Juno nominee Ria Mae on being out and taking her ‘Clothes Off’

Will she ever tour with Tegan and Sara?

Ria Mae’s career is soaring, and Ottawa fans will be stoked to catch her show at the National Arts Centre on Oct 15, 2016.

With her new album Ria Mae released, the Halifax native talks to Daily Xtra in this interview about finding the pop sound she always wanted, being out in life and on video, and hanging with Tegan and Sara.

This interview has been edited for length.

Daily Xtra: 2016 is such a big year for you. “Clothes Off” was nominated for Juno’s Single of the Year alongside Drake, Justin Bieber and The Weeknd, who won. What is about “Clothes Off” that resonates so much with audiences and critics?

Ria Mae: I think it kind of had a different production than everything else that was on the radio at that time. A lot of drums are programmed and we use the circular beat that I developed listening to a clothes dryer. I think maybe just the topic, a woman’s voice singing that topic. I didn’t think about it at the time, but I [heard] a lot of comments on that.

Your new single, “Ooh Love,” explores wanting to be treated better in a relationship, but it’s gentle rather than angry. How did the song originate?

That song was written really quickly and I wrote it fighting with my partner at the time. It was more playful, sort of being like, “C’mon, that’s such a little thing to be mad at me about. Let’s laugh again.”

I wrote it on acoustic guitar and I think [hip-hop artist and producer] Classified created that beat from scratch. He did a really good job of keeping that fun part of it. It’s important to me to show that part of my personality and Classified’s personality. We’re just trying to be nice people (laughs). When something bad happens in a relationship or a friendship don’t yell at them — just fucking work it out.

How would you describe your collaboration with Classified?

It’s constantly changing. When I first got the chance to even meet him, I was just a huge fan. I’ve always wanted to know how people wrote songs that were good enough to be on the radio and he was the only person doing that from the east coast that I knew about. When we got together, I’d already been studying him and we were already on the same page. He was really able to take my songs from singer/songwriter to pop, which is how I heard them in the first place.


How important was it to you to depict a same-sex storyline in your video for “Gold”?

I’ve never hid anything about myself, but I’m working with a major label now and the topic didn’t really come up. One of the treatments for music video ideas had a same-sex relationship and I loved the concept right away. I was mad at myself because immediately I was like, “Oh, but I don’t know about the relationship in it.” The weird feeling in my gut made me question why I wouldn’t do that. I kind of have the audience now, so I might as well do something useful with it.

Before you were picked up by Sony, you released “Clothes Off” independently and worked different jobs to finance it. What was the worst job you worked?

Oh god, I worked a lot of bad jobs. I was working for the movie theatres, like if Cinderella came to town I set up the big Cinderella cardboard thing. I set up a business, kind of like a bed and breakfast, so I was like a Molly Maid in my own house and just stayed with friends. I worked in construction a lot and did paperwork and taxes for my dad’s coworkers. I probably worked 10 or 12 jobs in 2013 and 2014, just so I didn’t have to do a full-time job because I can’t write that way.

You and Tegan and Sara are following each other on Twitter. Have you had a chance to perform together yet?

No, our albums came out on the same day, so I think there were a lot of people tweeting them or just being like “Oh, I picked up both of these albums.” I think because of all the attention online they tweeted me and then I got to hang out with them at the MMVAs, but there’s been no shows yet. Obviously I’d love to be on tour with them or play a show with them. I think they’re amazing.

Ria Mae
Oct 15, 2016, 8pm

National Arts Centre, 53 Elgin St, Ottawa

Editor’s note, Sept 28, 2016: An earlier version of this article incorrectly spelled Ria Mae’s name in the headline.

As a Daily Xtra contributor Adrienne Ascah writes about news, arts and social justice. Originally from the East Coast, Adrienne enjoys living in Ottawa.

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