Halifax singer/songwriter Ria Mae has to remind herself to break the rules.
“I used to look at other people’s careers and think there were defined paths to being successful,” Mae says. “That held me back for a while. Thinking I had to write a certain way or release songs at certain times, or tour the same way as other people do. There are no rules. For anything.”
Her debut full-length album, Under Your Skin, is a confessional ode to relationships, loss and letting go. Produced by Asif Illyas, the eight-track album recently won an East Coast Music Award for pop recording of the year.
“It’s human nature to want to be accepted by your community,” Mae says. “It meant a lot to win the award, for sure. The congratulations from other musicians afterwards meant even more.”
Mae describes Under Your Skin as a document of transition, sadness and love. The deeply personal songs are provocative and soulful. Mae wrote many of them at a time when a relationship was ending – with a partner and a family member.
Ria Mae is touring with Montreal's Chris Velan.
“The title track is my version of a love letter, telling someone and myself how I feel about them,” she says. “But I know it still comes across sad . . . I felt very stuck in everything that I was feeling. For me it was important to dive into that sadness and admit it was happening.”
While Mae is at her best when trawling in emotional waters, she’s also experimented with rap artist Classified and dabbled in film. This past year saw her big screen debut, in Snow, a film written and directed by Rohan Fernando. Mae plays the supporting lead role of Emily, a homeless musician.
“As a songwriter, I often obsess over one experience or one emotion for days at a time and then have to revisit that feeling when I perform,” she says. “I guess that’s what acting is, too. It was cool to push myself in that way."
Emotions and art are constantly changing, and Mae takes comfort in shades of grey. She describes her open-minded upbringing as a means of self-exploration and experimentation.
“I think being brought up that way has allowed me to feel comfortable in different groups of people and different genres of music,” she says. “I just finished a song that Classified produced and it doesn't sound like my album at all. I like that a lot. Sticking to one thing is so boring.”
Montreal-based folk/pop singer/songwriter Chris Velan is joining Mae on her current tour, which starts in Toronto on June 20 and has stops in London, Montreal, Ottawa, Saint John, Charlottetown and Halifax.