Ria Mae is living the Canadian dream. With her single “Clothes Off” hitting the #1 spot on CBC’s Radio 2 and a tour that is taking her around the country, the Halifax native is on the verge of achieving national stardom. Produced by Juno award-winning hip hop artist Classified, “Clothes Off” combines elements of funk, soul, hip hop and pop creating a song that brings out the groove in you. So much so, that the single was included in the curated Stories Behind The Songs Playlist Series based on its sexy lyrics and pulsing beat. Before her performance at Dundas Square in Toronto, Stories Behind The Songs got a chance to chat with Ria Mae about her compulsive songwriting habits, how it feels to be an emerging artist on a national scale, and the story behind her upcoming album.
Ria: I wrote it when I was in Montréal. I went to Montréal for two months to try and just be away from home and get out of my writing habits. I wrote it in the middle of the night and I had the clothes dryer going. I wrote the beat to the sound of the dryer so I think it was subconscious that it has the word “clothes” in it. But also, Montréal is a very sexy city so that was just a topic that made sense I guess. I wrote it very quickly. From the time I started to the time I recorded the demo it was less than an hour.
R: No, I don’t think it’s about anyone in particular, I think it’s just the vibe in Montréal and when you’re going out late-night. It’s just a different kind of city there.
R: I always loved Montréal but I’d always pass through on tour and I’d only be there for like, half a day. I never felt like I had enough time. I had some friends who had a condo there and the timing was just right. Everything just worked out. I just wanted to get away from… just everyone’s habits. You know, you wear a certain kind of clothes because you think that’s you or you write a certain type of song because you think that’s you and I just wanted to get out of my comfort zone and just write different things. “Clothes Off” was the first one that I wrote right away when I got out there. It kind of gave me a direction for the rest of the album.
R: I released two different projects on the east coast that were more of a folky/singer-songwriter vibe but I’ve always listened to pop music and hip-hop music, in particular, Classified. So yeah, people who know my music from before will be like, “Oh, this is interesting, it’s kind of a departure” but I understand that there are a lot of people who are hearing me for the first time so their take on who I am is very different. But the album is very similar to that, like, I wrote a bunch of songs in the same sort of vein that I knew would work with Classified and that I knew he would like. I’m a songwriter that writes every day. I come up with at least an idea every day so it was fun to say like, let’s try to pick ten or twelve that I know would work with Classified or that he’d be inspired by.
And you’ve collaborated with Classified for your entire album?
R: Yeah, he did the entire album. It’s finished and is going to be released in the fall. It’s very exciting and I think if people like “Clothes Off” they’ll like what’s going to come out.
R: No, I just wanted to challenge myself and Classified challenged me too. I just wanted to pick a different topic on every song and just see what I could do as a writer. I felt personally stuck in a rut and I was doing the same sort of genre and the same sort of thing and I just wanted to try something different.
R: Uh, it’s pretty much at the same time. Like, I’ll cook breakfast and I have a guitar on and then I’ll eat and I’ll have a guitar, go to the bathroom, have a guitar… (laughs) It’s almost like OCD. It might not even be a good thing. But I’m just always thinking. It’s like, “oh, that’s catchy” or “oh, that’s a line”. So the process is like the lyrics and the melody come at the same time. I write with the guitar but sometimes I make a beat and start there first.
R: New experiences. I think that’s because I’m an Aquarius. If someone’s telling me about a situation I always have to do this thing where I sit in everyone’s shoes almost. What would it be like to be cheated on? What would it be like to be the cheater? It’s like an obsession again. I make myself do it. If one of those things I’ve never felt before, boom, I’m writing about it that day. I just need to know what it’s like, like I need the experience.
You’ve said that you’re a fan of pop music and you like artists such as Rihanna, Nicki Minaj and Taylor Swift. Each of those artists have built strong brands and images of themselves. As an artist emerging onto the national level, do you think about branding and your image?
R: I guess so, yeah, I’m definitely thinking about it now because a lot of people are like, “Who’s Ria Mae? What’s this song ‘Clothes Off’?” So I’m thinking about it more but I don’t know… You know, it’s Canada, it’s not the States. I’m a very understated person and an easy-going person so I’m not necessarily putting effort into making a brand but I’m definitely conscious of how I’m coming across.
R: Uh, that’s an interesting question. There’s always been that – even before radio happened – where I’m just a bit more introverted in real life and I’m a bit more confident on stage. I don’t think it’s that far apart but I think I’m a little more shy in person. It’s funny because before I met Classified everyone said that about him. They said, “Oh geez, you’re shy, he’s shy. You guys are going to be so awkward.” He really is. He’s very soft spoken and shy so yeah, I don’t know, it’s definitely something I see in performers.
You’re from Halifax and you’ve said that you hope to continue living there and creating music there, could you share your story from how you went from being a singer-songwriter in Halifax to having the #1 spot on CBC Radio 2? That sort of success is something that, for some people living in rural or outskirt areas, can seem out of reach. Do you have any advice or can you share your story so that independent artists can hear how it’s possible to achieve this type of career?
R: I don’t think anyone living in a small town should think that some industry A&R person is going to come and find them. I think it’s important to get in front of people and it is a bit easier nowadays with social media and radio is still the biggest, I think. I’m lucky because my song has been on the radio. I don’t try to do a song to make it work, but I think I’m just lucky because I listen to radio and naturally write that way. So for me, my story was my song was getting played just in Halifax and just by luck a Sony guy heard it on the radio and he brought it to Toronto. I think for musicians in small towns it’s very important, if not physically, somehow get your music to the right people in bigger cities because you don’t want to wait your whole life on the off-chance that someone finds you.
What has been the most exciting moment of your journey so far?
R: Hmm.. It’s all been really exciting but I think the radio stuff that’s been happening recently in the last couple of weeks. Like, this is the first time that I’ve had even more than a couple of stations play me and now it’s charting across the country. Having that happen is kind of surreal right now and definitely really exciting. It’s been a goal of mine since I started.
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