From the infectious tunes she writes, to gorgeous threads that have landed her in the pages of ELLE magazine, RALPH doesn’t half-step when paying attention to detail.

Case in point: Flashbacks and Fantasies, the catchy title of her EP, that arrives on November 17th. “All the songs deal with the idea of yearning for something that isn’t there anymore, or that never was, so I wanted a title that would unify those themes,” says RALPH (a.k.a. Raffaela Weyman). “For example, ‘Last Time’ is about seeing your ex and having an intimate encounter with them, and there’s another song about knowing there’s someone out there for you who you haven’t found yet. I think there’s an aspect of flashbacks and fantasy in both of them.”

And there’s definitely an aspect of confessional songwriting, as it pertains to the fun and messy world of relationships. RALPH says that while everything she writes is autobiographical, she doesn’t feel vulnerable sharing her experiences with millions of strangers.

“I don’t worry about people knowing about the ins and outs of my relationships, but I do think about how a song might affect the person that it’s about,” she says. “For example, when I released the song ‘Gravity’ [earlier this year], I was nervous that an ex would be upset, and accuse me of airing dirty laundry.” But, she adds quickly, “If someone is with me, they should be aware of the fact that the delights and traumas of my life are going to come out in my songs.”

By all accounts, RALPH’s personal stories are resonating strongly with music fans. To date, the 27-year-old singer has earned more than 26 million streams on Spotify, four million on Apple Music, and her videos have racked up more than 1.5 million views. She played the Mariposa Folk Festival this past summer, appeared on CTV’s national eTalk show, and opened Canadian tour dates for Carly Rae Jepsen. Credit those impressive numbers and mainstream reach to her versatile, soulful voice – she’s a classically trained vocalist – and her “glossy pop.” It’s a term she prefers to “electro pop,” even though synths play a huge role in her super-catchy tunes.

“The delights and traumas of my life are going to come out in my songs.”

On Flashbacks and Fantasies, RALPH is moving further away from being pigeonholed as “the singer who releases mid-tempo bangers by experimenting with things I hadn’t tried before,” she says. “There’s a slow R&B song on it, an anthemic Robyn-like track, and a House-inspired dance jam. I hate the idea of being predictable so, yeah, the new record will feel different, but it’s recognizably RALPH.”

While RALPH’s music takes lethal aim at dancefloors, she doesn’t shy away from spicing her pop with social commentary. “There’s a song on the new EP called ‘Headphone Season,’ and it’s about when a stranger asks me to give them a smile or to smile more,” she says. “I hate that because it’s someone telling me what to do with my face or body. At the end of the song you hear me saying, ‘Here’s an idea. How about you never tell women what to do with their bodies?’”

Last August, RALPH helped organize, and performed at, a pro-choice benefit in Toronto – one that she says raised $17,000 for the Bay Centre for Birth Control at Women’s College Hospital in Toronto, and the National Network of Abortion Funds in the U.S.

“I’m constantly inspired by the increasing number of women who are sharing their personal stories, like [those of] being sexually assaulted in the workplace,” she says. “I write songs with social commentary because I want all of us to be more aware, and sensitive, and respectful.”

One afternoon, musician Craig Northey (of The Odds) got a message from longtime friend and collaborator Bruce McCulloch (The Kids in the Hall and Saturday Night Live). For the past 25 years, beginning with his 1995 score for The Kids in the Hall’s Brain Candy, the duo had worked on numerous musical, film, and TV projects. Now McCulloch had a new one on the horizon.

He wanted Northey to score an all-male comedy revue, TallBoyz, that had just been picked up by the CBC. Featuring a young, multi-racial/ethnic cast of comedians, it tapped into the vibrant Toronto scene. Instantly, Northey knew he wanted to bring in another friend and collaborator, musician/producer Chin Injeti. The pair had previously co-written “Get Carried Away” with Colin James, for his 2000 album Fuse.

