and then I attended an arts high school and majored in vocal performance, which helped with the nerves and made me feel really hungry to be on stage.
What are your main inspirations and who are your greatest role models?
I’ve always been inspired by the songwriting geniuses like Joni Mitchell, Carole King, Neil Young and Stevie Nicks. More recently I’ve been obsessed with Charli XCX, Rina Sawayama, LEON, Renee Rapp, Caroline Polachek, Kali Uchis and MUNA. I’m really drawn to artists who are making authentic stuff and nailing the aesthetics.
You’ve been described as a gay icon and you always say how grateful you are to your queer fan base. Has your queer community helped you embrace your bisexuality and even to sing about it?
A 100 %. It took a little time to figure out how I wanted to share with my fans, since it needed to feel natural and authentic to me. I just didn’t want it to feel performative and I guess I was a little nervous. When I released ‘Scary Hot’ my fans were just like yay, she’s one of us. It felt very seamless and supportive and I actually feel even closer with my audience now. I’ve always been incredibly lucky to be beloved by the community and I’m so thankful they have created a safe space for me to explore my own queerness without fear of judgment. I think this upcoming tour is gonna hit different, these shows are gonna be so fun.
Your EP ‘222’ will be officially released on 30th of June. Can you describe the musical mood of this new EP and how it differs from your previous musical works? What were your main inspirations for this EP?
‘222’ is unlike anything I’ve done before because it’s the first time I’ve had this much creative freedom on a project. I was feeling pretty uninspired for a minute there, so I started writing demos alone in my room. I wrote one called ‘Just a Rose’ and it was the first time I’d felt excited about my music in a while. The melodies highlight a different vocal range and then I dip into a Janet Jackson/Robyn talk-rap moment, which I’ve always wanted to have on a song. I took it to my producer friend Jim and he was like “This is sick, let’s flesh this out and make this the first song on your new EP”.
I think I needed to have someone reaffirm my vision and my skills, since I was doubting myself. All the sessions after that felt similar, I just kept making music with my friends and the songs reflected that joy and creativity. I honestly laughed so much while I was making this EP, it was a truly gorgeous experience. Everyone listened to my ideas and really understood my vision and role as the director of the EP. This evolution as an artist has been so necessary and I feel like ‘222’ truly reflects the personal growth I’ve experienced over the last year.
Why did you choose the number 222 for this EP? Is there a special story behind it?
222 is an angel number that means balance, trust and manifestation. It’s a number that means trust your intuition and the process, you’re on the right path. When I started dating my girlfriend Jaimee around the time I started working on the EP, she pointed out that I kept texting her at 2:22. She’s really into angel numbers, so she introduced me to the concept and when I researched the meaning behind 222, it deeply resonated with me and became sort of a mantra for this EP. I suddenly started seeing it everywhere and it felt like a little voice in my ear going “You got this”. It felt like the obvious name for this body of work and I immediately knew what I wanted the cover to look like with the hair as the numbers.
‘Scary Hot’ is the first single from your EP. You describe the track as ‘a sexy banger about a car hookup’. For this track, you teamed up with Devon Cole and Goldchain. Can you tell us about the 6-handed writing process? Wasn’t it complicated to write with several people on such a personal story?
It’s funny because I used to be so stubborn about writing with other people, but now I love it. Although I am really picky about who I collab with, it has to feel like a good fit. Devon is such a talented and hilarious human, we’re both oversharers so the concept for the song came easy. She was like “What’s happening in your life right now, sweetie? ” and I was like “OMG, I had the hottest car hook up last night” and she was like “Wow, that sounds so hot, scary hot”. Goldchain and I had been writing a lot together, so he just instantly got the vibe.
‘Pain Relief’ is a very introspective song where you share your fears as an artist and the toxic and stressful feelings that all artists can feel too. How did you find the courage to open up so much?
