Known for her vibrant fashion sense and danceable retro pop jams, RALPH has just returned from an entirely different world. We’re not talking about the purple alien planet featured in the music video for her latest single “Love Potion”; the artist otherwise known as Raffaela Weyman was camping in the California wilderness.
“I feel like I’ve lived 1000 lives already,” Weyman says, having rushed back to appear on time for the interview. Fresh out of the shower, she appears over a Zoom call with wet hair, bursting with energy. Taking care to answer each question and going on colourful tangents while painting a full picture of her creative process, she is just as exuberant as her music. RALPH’s newest EP, Gradience, is named for the concept of the absence of clear boundaries – something that is reflected in both her genre-melding music and adventurous personality. According to Weyman, it all started with a surfboard.
“I was with a friend a while ago, and she had a surfboard that was an orange gradient colour, and I told her I was trying to pick an album name – we were like, ‘is gradience a word?” she says. “I thought it was an interesting nod to the pandemic, us trying to exist in a world where there’s a lot of blurred lines. As a songwriter, I’m so largely influenced by experience, so writing this EP was interesting because I had to combine real and made-up stories. So the whole EP is this limbo land of genres and stories.”
Weyman spent many summers at a family farm in northern Ontario and has an extensive musical background in the world of folk which works its way into her shimmering gradient of styles that bleed together on her lyrically vivid and harmonically-focused stories of emotions running high.
“It never feels like two different worlds,” she says. “I’m always trying to lean into my folk a little bit and bring those roots into what I’m doing. I take my love of narrative storytelling and stack harmonies and insert it into my pop music. There’s so much good pop music out there that you want to have something that gives you a unique edge, so I use that love to my advantage.”
The result is, based on the albums that Weyman has been listening to nonstop over the past year, the missing link between Dua Lipa and Fleetwood Mac. “It’s such a fun era to play around in,” she says. “I personally love a good bassline.”
Still, Weyman describes her unexpected diversion to a softer, more emotional sound near the new project’s conclusion as some of her favourite songs she’s ever written, shifting over to the more understated tones of the gradient and injecting more of her early influence into her art than ever before.
“I’ve been trying to do a slowed-down piano ballad for a long time,” she says. “It feels like a special song because it’s not what people expect from me. But you don’t want people to feel like they can expect your next move. We had been talking about one of my favourite songs of all time, ‘I Can’t Make You Love Me’ by Bonnie Raitt” – here, Weyman adopts a pained expression as if being newly overcome with emotion hearing the song for the first time – “the lyrics are just so heartbreaking and beautiful, and the simplicity of the piano and the voice. It inspired my song ‘Rules of Love.’”
Weyman’s fashion sense and the image she puts forward has always been a major part of what she calls “the RALPH experience” – it’s no surprise that she worked at an upscale consignment store before her music career took off. In a time when disco revivalism is on the upswing, a return to the music associated with an era of style she has always been dazzled by was an obvious choice.
“I really want to push the boundaries of beauty a little bit,” she says. “The cover art for ‘Love Potion,’ where I have the big pink wig on, is inspired by drag culture. It’s this over-the-top beauty, and there’s so much fun and fashion involved. I’m going to have a lot of fun putting together some cool custom pieces for the tour.”
A longtime outspoken advocate for women’s rights, Weyman has previously put together a Toronto music festival called Body Party to raise money for pro-choice organizations, something she wants to continue and expand to more cities when live music is back on the menu. For now, however, she’s been working on promoting women in the music industry by moving over to musical mentorship and organizing her own supportive label, Rich Man Records – of course, named after a quote from one of her biggest inspirations, Cher. The 80s icon famously stated that she didn’t need a rich man, as she herself is one. Weyman is focused on putting her expertise about aesthetics and branding to good use, but wants to be seen as a friend first and foremost.
“I think what I can provide is experience, but I never want to tell people what to do,” she says. “As a woman in music, I definitely experienced a lot of shitty situations where I felt really diminished by men. I want to help young women feel like they have this kind of safe hub, and I’m excited to be able to flex my other skills.”
Just like the extravagant costume changes in her live shows, RALPH is always looking to try on different roles in the worlds of music, fashion, and business. You never know where she will fall on the shifting spectrum of vibrant colours.
By Stephan Boissonneault
With fresh folklore in abundance, the east coast songwriter’s sophomore offering is a classic tribute to his beloved province.