Ria Mae talks signing to Sony and working on her new hip hop-inspired album


If you haven’t heard Ria Mae’s “Clothes Off,” you’ve been missing some serious joy in your life. The Canadian artist’s first single has been on radio rotation up north for a couple months now, steaming up cars and parties everywhere. And she’s just getting started.

Newly signed to Sony Records, Halifax-born Ria Mae is in the midst of working on her debut album and planning her first U.S. tour. Here, the out singer-songwriter discusses the inspiration for her lyrics, the idea of being a queer role model, and what she’s planning to bring to pop music.

AfterEllen.com: How did you discover your love of music?

Ria Mae: I’ve always had it. I came from a musical family, so I’d always been doing it in my personal time. After high school, I went and did construction management in school and worked in that field for a year and a half and I just quit because that wasn’t where my heart was. So I’ve been doing music full time for four or five years.


AE: When you say you come from a musical family, does that mean your parents played?

RM: Yeah my mom and her whole side of the family, they were all actors and performers. My grandparents met in the theater. My family was always just artsy.


AE: Growing up, who were your musical influences?

RM: I liked the Beatles. I got into Sam Cooke and Tracy Chapman. I got into punk music when I was older, so I got into Green Day and then into Rancid and Operation Ivy and Bad Religion.


AE: Were you always a solo artist or did you have a band in high school?

RM: I was playing in bands a lot when I was younger, but it’s just so hard to keep bands together. I could tell my bandmates didn’t really want to do music, so I started putting out little demos of my solo thing in 2008 or 2009. I wish I had a band. It’s so much easier to be in a band.


AE: What inspires your lyrics?

RM: Usually relationships, whether it’s people I date, friendships, or work relationships. On the record, there are things that I don’t think people talk about in relationships, like feeling paranoid and feeling crazy.

ria-maevia Facebook/Cherakee photography


AE: When you say other topics, like what?

RM: For a long time, and a lot of artists go through this, you sing about one topic. For me, I was always writing sad songs. With this, I just wanted to push myself, so I wanted to write positive things. I’ve just been in a happier place anyway and I’ve just been a bit more comfortable with myself. I have one song that’s all about feeling like you could make it and feeling like you could do whatever you want. That’s the first single off the new album, “Clothes Off.” It’s about not taking yourself too serious.


AE: What kind of music do you wish artists put out more?

RM: I’m a big fan of the musicality of hip-hop and I’m a big fan of how poets and emcees can say so much, so I’ve always been jealous of that. I would love to see a singer-songwriter say a bit more, not just repeat a few things, but actually in the verses tell a story or say exactly what they’re feeling. On this new album, I’m trying to express more within the confines of a pop song.


AE: You’ve been on your grind for awhile. Do you think overnight sensation stories are real or do you think they’re a myth?

RM: That’s not true. I’m always the first one to defend artists, even people that are cheesy pop stars who seem to have everything handed to them, because it is so much work to get there. I just signed my first deal with Sony this year, but I had been doing everything on my own. I was my own publicist, my own marketer.


AE: What do you think people not really expecting anything out of pop music?

RM: If you’re good at writing catchy things people like, you have a unique opportunity to say what you want within that. If you can make someone sit down and listen for three minutes because they love the feel of the song, and you can throw in something that’s more than a cliche, then that’s really cool. It’s cool to me to have a seemingly simple song that secretly changes the way people think.


AE: As an out singer, do you feel any responsibility to be a role model or the pressure to do anything differently?

RM: I have a responsibility as an artist to be as honest as I can about everything. That’s the only responsibility I really feel, and it’s to myself.


AE: So, what’s coming up in 2015 that you’re excited about?

RM: Everything’s changing for me. Like I said, I just signed with Sony, after putting out “Clothes Off” on my own. It’s funny because I sent my music to every single smaller label in Canada and everyone said no. [Laughs.] So I said fuck ‘em. From there I got a phone call from this huge manager (Terry McBride and Nettwerk Management) a few weeks later who started Avril Lavigne, Dido, and Sarah Mclachlan. He started laughing because I didn’t know who he was. I’m going to start working with him. And now I have a new booking team. I’m basically going from a one-person show to a whole team. I’m ready to have all the unknowns answered now.


AE: Are you nervous about that at all? You always hear about labels changing images.

RM: The cool thing about Sony is that they’re known for giving more creative control, so that’s what they’re doing with me, and they’re just helping me put it out on a bigger level.


AE: What would you say has been the biggest challenge of your career so far?

RM: All the financial stuff of putting together an album. Not having a label forces you to be really choosey with what you do. Maybe you have 20 songs you’d like to record but you can only afford to record eight, so you have to pick the best ones that represent you. Also, a lot of artists I don’t think understand how expensive it can to just start up and to even push your song on the radio. Hopefully you can collect it back on tour or radio royalties, but you never know. There’s a lot of great artists out there that just can’t afford to release their music.


AE: What can we expect your record to sound like?

RM: It’s produced by Classified, so there’s a lot of hip-hop influence, but it’s not gonna offend anybody. It’s coming from a place from someone who knows themselves pretty well now. It’s hip-hop and urban-influenced pop music from a singer-songwriter.

Follow Ria Mae on Twitter (@riaisawake), Instagram (@riaisawake) and Facebook.

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