I was in LA and I was honestly feeling so depressed I didn’t know what to do. I found myself scrolling a lot to distract and I kept feeling jealous towards everyone I saw, which only made me feel worse. I find writing is sometimes the only honest way to work through my feelings, so I went into the studio and decided to purge myself of my toxic behavior. It’s funny because after I wrote the song, I talked to a couple of my girlfriends in music and I told them how I was feeling, even though it was sort of embarrassing. So many of them were like “Me too dude”. So the song suddenly took on this new meaning where I was like ok, people are having this shared experience, but not talking about it because it’s personal and sensitive. Sometimes I feel like it’s my job to start the conversation with my platform and I don’t mind being publicly vulnerable. It’s scary, but it’s also healing in a weird way, especially when I know it’s resonating with listeners and helping them feel seen.
How was it to direct the video clip for this song? Is this something you’d do more often in the future?
I actually have a degree in film theory and grew up in a family of filmmakers, so aesthetic storytelling has always been a huge part of who I am. I creative direct everything I do, but the idea of being the sole director of a music video was honestly scary to me. However, this EP has been all about trying new things and harnessing that fear, so it felt like the right time and the right song. I gathered a small crew in LA, who were all so supportive and encouraging of the video, my stylist from Toronto even flew down for 2 days to help out and we had this magical day in Malibu. It was chaotic because videos always are, but the feeling of community was strong and it made me feel like I could do it again, even better and more confident next time.
As a pop star, you are also a fashion icon in your music videos, your concerts, etc. What role does fashion play in your life and what is your first fashion-related memory? Is it something you’ve always been fond of, like music?
I’ve always been obsessed with dressing up, as a kid I was always knee deep in the costume cupboard, layering fairy wings with oversized blazers and cowboy hats. My mom used to get so annoyed with me because I’d take so long to put together an outfit, even for a casual hike in the woods. She used to say “Raff, it’s not a runway” and I’d go “Mom, it’s always a runway”. To me, every day is an opportunity to express who you are in that moment and fashion is how I choose to show that.
You’re very active on social media and we love the way you manage your communication, You are always genuine, the captions on your publications seem to come straight from your heart. Why is it important to remain authentic, especially on social media, and what’s your favorite platform for communicating and sharing with your fans?
I love that social media is such a connective tool, especially as an artist when you’re trying to reach new fans and introduce them to your stuff. Talking to fans is actually such a joy for me and I have always prioritized connecting in a genuine way. But obviously, we all know it can be dangerous and addictive and discouraging, so I just try to be really uncontrived and real. I enjoy posting because I think it gives people a genuine insight into who I am. I feel like my personal brand is music, fashion and humour, and it’s fun playing within those parameters. TikTok is fun, it feels like a video version of Tumblr, but I get more trolls because it’s a little more random. People will just comment “How are you verified” because they have no idea who I am. Instagram is my favourite platform because my followers feel more personalized, they’ve been following my career for years and they’re there to lift me up and stay positive.
You were selected as one of 50 musicians across Canada to sing in the Kids Help Phone anthem ‘What I Wouldn’t Do (North Star Calling)’, the largest mental health movement in the history. Why is it important for you to use your notoriety to make a positive difference? Apart from the queer community and mental health, which commitments are closest to your heart and which would you like to speak up for?
Mental health has always been a really big part of my life. I’ve struggled with EDs for many years and I have pretty intense anxiety. As an overthinker, my brain never shuts off, so it is just a huge part of my existence. Any opportunity I have to raise awareness and to support mental health, whether it’s through my own music or a group effort, is absolutely essential to me. I’m very active and unapologetic about politics, social change, gender politics, the BLM movement and women’s rights.
A couple years ago, I had a big show and asked everyone to bring donations for my favorite local women’s shelter in Toronto. It was amazing how many boxes of donations we were able to deliver to the shelter the next day, I was so proud of my audience. I also organized a pro-choice concert and fundraiser called ‘Body Party’ with two of my best friends. We raised over $19.000 for abortion providers across North America. For me, having a platform means using it wisely and I continue to challenge myself to do more, raise more, speak more, contribute more.
This Fall, you are embarking on a major tour around North America. Would you also like to come to Europe? Any other exciting news to share with us?
Of course. I played London and Paris a couple years ago and it was incredible, we packed the Old Blue Last and it made my heart so full. I also used to live in Copenhagen, so I have many friends who are waiting for my return. I’d love to come back to Europe and play more cities. Stay tuned on that and hopefully some fun remixes coming out.
interview by MARIE-PAULINE CESARI & JANA LETONJA
photography MARIAH HAMILTON