“[McCulloch] talked with the Boyz about music, and what they wanted,” says Northey from his home in Vancouver. “They wanted it to feel very much like Toronto now, and all its cosmopolitan beauty and fun.  When he articulated all this to me, I thought of Chin right away. I needed Chin to help me realize that. He’s from [Toronto] originally, and has a foot in the pond. He’s also one of Canada’s – and the world’s – hip-hop treasures. Our methods are different, and I knew we would push each other to new places. That’s what TallBoyz needed.”

When Injeti got the invite, he welcomed a new opportunity to collaborate with Northey again. “Craig and I have a love for all types of music – I mean, like, a real deep love,” he says. “We’re able to pull from the most obscure of references to the most popular – anything from Beastie Boys, to Masters at Work, [to] the Meters. Our different styles of production make it that much better.”

Northey agrees. “I’ve been a fan of vintage R&B since I was a kid, and that’s where Chin and I came together” he says. “Stax, Bill Withers, Sly & the Family Stone, the JB’s, the Meters. Chin [also] has a keen grasp of quirky, early-‘80s alt-rock. He would take me farther in one direction, and I would drag him somewhere weird at the same time.”

The pair implemented Northey’s in-depth approach to scoring, and set to work.

“You just keep trying to honour the mood.” – Craig Northey, on scoring

“When you’re underscoring a scene, you generally have the footage in front of you, and that’s your muse,” says Northey. “My methodology with Bruce is to start way before that. I read the scripts and talk too much with him about it, and then get started forming an aesthetic, demo-ing theme and motif ideas. This time I did that with Chin. We were composing stuff to imaginary scenes two months before we saw anything.” For Injeti’s part, he used his intimate knowledge of Toronto’s rich and diverse culture to tap into the vibe of the score early on.  “[Tallboyz] was totally relatable, and felt natural,” he says.

Two other Toronto gems also helped inspire them. “Shad and DJ TLO had already composed a few songs with TallBoyz that were to be sprinkled throughout the series,” says Northey. “They were dynamite, and gave us a few starting points for what might work.”

Though he had scored the 2015 documentary Highway of Tears (Matt Smiley), Injeti appreciates that the TallBoyz process helped build his scoring muscles even more.  “I am so lucky that I got to do this with someone as amazing as Craig Northey,” he says. “He taught me to use my instincts as a songwriter towards scoring.  The most challenging part was to create seconds of a sound that had the same emotional impact as a two- or three-minute song.  Bruce’s vision was so clear, and Craig’s direction was so easy to understand, that it came pretty easy.”

While Northey boast a list of scoring titles – Corner Gas (TV, film and animated series), Hiccups, The Kids in the Hall’s Death Comes to Town and CBC’s Young Drunk Punk and This Blows, he too developed a finer balance between songwriting and scoring.

“Songwriting requires you to bring all the inspiration to the table,” says Northey. “You need to find a great idea, and then manifest it in music. In scoring the inspiration is provided – it’s right there, all lit up in front of you. In TallBoyz, and just about every project I’ve scored, you get to exercise your songwriting muscles because there are often songs required. That part is fun, they’re kind of ‘made to order’ genre pieces. It allows you to stretch into new territory. You’re not the artist putting your song out there to have your hopes dashed by public apathy, or the barbs of critics. You’re honouring the scene with something that enhances the mood. The reward is always learning something new musically.”

With McCulloch’s feedback helping them make it less complex and dense, the pair soon hit the scoring sweet spot. “I think we knew we’d got the vibe down for the series about halfway through episode one!” says Northey. “You just keep trying to honour the mood. Eventually it distills itself down to the essential elements that resonate.”

When asked if another Injeti/Northey collaboration lies in the future, Injeti hopes so. “We’re getting together this week to jam,” he says, “so I’ll hint at it.” And Northey says it’s pretty much guaranteed.  “Chin’s a treasure and talent beyond comprehension – he goes deep as an instrumentalist, singer, composer, and person.  You want to stay close to people like that. They’re like power points on the globe.”

