Canadian songstress Ralph knows a thing or two about the essence of pop music. Since the release of her self-titled debut EP in 2017, which included ethereal earworms like “Cold to the Touch” or “Crocodile Tears”, the singer has continued to embrace a campy, glam-pop persona akin to that of Carly Rae Jepsen, Betty Who, or Allie X. Following her debut studio album A Good Girl and last EP Flashbacks & Fantasies, Ralph returns today with Gradience, possibly her strongest and queerest work yet.
Born and raised Raffaela Weyman in Toronto, she developed a passion for music at a young age, having grown up consuming the sounds of David Bowie, Fleetwood Mac, the Temptations, and Prince. She first entertained the idea of becoming a performer at the age of 12 when a cousin forced her to sing “At Last” by Etta James for her and a friend, insisting she had a great voice. “I was absolutely terrified and said no, but she closed the curtains and turned off all the lights, and in the dark, I felt a little more confident,” she said. “So I closed my eyes and sang acapella for them, and they were both really excited, which I guess made me excited because I had truly never even thought about whether I could sing or not.”
She began her career in folk music under her given name, Raffaela Rosemary, before deciding to adopt the stage name Ralph when first venturing into pop. She told me that it was necessary to protect her mental health and separate herself from past projects. “My producer didn’t understand why and wanted the [first] project to be called Raffaela,” she explained, “but I really wanted to be someone else for my pop identity. Not to say that Ralph is a hugely different person than Raffa, but I like being able to separate one from the other.”
A move that ultimately made sense for her when expanding into pop music since what fuels her passion for the genre is that it can be whatever you want it to be. “You can infuse metal, disco, folk… whatever. I think that’s an important element that people forget. They think of pop music as this sugary sweet sound. But I remind people that Michael Jackson is pop. Drake is pop. That excites and inspires me because there’s so much room to experiment and make it your own.”
With her new EP Gradience, Ralph—like most artists over the last year—has been forced to take inspiration from new, unforeseen places. “Normally, my songwriting is inspired by travel, new sights, and experiences, and human interactions, so it was an interesting experience for me to write an album during a time where I couldn’t rely on my normal influences,” she said. “I had to really pull from memories and my imagination instead of crafting autobiographical songs as I’ve done in the past.” She chose the title because of the EP’s lack of boundaries.
“It felt fitting for this EP which has new influences and writing styles and sounds. Gradience feels different because I entered into the writing process with very intentional sonic choices. I even wrote a ‘recipe’ for it with my producer Derek Hoffman, which helped guide us as we wrote.” The “recipe” was a list of goals the singer wanted to achieve within the EP, such as a piano ballad and a song with a name as the hook. She certainly achieves them all and more. “I’m excited to release songs that feel like a new and unexpected move for me,” she said.
The EP was preceded by the release of the singles “Tommy” and “Love Potion“, with the former taking inspiration from Carly Rae Jepsen’s “Julien” and Dolly Parton’s “Jolene”. Ultimately, both singles give off impeccable queer vibes and went perfectly with any number of Pride Month playlists this year. The singer is incredibly grateful for the support she has found with the queer community. “I’ve always felt so exceptionally lucky to be supported and championed by them. It’s a community that endlessly inspires me with their ferocious loyalty, love, and strength.”
She even thinks that their support has allowed her to explore her growth and sexuality, which she believes might be translating into her music. “I continue to be aware of how my songwriting language resonates with listeners, so I’m trying to write more songs with gender words,” she explained. “Instead of a using ‘him,’ I’ll use ‘they’ or ‘you.’” She hopes that the reason her music resonates so strongly with queer listeners is that her songs promote honesty and self-love. “I just want people to listen to my songs and feel empowered and happy and emotionally present.”
Along with the release of Gradience, Ralph is gearing up to head back out on the road for a Canadian tour, her first since the COVID-19 pandemic, which she’s thrilled about since she misses in-person connections with fans. “I truly love the post-show interactions I have where I get to know my fans,” she said. “I’ve missed the rush of touring and the bond I feel with my bandmates during that time. It’s very special. I’ve missed the feeling I get after a performance, where I’m completely exhausted but can’t stop smiling. I miss having an opportunity to put together really fun and over-the-top outfits! Can’t wait for the Gradience tour looks.”
Her new EP also marks her first collection of songs released under her own record label, Rich Man Records, founded in 2020 and named after that iconic Cher quote where she recalls telling her mom that she doesn’t need to marry a rich man because she is one. “My business partner Laurie and I wanted to create a safe space for pop artists, with an emphasis on working with female-identifying, POC, and queer artists,” Ralph explained.
Like many women throughout history in the music industry, the singer has had her moments that she refers to as scary and depressing. “I’ve been treated differently because of my gender. Unfortunately, that’s still a reality within the music industry,” she said. “We wanted to counter that and create a place where new artists can feel respected and excited.”