Ralph, A Good Girl
Ralph is a Toronto-based singer who is crafting her own genre of pop/soul/disco/synth to be the next dance party movement. We caught up with the rising star during her recent live show in San Francisco to talk about her creative process and how ‘Master of None’ inspired some of her work.
Interview by Anna Vo
ANNA: Congratulations on the album release! When did you start working on ‘A Good Girl’?
RALPH: Thank you! I started working on the album about 16 months ago. I wrote a loooot of songs and then had to pick 10 from the whole bunch, it was hard.
ANNA: What are the primary themes in this album? Tell us a little about the title ‘A Good Girl’
RALPH: The album name is supposed to be tongue in cheek - I feel like I’ve been pigeonholed my whole life as this “good girl”, and to be honest I hate it. It’s a lot of pressure to be something I’m not. I don’t think anyone is one thing, humans are way too complicated for that. I thought the album was a good reflection of that because each song shows a differenr side of me and tells a different story. The themes mostly revolve around relationships (with lovers, friends and with yourself) and feelings - lust, guilt, joy, heartbreak.
ANNA: Which artists did you grow up listening to?
RALPH: I listened to a lot of funk, soul, jazz, and folk with my parents - my favorites were Joni Mitchell, Neil Young, Carole King, Bob Dylan, Aretha Franklin, Nina Simone, Muddy Waters,Otis Redding. I also got into hip hop through my brother in high school - I listened to a lot of Tribe Called Quest, Souls of Mischeif, Blackmon, Common and Mos Def.
ANNA: Who is directing your ‘Long Distance Lover’ MV? How has the experience of working with this director so far?
RALPH: My friend Ally Pankiw is directing the video for ‘LDL’, she also did the video for ‘Girl Next Door’. Working with Ally is amazing, I’ve know her for 7 or 8 years (we met working at American Apparel lol) so we have a really great dynamic that is honest and comfy. I feel like Ally really understands my brand and aesthetic, so I trust her a lot, I know she can nail a video that feels unique and beautiful and very ME. She’s also incredibly hard working and pushes me to challenge myself and try new things (like getting buried in my neck up to sand) which I like.
ANNA: Who would be your dream collab at the moment?
RALPH: Stevie Nicks or Maggie Rogers.
ANNA: Initially, you began writing and performing as RALPH with a creative partner. How did this relationship/collaboration not work out?
RALPH: Actually we never performed together, it was just writing, and it was a funny situation because Johnny was writing the songs without me, then sending me the instrumental track for me to write lyrics. It was a very separate writing process and I think that’s why I didn’t feel 100% connected to the songs. I realized that I need to be a part of the writing process from the bottom up, or the song doesn’t feel like mine. I alao think I was ultimately looking to do a solo project, I had done a lot of band stuff.
ANNA: Then, you released your debut single ‘Trouble’. Does this song reflect how you feel at the time- when you decided to break away from the collab project and go solo?
RALPH: Haha, no, the song lyrics have no connection to how I was feeling at that point. I like how deeply you’ve read into the context though, deep listening!
ANNA: If you can be in a dream 4-piece band, out of a selection of any artists - dead or alive, which other 3 would you pick?
RALPH: Honestly, I love my bandmates so much that I’m sort of in my dream band. BUT for the sake of fun - Quest Love on drums, Este Haim on bass, Leandra from the Beaches on keys, Prince on guitar.
ANNA: Last year you released your self-titled EP, Ralph, which features the song ‘Something More’. I read that this song was inspired by Aziz Ansari’s Netflix show ‘Master of None’. Would you say that you felt lost at this point in life?
RALPH: Hmmmm, I think the song was definitely self-reflexive (most of my songs are) but was also very inspired by the characters in the show. It triggered this conversation with friends about how your twenties is exciting and confusing, because you want happiness and stability but you also don’t want to miss opportunities to be single and care free and adventurous. So it was for me/about me, but was also very much about a relatable, shared feeling.
ANNA: There are these two lines that really resonate with me- “At 20-something, feels like losing forever - And I’m too scared to close my eyes”. I guess this idea of being quite cynical and lost at 20 hits me hard because I’m turning 20 in a year. Now that you’re slowly exiting the “20-something phase” do you feel that you’re more confident about who you are and what you want?
RALPH: Oh boy, absolutely. I think you spend a lot of time in your twenties figuring out who you are, what makes you happy, what qualities in a partner you value, what qualities in yourself you want to work on/change/extinguish. I’ve always been a confident person, but I think I care less about what other people think of me and have started listening to my gut more.
ANNA: Have you dealt with any mental illnesses when you were a teenager or during your 20s?
RALPH: I’m finally at a place with my health where I can talk about my struggles with body issue, eating and anxiety. I had an eating disorder for 10 years and was very damaging to my body, but finally hit a point where I realized it was affecting my voice and was too big of an emotional burden. I’ve worked really hard to develop a better relationship with food, which is why I’m so adimant about fitness and eating healthy while touring. My anxiety is something I deal with everyday still, but I’ve gotten better at diagnosing my triggers and finding little fixes to calm me - making my bed every morning calms me, running and doing yoga. CBD oil.
ANNA: I read from your label, 604 Records, that you spent your childhood covered in facial glitter and feather boas. I feel that this is very reflective in your dance moves, performing style and appearances in videos. Did you play dress up often as a kid?
RALPH: I was always dressing up, my parents had a massive costume cupboard and we would do plays and parades allllll the time. I guess I’ve always been a bit of a spotlight hog. But I loved making up characters and stories and playing pretend. I guess I still do haha.
ANNA: Did you have a best friend or a sibling, who you were close to, to play dress up with?
RALPH: I dressed up with my brothers and my cousins (I have a big, close knit family on my dads side), we have so many family videos of us doing these confusing, too-long “plays” for the poor adults who had to watch and clap. I also played dress up and pretend with all my friends - if we were having a play date, you better believe we were making up names and becoming different characters for the next couple hours.
ANNA: You write extensively about the nature of modern day relationships and romance. For example, the ideas of jealousy and disappointment in ‘Tease’ or intense, out-of-control emotions in ‘Table have turned’ and ‘Cold to the Touch’. Do these songs reflect accurately about the way you feel about love and relationships nowadays?
RALPH: I mean, I think each song speaks about a specific feeling/situation that I was experiencing and thought could be relatable for listeners - a flirty crush that turns out to be a jerk, changing power feelings within a new relationship, etc. I don’t think that they’re necessarily statements about love or relationships, I think each relationship is different and you should enter with an open mind. I think they’re more tales about love that have been learning experiences for me and can maybe draw listeners who have felt them same or are in similar situations.
ANNA: How do you feel about today’s hook-up culture and more “casual” approach towards dating?
RALPH: I like to think we’re culturally moving towards being more open-minded in regards to relationships and sexuality, I’m intrigued by open relationships and think I could see myself experimenting with that. I’ve done lots of hook ups and “casual” dating and I’m cool with it if it feels good, sometimes you just want someone to snuggle with low commitment (especially when you’re a busy person!) But you gotta be honest with yourself and recognize when it stops feeling fulfilling. I also think the same thing about open-relationships and polyamory - I’m down to experiment (I’ve tried polyamory actually) but I would personally need honesty and would have to be really good at checking in with myself to make sure it was feeling right still.