Halifax singer Ria Mae finds confidence in making pop music
Singer Ria Mae talks about her upcoming album and the Juno-nominated single "Clothes Off," in Toronto on Monday, May 30, 2016. (THE CANADIAN PRESS/Eduardo Lima)
TORONTO -- Ria Mae would've called herself a folk singer just a few years ago, but lately she's made a deep commitment to the world of pop.
The soft-spoken performer found her spark in a collaboration with rapper Classified, a fellow Halifax native who has become one of her greatest supporters.
He produced her new album and helped Mae -- who did away with her real last name MacNutt -- find a more confident voice in the process.
"I just wanted to have more fun with it," the singer says of making music.
"Coming from the East Coast, everyone has that traditional guitar-based, drums (sound) and I was listening to pop radio."
Mae can trace her decision to look beyond her folksy vibes, in part, to a Montreal getaway. A night out at the bars inspired last summer's saucy pop single "Clothes Off."
The track's seductive bassline hooked Halifax radio programmers and eventually caught the ears of Toronto record executives, who swooped in and signed Mae for her self-titled second album.
"Clothes Off" went on to become a smash hit on the Canadian radio charts and grabbed a Juno nomination for single of the year -- a category based on sales --alongside songs by Justin Bieber, Drake and the Weeknd.
It was a sudden burst of good fortune for an artist who wasn't exactly primed for a life of fame.
Mae was a reclusive teenager who locked herself away in her bedroom as she scribbled down song lyrics and taught herself how to play guitar. Her anti-social rituals hardly concerned her relatives who were avid players in the arts community.
Unlike them, the 14-year-old Mae was only writing songs for herself in those days.
"I was super shy and just kept it hidden," she says. "I used to write about relationships but I never had one. It was just imagination stuff."
It wasn't until the final months before high school graduation that Mae finally stepped before a crowd to play her music.
While she remembers that moment fondly, her priorities quickly shifted once she entered the working world.
Instead of chasing her musical dreams, Mae put on a hard hat and took a position in construction management. Eventually it became clear to her that she shouldn't have made her creative side a low priority.
So Mae quit her job and adjusted her finances to raise enough money to record her first EP.
After gaining some traction on the Halifax music scene and doing some touring, she made plans to pitch a collaboration with Classified, one of the performers she admired in Halifax for his cunning ability to bring hip-hop to a pop audience.
The rapper was interested, to her surprise, and the two began crafting beats together. Eventually it led to him producing her album.
Mae figures the pairing would've never happened if it weren't for their shared local roots.
"(Halifax) makes for some really funny collaborations," she says.
"If I grew up in Toronto I wouldn't necessarily be collaborating with the most famous hip-hop artist (in the city)."