The Canadian pop star is at it again with her new single "September Fades."
Following the successful release of her debut EP, Ralph is back with a new single.
"September Fades" is a slowdown, a moody synthetic drip that explores a relationship that wasn't meant to be. Ralph's voice, lacquered in bright pop-pink, cuts through the musical, saw synth haze and gets right to the heart of the matter. A lyricist first, Ralph's music has always been more than a collection of catchy hooks, but with this song she's exploring a side of her that her fans haven't had a chance to see yet. If "September Fades" is any indication of things to come, Ralph's new album–slated for release later this year–will have significantly deeper emotional content than her previous work. With this in mind, we decided get in touch with her to discuss literature, fame, and her new music in this PopDust extended interview.
Writer's Note: I decided to cut out the 20 minutes of this interview where we discussed Canadian geography. That said, it is worth noting that Ralph, a Toronto native, was very patient with my lack of understanding in this regard.
So you've been performing as Ralph for about three years?
Even though I've been performing as Ralph for three years, I've been doing Ralph for longer than that. When Ralph started I was in a folk band actually. I grew up with super hippy parents and that was just a huge part of who I was. And, I loved writing. When you write folk music it's really cool because you get to write these sort of narratives and I loved that.
The Ralph project started on the side because of a bad date I went on; we just had nothing in common. A couple months later he was like, "Hey I remember you saying you do music. I just started making tracks. Would you be interested in singing on them? They're kind of synth-y 80s stuff." I said yes out of pure curiosity because I thought they'd be bad, and then they were interesting, so I started doing that on the side. He would send me these fully-formed tracks, and I would write lyrics for him. The lyrics weren't personal, but I liked the music, and then the folk band split up, and I was like, "Okay I guess I'm putting all my time towards Ralph." And then, I realized I can't be in a group with someone that I don't jive with. At that point, I was the face of the band. I was the one putting in all the work. We had a talk and I was like, "At this point, I think you're a producer, and you can continue to produce tracks, but I am Ralph, and I'm going to move forward with that as a solo project."
How'd he take it?
He took it well. That was one of the scariest moments of my career because I'm very conscious of others and feelings and I try to not hurt people. I was nervous that he would freak out and try to sue me but he was like, "Yeah, okay." I think at that point it was really obvious that there was just no way we could really properly function together. In order to make something work you gotta, as eloquently and kindly as you can, make those hard choices.
So you come from folk music. That doesn't really seem like it would fit well with the heavy pop stuff.
I guess I kinda feel like I come from everything. I grew up singing jazz and musical theater, but my brother was doing hip-hop. All his friends would employ me to be the backup girl for their hip-hop group, so I ended up singing a lot of that. [With] folk and singer-songwriter stuff, I guess I just loved that I could focus on the lyrics. I really love writing. I studied English literature and poetry at University. I've always loved pop music, but I guess I never realized how cool pop can be. You can do whatever you want with pop. I think one of the reasons my music has had some notice is because I do focus on lyrics in my pop music. I think people are interested in that.
When did you know you kind of 'made it' with Ralph?
I don't think that I can really say that I've 'made it,' but probably the billboard in Dundas Square in Toronto. There was a Spotify billboard that had a couple rotating images of the artists of the week and I was one of them when I released my EP. My face was on this billboard, and that was a pretty huge accomplishment for me to get that recognition. That was a moment where I felt like, "Okay people are listening to my music."
Another weird moment was when Abigail Breslin tweeted I love this song [and tagged] "Cold to the Touch." Then, when I was in L.A., I was at this bar and she was there. I was like, "This is too funny, I have to say something." I felt so awkward but then she locked eyes with me so I went over and said, "Hey, you actually tweeted about my song." And then we had a chat about it and she said, "We definitely have to do a song together," because she does music.
Let's talk about the new single. I love the sentiment of "September Fades." What's the title mean to you?
Last year, I was seeing this guy who was the first person I'd dated in a long time who was good to me. The rest of my songs are about busy men and guys that I'm not into, but this guy was so special and kind and caring and just treated me so, so good [sic]. It felt so amazing that I kept taking it, even though I knew there was something that wasn't quite right. I wasn't at his level of love and infatuation. I had love for him and I loved the feeling of being loved, but he just wasn't my person. I realized that, but it was so hard to end that relationship because it felt so good being taken care of. So, we were in upstate New York and doing this road trip for American Thanksgiving. Everything smelled like cedar trees. It was beautiful and we had such a great time, but I just felt like, "You are manipulating this good human emotionally. You won't be able to give back what he needs." I started writing the song when I was there.
You said you studied English and literature. What do you think about Kendrick getting the Pulitzer?
I think that's evolution. I think we've always thought of the Pulitzer Prize as [being for] established, educated writers. I think it's amazing that people are looking at lyricists, who are writing educational, incredibly weighty things, and giving them (the lyricists) amazing opportunities and aligning them with established writers. We're at a point now where a lot is changing in the arts and music, and it's inevitable that those lines are going to get a little bit blurred.
So who do you read?
I wasn't allowed to watch commercial television as a kid. I read a lot as a kid. I loved reading. As an adult, I went through a really big John Irving phase. I loved John Irving, and I still do, but I don't like his new stuff. I really love Chelsea Handler. She makes me laugh out loud. E.E. Cummings is my favorite poet. Whenever I feel stuck on lyrics I read my Joni Mitchell book of lyrics and E.E. Cummings. In my E.E. Cummings book, I've underlined all of my favorite lines. Poetry really helps me write.
Who are you listening to right now?
I've always been influenced by R&B, soul, and funk. If you look at my Spotify playlists, it's a lot of Georgia Smith, Mabel, SZA, Cardi, and Anderson Paak. I really like Yellow Daze and Billy Eilish, [as well.]
So the single is out. Do you have any idea for when you want to release your album?
It's hard. Everything takes longer than you think it's going to. I think we're going to do a single release situation. We have a song coming out in May and another song coming out a month after that. Ideally, [we'd release] at the end of summer. That's probably not fully realistic. I used to get really frustrated with how long things took. I'd write a song and be like, "Let's put it out!" But then, the producer has to mix it and master it. Then you have to release it to your publicist who has to secure a good release for it. I've come to understand that patience is a virtue.
I don't think you can release any artistic product, in any medium, before you're completely nauseated by the prospect of reviewing it again.
Totally! And the other thing is demo-itis. I wrote a song last year with this producer, Stint, who is amazing. We did the song and it was one of my favorite writing sessions ever. We were thinking it was more of a radio single, so he sent us a new mix of it. I'd been listening to the demo for almost a year, and [in the new version] there was a drum section that was really throwing me off. I always try to be open-minded to change, but I had such demo-itis; I had listened to the original demo so many times that I couldn't think of changing it at all.
Matt Clibanoff is a writer and editor based in New York City who covers music, politics, sports and pop culture. His editorial work can be found in Inked Magazine, Pop Dust, The Liberty Project, and All Things Go. His fiction has been published in Forth Magazine. -- Find Matt at his website and on Twitter: @mattclibanoff
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