Before I spoke with Ralph early in the morning, I had a dream that Ralph was actually a troupe of burly, jester-like men. Funnily enough, during our conversation, she told me that people actually do often mistake her for a man because of her androgynous performance name, and that people often greet her male bandmates as Ralph instead of her, or otherwise mistake Ralph to be a band. This story was a little funny and a little frustrating on her behalf, because women are so often uncredited, but Ralph is a treasure trove of stories tender, passionate, sorrowful, and always immersive. She unravels these stories in her songs, including her new song “Scary Hot,” the backstory of which is so precious and sensual. In our conversation, she tells me more about herself, her art, and the sometimes almost prophetic stories behind them.
Did you always want to be a musician?
As a kid, I don’t remember thinking I was going to be a singer. I really wanted to be an actor. But when I was seven, my uncle who used to take care of us, said whenever he picked me up from school, I was always singing little songs that I made up. I went to a performing arts high school in Toronto. And it’s funny, I was terrified of singing for the first years of high school. And then something switched by grade 11, I studied jazz and vocal jass, which felt way more like me than theatre was. I joined the Jazz Choir, and my teacher was like, okay yeah, this is way more you.
Where did “Ralph” come from”? Were you always Ralph?
I was in a band with three other women, and I loved it. It was so fun. I was writing all the songs, and it’s just so fun being in a band. But my guitarist got pregnant, and my other banjo player moved to a farm. And I had gone on a date. And we started working on this song, and it was, like, 80’s hip hop and totally different than anything I’ve ever done. I was like, sure, why not? And we were trying to figure out a name for the project. He wanted to be called Raffaela, which is my real name, and I was like, no, I don’t want it to be me, I want it to be an alter ego. I wanted it to be like, who is she, is she a band, is she a guy, is she a girl? Finally, we were both just like, okay, Ralph.
So is Ralph still a duo act?
No, he’s not a part of the project anymore. He kind of started the project very early on. It just became me. It’s just fun and pop music. It’s cool, because whatever you want it to be, you can infuse it with any other genre you like. It has so much room for experimentation.
Do people ever get confused about who Ralph is, given the ambiguity of the name?
What’s funny is that, every time we go on tour, we’ll show up at a venue and the sound guy or the promoter will walk right up to my male bandmate and go, Hey, you must be Ralph. Everyone always goes straight to the guy. And there are so many times that I’ve done interviews, and they’re like: the band Ralph. Like, I love my bandmates. But I am Ralph. And I do a lot of work. So it would be nice to get that credit.
How would you describe your songwriting process?
For the most part, everything that I write about has either happened to me or happened to someone I know. I think COVID was harder, because it is so hard to write, because it’s like, what’s happening around me? Nothing, you know? So I think I got more creative with writing. I did one of my favorite songs that I wrote about love. It’s about a breakup. At the time I was dating someone, but it was me imagining what my breakup was like. When I heard the song, I told my partner, don’t freak out. I know it sounds really personal, but it’s about my friend who broke up with her partner. But it wasn’t, it was definitely me imagining.
So did that breakup end up coming true?
There’s a line in the song— we had this velvet sofa, and at noon the light would hit the sofa in this gorgeous way— and that was in the song. And I was sitting on the couch when we broke up, we literally sat on that couch. I know that sounds crazy. Like I recreated the song on purpose. I didn’t. I just, I kind of knew exactly what the breakup was going to be like. I think it must be hard dating a songwriter. And those moments, because I didn’t want them to feel like I was using them for writing material, I wanted to be sensitive to this thing that was happening.
What’s the story behind “Scary Hot”?
I’d been dating my girlfriend for a couple of months at that point. She drove me home at 2 am, which was pretty late. And I was living with my parents. So we were at my parents house in her car saying goodbye, which turned into a really long kiss. And then all of a sudden, we’re making out. We can’t be making out in my parents’ driveway on a residential street with nosy neighbors. So we went to a parking lot around the corner and continued to make out there. Honestly, we lost track of time, we were coming back to my parents’ house, like I gotta say goodbye, and then we started making out again and kind of laughing.
What has being a queer artist been like for you?
I think a lot of people are really interested in the idea of me coming out. But I feel as though I’ve never been in the closet, because I’ve been openly talking about it in my personal life and community for a long time. I just think that because I dated a man for three years, and before that, I had dated men publicly, no one assumed anything different about me, even though if someone asked me, or my friends, they knew that I was bi and I was interested in women as well. It was more just publicly, I had never made the announcements. And my fan base is so queer. I have so much respect for that community. And I’ve been trying to figure out the best way to be open about my sexuality, without it feeling really contrived. I just never want people to feel like I have an agenda. I don’t want to make a big deal, I just want to do it in a way that feels really respectful.
CONNECT WITH RALPH:
Story / JoAnn Zhang
Photos / Mariah Hamilton
Makeup & Hair / Liv Tsai
Styling / Carla Candela