Alt-pop dream weaver Riah talks about pushing the limits of pop music, finding her voice, and the creative, personal depths of her debut EP ‘Heartbreak Magic’.
Listening to Riah’s newly-released debut EP is the musical equivalent to floating on a dream cloud: Sweet wisps of synths and bubbly guitar fade in and out of an entrancing rhythmic soundscape, with rich emotionally-driven vocals lighting a path forward. It’s been over three years since now 27-year-old Mariah McManus introduced her left-of-center pop project to the world, and her Heartbreak Magic EP (independently released June 28) shines as a bright, beautiful soundtrack to romantic turbulence, emotional empowerment, and self-discovery.
I swim inside the green of your eyes
A paradise in my dreams
You snuck me out the window of my house
We both had wings in my dreams
I see you so clear some nights
You’re too real to me sometimes, ah
Oh, the clarity gets hazy
I can’t tell what’s real some nights
I can feel you breathe sometimes, ah
This reality is fading
– “In My Dreams,” Riah
Last month, Atwood Magazine declared Riah an “absolute phenomenon” in labeling her single “Growing Up” one of our Editor’s Picks. That “lush, entrancing dream-pop drizzled with sweet soul and groovy R&B goodness” radiating throughout “Growing Up” is magnified six times over in Heartbreak Magic, a breathtakingly cohesive journey through life’s often hidden corridors.
This was by no means a spontaneous or overnight creation; McManus took her time carefully discovering who she was and what, in turn, Riah was going to be: “I think at first you put all the pressure in the world to have it all together as an artist and then you realize the beauty of art is the fact that we don’t have it all together and that in the end it brings us together.”
“If anything, the last three years have allowed me to open the door and continue to dive deeper into things I’ve experienced like loss, heartbreak, falling in love, and falling out of love, and it’s allowed me to process those things and create something out of it,” Riah observes. “So, it’s been a journey of figuring myself out.” Every song is a labor of love for this artist, and Heartbreak Magic truly demands multiple listens for its secrets to be unlocked and fully embraced.
Today, Atwood Magazine is proud to be premiering the acoustic video for “In My Dreams,” Heartbreak Magic‘s poignant closing track. A sad song of self-doubt and reluctance, hope and uncertainty, “In My Dreams” finds Riah struggling to balance on the fragile edge of reality and fantasy: “I see you so clear some nights, you’re too real to me sometimes,” she sings in a raw, emotional chorus.
“‘In My Dreams’ is both hopeful and tragic: The feeling of experiencing something so beautiful, but it not being real,” Riah explains. In its EP form, this slow song breathes with a deep, moody rhythm and subdued instrumental accompaniment. As an acoustic guitar-and-vocals track, “In My Dreams” is equally profound: The meaning or depth of the song is unchanged, perhaps even elevated, by this strikingly simple, stripped-down expression.
There’s no denying Riah’s intense musical allure, nor is there any better way to praise her talent than by appreciating the strength of her songs in multiple contexts. Whether dressed to the nines in electric accoutrements, or sonically bare with minimal acoustics, Heartbreak Magic‘s songs resonate with a life of their own.
Riah spoke to Atwood Magazine about pushing the limits of pop music, finding her voice, and the creative, personal depths of her debut EP Heartbreak Magic. Dive into our interview below, and stream Riah’s “In My Dreams” acoustic session exclusively on Atwood Magazine!
Every lyric on Heartbreak Magic is really just me over the last few years navigating what it looks like to grow up in love and life and relationships.
Stream: “In My Dreams” – Riah
Atwood Magazine: I love the acoustic version of “In My Dreams” that we're premiering! How did you translate that song into the acoustic context?
Riah: YOU GUYS ARE THE BEST! I loved the simplicity of keeping it just acoustic and vocals and being able to listen and letting the lyrics paint the picture.
When did you start songwriting? How did you get into that as a means of expression?
Riah: I started writing songs when I was really young. There was always songwriting in the air at my house with my family. My dad wrote songs, my brother was in bands and my mom would be constantly singing so it was a natural part of the environment. My dad would ask me to help him write songs when I was really little. It just became a way to communicate the inner world that was harder for me to express.
Do you remember the first song you were really proud of? What was it and what about it made you proud?
Riah: I remember always being proud of a song I finished. The first song I ever remember writing I think I was 8. I was proud because I could create something from nothing and I could do it on my own. As I’ve grown up and grown as a songwriter, I’m proud of a song when I’ve been completely honest to the core.
You spent the few years since 2016 slowly releasing tracks and developing your artistry over this time. What was that process like for you, and what did you learn during the process?
Riah: The process of all of this for me has really been, take your time and find your voice. I didn’t want to rush anything because I wanted to be clear and proud of what I was showing the world. The process has been taking it one song and one lyric at a time. I think at first you put all the pressure in the world to have it all together as an artist and then you realize the beauty of art is the fact that we don’t have it all together and that in the end it brings us together. I said together so many times, but we are better together!!
