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Ria Mae comes home to Halifax
amid GroundSwell of success

Globetrotting pop singer headlines three-day celebration of East Coast music and cuisine at Spatz Theatre, Olympic Hall.
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Ria Mae 2016 - 2 - LowRes
Halifax pop success Ria Mae is back on home turf this weekend for the GroundSwell Music Festival after a tour of Europe with Tegan and Sara. (SONY MUSIC CANADA).

GROUNDSWELL MUSIC FESTIVAL

Thursday, 8 p.m. - Spatz Theatre

(Reception 7 - 8 p.m.)
Rawlins Cross
Heather Rankin

Friday, 9 p.m. - Olympic Hall

The Stanfields
Like a Motorcycle
The Royal Volts
(Doors 8 p.m.)

Saturday, 9 p.m. - Olympic Hall

Ria Mae
In-Flight Safety
Arsoniste
(Doors 8 p.m.)

Show info: https://groundswellmusic.ca/festival/

Ria Mae has been away from Halifax so long, she can almost taste the salt air as her headlining show at GroundSwell Music Festival approaches.

The Nova Scotia pop sensation performs on the final night, on Saturday at Olympic Hall with In-Flight Safety and Arsoniste, and she anticipates a few favourite hometown moments like trips to Point Pleasant Park and Lion & Bright, while trying to convince bandmate Chris Wong that Halifax is better than his West Coast home base in Vancouver.

"I guess I'm flying in the day of the GroundSwell show, and I can't wait. I miss Halifax so much," says the multiple 2017 East Coast Music Award nominee from Montreal. "In fact, I've got March 18 circled on my calendar with a heart.

"I'm super-excited to be hanging out in Halifax for a few days. And then coming back for ECMAs in April will just be the icing on the cake. It's gonna be great."

Now paying rent in Montreal but spending more time on the road than at home, the singer and Classified collaborator was just wrapping up a tour of Quebec with Montreal artist Alex Nevsky, and seeing the benefit from the fact radio stations in the province were among the first in the country to play singles like Clothes Off and Gold.

"It's been great to connect more with the Quebec audiences. There's been this nice relationship developing where I like them and they like me. It's been fun to explore that," says Mae, whose year began with a string of dates supporting sisterly pop duo Tegan and Sara across northern Europe and in the United Kingdom.

Scoring such a sweet gig is emblematic of the kinds of adventures that have been cropping up since Sony Music released Clothes Off, a 2016 Juno Award nominee for pop single of the year, and Gold in 2015, and her self-titled major label debut in 2016.

"The Tegan and Sara thing was cool, because it all started at the MuchMusic Video Awards last year," she recalls. "I was up for new artist or something like that, and I knew they were upstairs with all the Macklemores and the various A-list bands, and I was downstairs with all the B-list bands, or rather the newer artists.

"I wanted to go and meet them and say thank you, for all the things they've done and just for inspiring me and making me feel more comfortable in my own skin. So I was able to go up and meet them, and we became friends right away, and within 20 minutes they asked me to go on tour with them in Europe. My poor manager was downstairs waiting for 40 minutes, saying 'C'mon, we need to get to the next thing!' and I was, like, 'I think something really cool just happened!' "

It was a no-brainer for Ria Mae's manager to clear her schedule for the winter months, and get her in front of fans of the same music that blazed a trail for songwriters hoping to mix folk and indie roots with a commercial pop gloss. "It's been one awesome thing after another, and it was pretty cool to hear about all those ECMA noms while I was already over there. The tour became a 30-day celebration," says Mae, who acknowledges that hard work and nerve can combine to shift fate in her favour.

"It's funny, because there are so many lucky things that have happened along the way," she says. "Like how I was too scared to email Classified about working with him for so long, and then I won a contest and my ego was inflated and I emailed him, and that led to so many things.

"I didn't even want to go to the MMVAs. I think the Junos and a bunch of other award shows had just happened, and while it looks like fun on social media, it's a lot of work and a lot of anxiety, dressing up and so on. But I went, and I met Tegan and Sara and so on. And that, to me, is the most fun, when you work really hard and then something amazing happens. Something could happen in an hour after I get off the phone. That's the part that makes me so excited to keep doing this."

Mae will ride that wave of excitement into this weekend's GroundSwell Music Festival, which will give her the chance to show Halifax how her live performance has progressed. For those who only know her from the austere sound of her early records, or from songwriter circles, there's a lot that's changed.

"I think a lot of artists have experienced this, when they have a song do really well at pop radio, but they've been playing singer-songwriter shows," she explains. "You have to immediately make your show different, or adjust to that. There are certain artists like myself, or Coleman Hell is another Canadian artist, where we've been doing it for so long that we've been able to adjust.

"Some people have a pop hit with the first song they've ever released, so not only do they have to put together something that looks good, they have to figure out how to talk to an audience, or how to promote their show, and so on. In some ways, I kinda like how things happened for me, that it took a while, because while there are definitely elements we had to add to our show, it was more about having a budget and people helping me who knew what they were doing. Now it's like I'm in this creative heaven where all the things I used to dream about I can actually try out and do. That's the funnest part."

While Mae still loves the art of songwriting the latest example is the recent single Thoughts on Fire featuring Classifiedfocusing on her live show is catching up in terms of what keeps her imagination spinning. Besides evolving the physical manifestation of being in front of an audience, she also wants to make sure she delivers on the detailed pop sound that's been developing since her breakout single Leaving Today, so that what she hears in her head comes through on stage.

"I'd been trying so long to get that sound," she says. "I think it's one of those things that everyone deals with, even just with the way you dress; you want to look a certain way, but you're not quite there yet. Even if you think you are in your head, someone else will go, 'No, that's not it.'

"Or you take a picture and think it's good, and someone will say, 'It's not that good, you're imagining things.' I kept having to fight, making songs and saying, 'See? This is pop music, this is it, this is what I hear!' But I was still imagining half of the things that weren't there. What I really did is ask the people who were close to me to be brutally honest, and that kept me in reality, helping me to actually get a finished product that sounded like what I wanted."

Not surprisingly, it's the uncompromising Enfield hip-hop nabob multi-tasker Classified who's the most honest of them all.

"There would be times where I'd be like, 'Check this out, it's the best chorus in the world!' And he would just say, 'This isn't good, you can't do that.' And then I'd be so inspired by his work, I'd be up all night, and the next morning he'd have five new choruses in his inbox.

"I was trying to grasp for the thing that was already in my head, but he was honest enough to say, 'That's not coming across the way you think it's coming across.' And I still do that all the time, I told my bandmate Chris that my New Year's resolution was to listen to him more, and figure out when I'm doing something wrong.

"Even on social media, I'm always asking, 'Do you think this is working in the live show?' or 'Do I talk too much?' And I love that, because artists imagine things, that's why they're special people, but as a result, you don't always see reality. You really need to bridge that, because it's great to be artsy and create new stuff, but if you're not grounded in the reality of what other people are seeing, then there's no point."



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Stephen Cooke

About the Author: Stephen Cooke

Stephen Cooke is an award-winning arts journalist who's been covering the local, regional and national scene for over 25 years.
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