Ria Mae is fresh off a European tour with Tegan and Sara, and luckily for us, she’s not slowing down anytime soon. Below is a convincing argument about why this outrageously talented singer/songwriter is one to watch.
JUNO-nominated. Openly gay. Canadian. Secret third bandmember of Tegan and Sara. There are a lot of descriptors that suit Ria Mae, but Real Person might be the best one of all. Below is our pleasant conversation, which took place toward the end of the Love You To Death Tour in in the United Kingdom. It’s been edited and condensed for clarity.
Now that the tour has wrapped up, can you give us a short recap?
We’re all sad. Sad but tired. It’s been such a fun tour. I’m going to keep coming back to the U.K. for sure. This was my first European tour, so we’re going to be back as much as we can. I fell in love with everything I’ve seen. Sweden was like Canada 2.0. Everything was orderly.
Did you get to sightsee at all?
It’s tough. Every day, we arrive in the city, we go right into the green room, I take off my van pants and put on my real pants, and that’s about it. In Paris, my tour manager and my camera guy took a cab to the Eiffel Tower. We had to see something.
Any tour dramatics? Like an incident with the bus?
Oh, yeah. We have a dramatic thing everyday. Tegan [Quin] said it was a test. I’m being tested to see if I can have a career. My piano player’s piano broke on the third day of the tour. My guitar didn’t work on stage one night. I go to play my guitar and it doesn’t work. But our crew is really awesome.
I can’t think of a more perfect opener for Tegan and Sara. Are you secretly the third band member?
I’m the third band member. [Laughs] I’m in the band now.
Not to be a stalker or anything, but I can’t help but notice that your Instagram followers have gone up almost by the thousands in the last few weeks.
Their fans are intense and amazing. Sometimes when you’re opening for someone, you just feel like you’re opening for someone. But every single show, there’s a line outside the door — when I came in to get ready today, everyone’s like, “Hi, Ria.” They do their research. It’s very nice to be a part of that. It’s been a dream. They’re nice.
You mentioned in an interview last year that you wanted to tour with them — and that came true!
I put it out there in the universe. I used to be embarrassed to say what I want in case it didn’t happen, and now I’m like, that’s how it happens. You have to say what you want. I met them for the first time at the iHeartRadio Much Music Video Awards last year, and within ten minutes Tegan asked me to go on tour with them.
Yeah, I really appreciated that. They had heard my music before, but then we just got along really easily. Your music should fit on a bill, but you spend a lot of time together with someone when you tour with them, and if you can’t stand the person, it’s not going to be good! You can’t annoy then.
I saw that there’s a bottle of wine on your tour rider every night, but they’re kind of going to waste. How many bottles are still left?
A lot. On Instagram I said eight. We don’t drink that much. We’re high on life.
What were you like when you were younger? Did you know right away that you wanted to do music?
I was pretty good in school! I was a good kid. I tried to go into an engineering program after school but then I was so bored that I did music instead.
I read that you were briefly in construction after school.
I was a project manager for, like, one year. It helped with my music because unless you’re a big popstar, you’re running your own show. You have to manage your time and make the budget work. Project management helped me in that way.
Is that you on the cover of the album?
That’s me on the cover as a little boy. [Laughs]
I love it. I was like, take that, Zayn.
Exactly! It came out before Zayn’s thing!
It’s an adorable photo.
Everything was there, all we did was add the name. My mom had photographer friends so we have a lot of artsy family photos. I thought it was cool because I’ve always had the same hair. I’ve always looked the same. It’s very much, “this is me”.
What inspires your lyrics?
Just life. I really like when artists write about what’s happening to them right now. I struggle with that and I really tried to bring this album closer. All of the songs are about my girlfriend or my ex-girlfriend.
There’s some sexy stuff on there.
Some sexy stuff? “Clothes Off” is a bit sexy. What else is sexy? It’s not that sexy. I don’t think anyone has ever said that before.
I believe it is! I think it’s the way you sing.
I like that.
How do you write? Does it just hit you, or does it have to be a formalized setting?
Sometimes if I’m missing a line or two it’ll come to me while I’m doing dishes or something, but usually I have to sit down and force myself to zone out. Or I walk around the house with a guitar. Me and my girlfriend were fighting and I was trying to stop her from being mad. I was following her around, just trying to make her laugh with a song. That kind of stuff. I’m always trying to write, it’s what I like doing.
Is there a challenge you’ve overcome? Doesn’t have to be musically.
There’s lots of challenges. And that’s it!
No, I like this line of work because it’s very challenging for me. I used to write a different kind of music, and now I write this R&B, acoustic stuff. I’m the most creative when I’m being challenged. No matter what you do, you have constant anxiety and nervousness and there’s discomfort, but it feels rewarding to grow.
Do you feel like as an out musician, you’re expected to be a role model? How have you stepped into that position?
This tour’s the gayest thing I’ve ever done. I grew up in Halifax and now I live in Montreal, both very liberal cities in Canada. I had an activist mother and open family. I grew up feeling comfortable in my own skin. Well, I feel awkward like everyone else does, but not because of my gayness. When I think about it, my music is on pop radio in Canada, and when I was growing up, I don’t know that I heard gay artists on pop radio. If I did, they would hide the lyrics. So my second video, I made it really gay. I can do it. You might as well do it if you can.
That’s so awesome.
Yeah, I wouldn’t want a career that — maybe if I made more money but didn’t affect people as much, I wouldn’t be happy. I would rather have a smaller career and help people. Tegan and Sara helped me, just the fact that they’re out there, I feel like they did it. They’ve created the genre of whatever it is now that I can just comfortably go into. I’d rather make a difference than just have money. I can go back to construction and make money. [Laughs]
I feel like you said you weren’t into construction, but it seems like a backup plan.
You know what? Now that I think about it, I’m going back to construction.
On to the random questions. Have you had any bad style phases or choices?
My short hair changes a lot. I’ll shave one side or do a weird thing.
It looks perfect.
Thank you. I’m trying to keep it like this for a little bit. If I have a bad haircut, whoever I’m dating will be like, nope, you think that’s cute, it’s not good. I went through a lot of bad stuff. I live close to bad style phases.
Do you have any weird skills?
Um…I used to be able to juggle pretty well. I used to do juggling shows.
Any recent splurges?
I went to Mexico right before this tour. I’m so sick of the winter. We did a big a big winter tour in Canada, then this tour here, and I was like, I’m gonna die.
The weather’s better here than in the Northeast right now!
It’s not nice enough.
What collaborations would you want to do?
I’d love to collaborate with Tegan and Sara. Serena Ryder. Timbaland. The list is long, but those people stick out.
If you weren’t doing this, what would you be doing?
Real estate. Flipping houses.
Back to Canada to tour around Quebec. Summer festivals, probably back in Germany and Canada.