The goal for most pop artists is broad appeal — to be widely known in the biggest possible markets. But before these artists go international, they have to make a name for themselves domestically.
So what’s it like being a pop musician in Canada these days?
“Well today it’s very cold, because I’m in Winnipeg,” said Ria Mae, who is currently on tour and playing shows all across the country.
When KTW contacted Mae, she was just about to start a five-shows-in-five-days stretch of her latest tour, which has taken her across the country and back — something the Halifax singer-songwriter has grown accustomed to after two studio albums, two EPs and a handful of singles that have charted well.
Mae’s music career started in 2009. Prior to that, she mostly kept her talents to herself.
“I’d always pretend to be singing to a bunch of people and pretend to be less awkward than I was — or a bit better looking than I was,” she said.
But slowly, she emerged at open mics and opened for other acts and gained the confidence — and audience — for bigger stages.
Performing on those bigger stages has proven successful for Mae. This past year she earned a Juno nomination for pop album of the year for her EP My Love, and in 2016 she earned a nomination for single of the year for Clothes Off.
A number of music videos dot the timeline of Rae’s success. Among her most popular are videos for Bend and Red Light, both from her latest album, and Gold and Clothes Off, both from her 2016 self-titled album.
Romantic relationships and sexuality have featured heavily in Mae’s music and videos. It’s something that got her some attention with Gold, where she portrayed herself in a lesbian relationship.
She was initially hesitant to do so, worried it may pigeonhole her music career, but said she’s not worried, and that being an out lesbian has helped her, especially during her start.
“Some of my first shows would be to like, 20 gay people in Michigan — it was just sort of an underground thing.
“And then when I started playing on the radio it was more like a general audience,” she said.
Much of that initial underground audience has followed Mae into the mainstream, with the singer-songwriter’s accomplishments often talked about in the LGBT community.
Mae said she’s not a brave person and might not otherwise find herself in the kind of representative role she’s in, but said it’s an honour to represent the community.
“I’m super proud. I always hoped that if I got the opportunity to make a music video that hundreds of thousands of people would see, that I would be true to myself, because it’s so important to see yourself represented — otherwise you just think you’re a weirdo,” she said.
Mae said when it comes to her sexual orientation, she’s “super proud” and hopes she’s had a positive impact.
“I think in the past people have muted their own sexuality just so they wouldn’t make people uncomfortable. For me, I just want to be myself so that problem doesn’t exist in five years.”
Mae’s current tour has a stop in Kamloops, with a sold-out show at The Blue Grotto on Tuesday. She’s on tour with fellow Canadian pop artist, Ralph, who will start things off.
“This is actually my first headline tour across Canada, which I didn’t realize until I was on it,” Mae said.
In the past, she’s shared tours with artists like Scott Helman and Coleman Hell, and has always wondered to herself if the audience was there for her or the headliners, but so far, including here in Kamloops, people are showing up.
“This is probably one of my most enjoyable tours because that little voice is gone.”