Four years after Sun Leads Me On, which opened the gates to Europe, Montréal-based quartet Half Moon Run is poised to release its third album – one that will become, whether the band likes it or not, a test. Will A Blemish in the Great Light be the vessel through which the title prophecy becomes true, namely, to break into the American market and headline an arena tour? After all, they only need one big radio hit… “That’s exactly what our label’s people tell us,” says HMR’s Devon Portielje.

“I hope it doesn’t sound too dry when I say it, but what we’re after is good songwriting,” continues Portielje, Half Moon Run’s main composer, singer, guitarist, and multi-instrumentalist. He adds, to flesh out his statement, “Does our songwriting evoke the right emotions? Is the listener quickly bored by what they’re hearing? It’s a very delicate balance between a song that’s just repetitive enough for people to remember, and a song no one will remember.”

And that’s why, he goes on, “we rehearse our songs tirelessly, play them live and endlessly re-record them before we release them on an album; we want to eliminate anything superfluous and focus on the more emotional sections… [I write] 95% of the songs, but I often ask Conner [Molander, multi-instrumentalist] to choose between two lines in a verse, and he has the last word. I write on guitar and piano; mainly on guitar, because I’m not as talented on piano. I’ll often transpose a guitar melody on the piano to see what effect it has on it, and how it sometimes provokes new chord ideas.” The ideal scenario occurs when Devon already has a verse or two, a chorus, a melody, and then the rest of the band grabs that proto-song and fleshes it out with arrangements and rhythms.

Half Moon Run is currently touring Europe, but the band has never actually stopped touring since the guys spent the whole summer testing new material on their audience. Half the songs on A Blemish in the Great Light, for which the recording was completed last spring, have been played live. “It’s a critical phase of an album’s creative process, and it was much easier before we became popular,” says Portielje. “We played the songs on our first album extensively before recording them. People had no expectations since they didn’t know us. That’s how we test our material: ‘Ah! this passage of that song doesn’t seem to move the audience.’”

“I realized that when they were played on the radio, our recordings lacked depth; they came across as too soft.” — Devon Portielje of Half Moon Run

“I’m discovering that I’ve become a lot more unbiased about our songs when we’re playing them live,” says Portelje. “It’s very different from playing them in a rehearsal space. We can feel the energy level go up or down while we’re playing. After each show, we take about 15 minutes analyzing it, and how the public reacted to our songs.” One could venture the band’s fans have an influence on Half Moon Run’s songwriting, “but we could never say it officially, because of copyright issues,” laughs Portielje.

On A Blemish in the Great Light, Half Moon Run has adopted a more dazzling lyrical approach. “I remember being in a store at some point,” says Portelje, “and the radio was playing softly in the background… Then I thought someone had turned it off, but it was one of our songs playing. I realized that when they were played on the radio, our recordings lacked depth; they came across as too soft.” “Oomph-up the production” was the mission that HMR gave to veteran producer Joe Chiccarelli, who’s worked with the likes of Broken Social Scene, Eleni Mandell, The Strokes, Mika, White Stripes, and many more.

References to classic pop-rock songwriting are plentiful on this third offering, with many a tip of the hat to The Beatles and James Taylor, to name but a few. “Issac [Symonds, multi-instrumentalist] listened to a lot of soft-rock from the ’70s, we love that style of music,” says Portelje. “It’s very studious songwriting; there are thousands of influences and micro-references on the album, so it becomes hard to say one is more important than the other.

“Take [the single] ‘Favorite Boy,’ for example; I really wanted it to sound like Fleetwood Mac’s ‘Dreams.’ That drum sound! I found an old magazine article online, where the engineer who recorded ‘Dreams’ explained, and even provided a drawing of, how he set up and mic-ed the drum kit, and how he built plywood walls around it to give it a live sound. We tried and tried, but we couldn’t replicate that sound!”