Ralph: Canada’s cool older sister

Ralph’s new album includes songs about relationships and self-love.

From performing in musicals as a teenager decked out in Vans, a pair of fairy wings, and a crinoline over her jeans, to working in several bands over the years while sporting boho-chic hats, Toronto artist Ralph’s sound and look have evolved greatly throughout her life and career.

Ralph can safely say that she has always taken risks in music and in fashion to stand out and do things differently. Having now ditched traditional singer-songwriter attire for a more fun and edgy look, she said she currently focuses on comfort and occasionally plays with gender ambiguity.

“I love that my style can walk this line of androgyny,” she said. “I think that’s really fun to play with for music videos and for looks in general.”

Since the release of her 80s-driven EP in early 2017, Ralph said her main goal when it came to her latest album, A Good Girl, was to focus on a more contemporary sound.

“I got type-casted as this 80s synth-pop artist and I didn’t want that,” said Ralph. “I think my music transcends one genre.”

According to Ralph, the album released last fall still features nostalgic moments reminiscent of sounds from the past, but feels fresh and new—especially with the inclusion of the track “Girl Next Door,” a collaboration with Toronto singer and rapper TOBi.

Ralph said that despite having strayed away from her beginnings performing as a folk artist, there are still many similarities between her music then and now. The most significant constants are the themes she is drawn to when writing lyrics.

“Pop is just such a huge genre and you can kind of make it what you want it to be,” Ralph said. “I write pop music in the same way that I wrote folk, in the sense that I still tell stories.”

Ideas of self-love, self-acceptance, and self-worth are driving forces behind Ralph’s lyrics. Having dealt with an eating disorder in the past, and still occasionally feeling insecure about parts of her body, she said that slowly opening up about her struggles has been therapeutic for her and her audience.

“It can be scary and challenging, but I think it’s really rewarding, and there are so many people who need to hear conversations about it,” said Ralph.

Another of the many themes Ralph explores in the album is how relationships shape our lives.

“It’s a universal theme, it’s very relatable,” Ralph said. “Whether it’s the relationship we have with ourselves, the relationships we have with our friends, with our family […]. They help you grow so much.”

Ralph’s favourite track on the album, “Cereal,” dives into this topic, focusing on love and heartbreak. It features the lush, female harmonies of Montreal-based duo Milk & Bone. “I remember listening to it and just getting shivers,” said Ralph. “It felt like the perfect closure to the album for me.”

“Cereal” was the last song Ralph wrote for the album and it holds a special place in her heart. “It’s funny listening to it now because it’s about a breakup and I’m back together with the person that it’s about,” said Ralph.

While Milk & Bone will not be joining her for her Montreal performance, Ralph said she is thrilled to be touring with Canadian singer-songwriter Scott Helman. She and Helman, also a Toronto native, met at the iHeartRadio Beach Ball festival in Vancouver two years ago. “He’s such an amazing songwriter and performer,” said Ralph. “Each time I see him play, I’m blown away and I respect him more and more as an artist. It’s a cool opportunity.”

As far as future collaborations are concerned, Ralph said she hopes to branch out and work with people outside of Canada. “I have a lot of friends in Los Angeles who are great singer-songwriters and musicians,” Ralph said. “I think [collaborations] are such a cool part of being a musician […] It’s such an awesome experience to create something out of nothing with someone else.”

When it comes to A Good Girl, Ralph said her biggest challenge was curating the track list. She said she wrote approximately 40 songs for the album and struggled to make cuts. “You have to be open minded and able to understand that you will write a million songs,” she said. “I get so attached to each song that I write, that it feels excruciating to think that I may never use that song for anything.”

Ralph said she is learning more every day about when it’s best to include a song or leave it off the album. “I’m just constantly getting better at understanding how to be more collaborative, more patient, less stubborn, and to think about how being an artist also often involves being part of a team,” said Ralph.

Already looking towards the future, Ralph said she already has 30 new songs written with her next album in mind. She started writing on the road during her last tour, and plans to perform new material on her current tour.

“I’ll write another 10 or 12 and then we’ll start picking which songs we want to put on a new album or EP that’ll come out in the spring or summer,” Ralph said.

For now, Ralph said she is focused on touring and promoting her latest album. While she typically sees a large number of young men and people from the LGBTQ+ community attending her shows, she said Helman’s audience tends to be mostly comprised of young women.

Ralph said the LGBTQ+ community is her biggest support system. “I’m so grateful to have that, but it’s also really cool to also be exposed to a different kind of audience that isn’t necessarily hearing my music,” she said. “I think a lot of my music speaks to young women, so it’s really cool to be creating a new fan base and meeting new people who are connecting with the songs.”

Though she gets worried about staying healthy while touring, especially during the winter, Ralph said she is mostly excited to be on the road again.

“My shows are open and safe for everyone to come, and they’re fun,” Ralph said. “They’re fun and personal […] and we dance a lot. If you’re not a big dancer that’s cool, but I encourage everyone to try and shake their hips a little bit.”

Ralph and Scott Helman will be performing at L’Astral in Montreal on March 20. Their tour will conclude with a show in North Bay, Ontario on April 6. A Good Girl is available now.

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