How would you say you’ve changed as an artist since when you first debuted in 2016?
Riah: I’ve become more confident in what I create. I’ve become more confident in what I like. I’ve become more confident in who I want to be as an artist.
The Heartbreak Magic EP feels incredibly cohesive, with a particular ebb and flow throughout. What’s the significance of this EP from a broader overall perspective; what does it mean to you?
Riah: Like you mentioned, these songs have been written and released over the course of three or so years and somehow everything has remained very connected for me. If anything, the last three years have allowed me to open the door and continue to dive deeper into things I’ve experienced like loss, heartbreak, falling in love, and falling out of love, and it’s allowed me to process those things and create something out of it. So, it’s been a journey of figuring myself out. Still on that journey.
Do you feel like you could have written this EP a few years ago? If not, how did you have to grow in order to make this vision a reality?
Riah: I think I could have written something that I was proud of but it took me the years it did because I was gathering life and thoughts and sounds and feelings and I am really grateful that this is what that created.
Heartbreak Magic EP opens with title track “Heartbreak Magic.” How did you make this song, and what sets it apart for you?
Riah: Chad who produces all my songs sent me a really short idea for a song and I remember being in my car and singing the same idea over and over again. At first I thought no one would like it so I sat on it for months but it just kept creeping up on me. When we started diving into the song we knew that it was something different and special. It wasn’t like anything I’d created or even really heard before and that got me so pumped. We kept thinking that the song was finished but we kept getting pulled back into working on it until we felt like we were 100% proud of it. I’m so glad we kept pushing for it to be what it is because the vibe and the lyrics are so groovy and strange and pull you into this different world.
Why did you put this song first on your EP?
Riah: Because it’s my favorite! haha
You then continue with “Prom,” a beautifully bittersweet song with the line, “Don’t want to call, but I’m thinking ‘bout you.” What’s this about?
Riah: It’s about that moment when you want to open a door you shouldn’t. I think we’ve all been stuck in that moment of wanting to call and hear someone’s voice or get someone back that we should forget. If I could give any advice it would be DON’T CALL!!!! hahaha
“Wildlife” is super groovy and shows a bit more of the beats side to your music. How’d this song come about!? What was your songwriting process like — did the bears come with the melody and lyrics or were they put in afterward?
Riah: This was the first song I recorded and released! For pretty much every song Chad and I have written together we will kind of decide on a vibe and listen to music that is inspiring us and then he’ll create a track while I write lyrics. “Wildlife” is so special to me because it was the beginning of all of this!
I personally loved “Growing Up” so much I made it an Editor’s Pick. Can you take me behind the scenes into what inspired this song?
Riah: This song is the song that makes the EP make sense to me. Every lyric on Heartbreak Magic is really just me over the last few years navigating what it looks like to grow up in love and life and relationships. “Growing Up” is about a friend that was texting me while I was in the studio who was just struggling with feeling like they were better off being alone in life. I think the biggest thing about growing up that I’ve learned is that life is way better when you are surrounded by people who love you and push you and challenge you.
Ultimately, you close with the somber “In My Dreams,” which ends the EP on a calm and rather poignant note. Do you feel like there’s a cathartic end with this track? Does it tuck us in or are there questions and emotions left unanswered?
Riah: I love the uneasy feeling of something being unfinished. “In My Dreams” is both hopeful and tragic: The feeling of experiencing something so beautiful, but it not being real. It makes you question if everything you experienced was real or just dream and keeps you guessing until there is more.
“In My Dreams” is both hopeful and tragic: The feeling of experiencing something so beautiful, but it not being real.
What is your favorite track on the EP and why? Is there one song you can’t stop obsessing over?
Riah: “IN MY DREAMS” IS MY FAVE RIGHT NOW! Mostly because I just shot a music video for it and the acoustic video is out, and I just can’t wait for all of you to see it.
Similarly, which of the tracks on this EP surprised you? Did anything you made catch you by surprise?
Riah: I definitely think “Growing Up” was surprising. I didn’t realize how people would respond and I didn’t realize how much it means to me because it was one of the last songs we put on the EP. It makes everything make sense and it was a good surprise.
What are you most excited for, now that this EP is out in the world?
Riah: EVERYTHING! I’m excited to continue to create art and show it to people live and hope that it connects to their lives and can make them feel like someone understands what they are going through.
How have you been continuing to develop your music since the EP? Have you been experimenting at all outside the general bounds of pop genre, etc?
Riah: I think that this EP really was an experiment to push what you’re used to hearing in pop music. I think it has the essence of pop in the sense that you can sing along and listen in your car and that it’s relatable, but it’s different in sound and in making you think and pushing the limits.
Riah: More videos. More music. LET’S GO!!!!
Stream: “In My Dreams” – Riah
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📸 © Daniel Prakopcyk