Chargement en cours

An error has occurred. Please

Halifax's Ria Mae on risking it all to get her major label debut

Holly Gordon


That's all Ria Mae heard when she was trying to get the music industry interested in her record last fall. It was produced by Classified and had strong contenders for radio hits, but still, no takers. So Mae did the only thing she could and took a chance on herself. 

After barely affording to get the album's first single, "Clothes Off," on the radio in Halifax, someone at Sony heard Mae's track and gave her a call. Now, come August 2015, the still untitled album will be released on the label, counting her second album overall and first major label release.

While signing to Sony is no small feat — "They heard the entire album and they said, 'Yep, we're good to go'" — Mae isn’t exactly new to the scene. Her debut album, Under Your Skin, won a 2012 East Coast Music Award for pop album of the year, and she’s been working, albeit slowly, with Classified for years. Her brand of pop is one we can’t wait to hear more of — and based on the sexy jam that is "Clothes Off," the new album is going to burn a hole into the end of summer.

We caught up with the singer just after she arrived home from working in Brighton, England. Here are five things you need to know about Halifax’s next big thing and her upcoming album.

Going from 0 (dollars) to signed artist on one radio single

"Clothes Off" was originally released in September 2014, before Mae signed to Sony mid-February 2015. The re-release, which dropped May 25 on radio and iTunes, was re-mixed by Serban Ghenea, a five-time Grammy winner who mixed Taylor Swift’s 1989.

"Radio stations don't play an independent artist just because. Unless the song is like crazy good, they can't even believe. ... when I released it on my own, it was really just Halifax that played it. It was one of these things where I reached out to anyone I could think of to help me with the project, everybody said no. Every single manager here, everything.

"So [I was] just a one-person team and I just believed in some of the songs I had I thought were good, and I was like I'm either delusional or I need to get this out to people in bigger cities. So I spent literally, I think I had $14 left in my bank account. It's so expensive to go to radio. And I knew I would only get one or two adds. Ten days after it got added to 96.5 FM, Sony called."

That steamy 'Clothes Off' video is mostly Mae’s family and friends

"We did it [on Agricola Street]. Jason Levangie, who's from here [directed it] and then just a bunch of my friends and my siblings [laughs]. A sexy song with my brother all through it [laughs again]. I had that video ready to go, too. When Sony was in touch with me, they flew down for the one song, which made me not trust them. I was like, 'What do you think this is?' And they listened to about six or seven other songs and then I showed them the video. And they said they were gonna release everything as it was. So yeah it's a cool, little video, it was a very small budget. Scary small budget."


Email your idols — it just might work

Mae has always been a big fan of Classified’s, and one day she just up and emailed him. The rest is (almost) history.

"I won a song contest in the States, it was called NewSong, and in my head I thought I won a Grammy. I was like, this is it, I made it [she smiles]. I was on a bus, a cheap bus going somewhere on tour in the States and I just spent the whole bus ride making this email to [Classified].

"I was like, I just need him to know that I can do this, and I sort of asked him if I could write hooks on some of the rap songs that he was producing. So that's how it started. He would send me a rap song, eight bars in the middle with nothing on it, and then I'd write hooks. I don't actually think he used any of those hooks but … I sent him one idea that he thought was a cool idea for a whole song, 'Leaving Today,' that we released a few years ago. So yeah, it was over email for a long time and then I finally met him."

Classified produced the full new album, but was forced to take a break mid-production when he scored a hit with "Inner Ninja."

"He was gone for eight months ... I was like, 'Please don't raise your prices now that you're famous.' He helped me get it done. And then once Sony called, we had all these little odds and ends, we were like get it done, quick. Now!"

Breaking out of the singer-songwriter mould

Mae wrote the songs for her debut, Under Your Skin, primarily on acoustic guitar, but this time around she focused on the beats first, acoustic versions second.

"I felt like I'd done the acoustic thing, I was boring myself. Acoustic solo shows just kill me. I felt bad for the audience. Then I started writing on the laptop and putting beats and everything and just feeling like I had no idea how to write hip-hop or pop-based stuff. So yeah, I think this whole thing was just learning how to do something new. It was a totally different experience. And now it's like trying to make sure I can now play them on acoustic guitar when I go back. It's coming together but it's a whole other situation."

Sometimes, you can get what you want

Mae still lives in Halifax, still wants to keep on with the way that she lives and works. But there is one thing this Sony deal has done for her that she’s never had before.

"The thing that blows my mind about this situation is they want me to write. And you think about it, makes sense. But I'm so used to controlling everything, where I'm like, 'No no, I'll write that grant. It's just easier if I write it.' And they’re like, 'No, it's way better if you write [songs].' I'm like, 'What?' To me it's like someone saying we need you to sit in this room and eat ice cream. That's all you can do is eat ice cream.

"So that's the biggest thing for me, is just having a team of people make sure I write. Doesn't make any sense. I can't think of anything better."

Get "Clothes Off" via iTunes now.

Find me on Twitter: @hollygowritely


Florence and the Machine, Destroyer, Ria Mae, more: songs you need to hear this week

More from our Next Big Thing series:

Ibeyi on Kendrick Lamar, Yoruba music and their big SXSW breakout

Tona: Canadian hip-hop's next big thing is an 'overnight success' 10 years in the making

Kim Harris: the mightiest voice coming out of the East Coast

Shannon and the Clams on Macaulay Culkin, Mormons and spider fangs

Kira Isabella: Nashville’s 'next big thing' is a 20-year-old Canadian

Kiesza: 5 things you need to know about Canada's next breakout pop star

Naomi Wachira: 5 things you need to know about Afro-folk's rising star