Tate McRae on Repping Canada and Taking Zamboni Lessons

Photographs: Getty Images; Collage: Gabe Conte

From Bryan Adams to Nelly Furtado, Avril Lavigne to Carly Rae Jepsen, Canada has an illustrious history of pumping out musicians. The latest Canuck to take over the airwaves is Tate McRae, the 20-year-old Calgary native whose hit song “greedy” is dominating pop radio and currently sits third on the Billboard Hot 100.

This weekend, McRae will take part in a uniquely Canadian rite of passage: performing at the NHL All-Star Game in Toronto, where she’ll also serve as a celebrity captain alongside Canadian royalty Justin Bieber, Will Arnett, and Michael Bublé. The last few months have been a total whirlwind for McRae, who made her SNL debut in November, released her sophomore album—Think Later—in December, and will embark on the European leg of her world tour in April. As she prepares to take the stage at the NHL’s midseason celebration, McRae reflected on her own (extremely brief) days as a hockey player, shed some light on the Canadian Easter eggs in her music videos, and explained what it’s like to drive a Zamboni.

Photo courtesy of Beth Saravo
Photo courtesy of Beth Saravo

Tate, I'm wondering if you are a tangible goal-setter. Are you someone who sits down and makes a list of things you want to accomplish? And if so, was performing at the NHL All-Star Game ever on that list?

I am one-hundred percent a big goal-setter. I have been like that since I was eight years old. It's something I do every month; it's super important to me. But performing at the NHL All-Star Game was not on my bingo card. I didn't expect that to happen in my career. But obviously, it's such an honor. I'm so pumped.

What sort of reactions have you gotten from friends, family, and the other Canadians in your life when you've told them about this?

It's really funny, because usually when I do a performance or release a song, I get contacted by a lot of the people who are in the same performing arts industry as me. But this was one of the first things that I announced where I got hit up by all my old high school friends, lots of people from Calgary, my dad's friends, my mom's friends. It was the first time that I'd ever really been reached out to that much by hometown people.

I do have to ask: did you play hockey growing up?

Absolutely not. I remember I tried skating for one day when I was six years old, and I was a tragic skater, so my mom put me in ballet. My dad has been trying to train me how to skate for so many years. We had a skating rink in our backyard my whole life and I never got the hang of it. My brother was just skating laps around me.

I was so busy with dancing and music that I didn't make it out to too many games, but I have lots of memories of me just running around the rink at my brother's hockey games. Obviously, it's a huge part of Calgarian culture.

Were any other sports part of young Tate's life?

I think I tried soccer for a couple months, but dancing was the one that I fell in love with. I ended up training 30 hours a week in dance. I didn't really have time for other hobbies.

I have some Canadian family and grew up near Canada with a lot of people who are from there. When people hear Canada, they immediately go, "Oh, hockey! Maple syrup!" I’m just wondering how often you get that.

Every day. They always say hockey, Tim Hortons, maple syrup, and, "You guys are so nice!" I feel like there’s worse things to be called. It's pretty harmless, though. I don't mind it.

Do you feel like you are who you are because of growing up around friendly Canadians?

One hundred percent. I think the way that we're raised, especially where I'm from, is just treating people with kindness. [There are] specific manners that are in my blood. It is interesting, sometimes, going other places. I feel like I don't notice it very much, but people always say, "You guys are so polite and respectful!" I guess that's a good thing.

I could be completely off-base here, but in the “exes” video, there's lots of hay bales. There's cowboy boots. I'm wondering if that was inspired by—or perhaps a little bit of an homage to—the Calgary Stampede. [The Stampede is an annual, ten-day rodeo in Calgary that attracts over a million visitors per year.]

It was absolutely an homage to the Calgary Stampede! It's so funny because when I was younger, my biggest dream was to move out to LA and honestly, just get out of my hometown. As I've gotten older, I've just learned to love where I grew up. Finally, I'm appreciating it so much every time I go back home for Christmas and in the summertime.

A lot of my album campaign, we tried to draw a lot of inspiration from my roots and little Calgary-inspired things to try and make it a bit more of my identity. In that music video, I for sure was referencing the Calgary Stampede, which me and my family go to every year. You have to go. It's the best time.

You also have the “greedy” video, where you're driving a Zamboni. What was that like?

This whole video was so hilarious, because I remember I had first written the song and honestly, just had no idea what to do for a video. We were sitting in a coffee shop, trying to brainstorm ideas, and me and my creative director have this really playful banter, which is the best way to be creative. Sometimes jokes can turn into the greatest things that don't feel as serious.

We were talking about how when you do music videos, you can check things off your bucket list, and I was like, "You know, it would be so insane if I came in on a Zamboni. That would be bucket list.” It ends up turning into this huge video, which started off as us just goofing around.

Did you have to train for it? Was there a Zamboni safety class you had to take?

Yeah, I actually had to take a lesson, day-of. The manager of the rink had to give me a lesson, and he sat beside me as I was lip-syncing and filming the whole video. I was maybe going three miles per hour, max. I was going so slow. It’s hard!

Can you take us behind the scenes of your photo shoot for the Think Later album cover? Whose idea was it for you to wear the hockey pads?

The album cover for Think Later
The album cover for Think Later

Well, obviously, when you create an album, it's this ongoing conversation of what you're going to do to make the photo shoots feel special and feel different and feel like it has its own identity. I remember we were watching a whole bunch of old Michael Jackson performances and videos, and he had the glove. So, I went on tour, and I was wearing this really old vintage hockey glove. It's funny how it all started as this really lighthearted joke. Then we were like, "It actually would be a really cool image to just be wearing this really simple tank top and shorts and then have these massive glittery hockey pads."

That was just a conversation between me and my creative director, Bradley Calder, and I love the aesthetic of it. I referenced a lot of old Kate Moss and Gisele [Bündchen], and I had all these mood boards where they would be wearing no clothes and then a helmet, or have a mix between athleticism and fashion, being feminine and tomboy. I feel like it was a perfect balance for me and felt very true to my personality.

You have a world tour coming up soon. Do you have anywhere in particular that you're super excited to go to?

I always love playing in Canada. I'm playing Budweiser Stage in Toronto, which will be really fun because usually I have some random friends that'll pop by and come watch the show. New York will be fun. I'm going to Europe in a month or so, so that'll be a blast as well. I'm really looking forward to it. I feel like I've been writing in the studio all year, so it'll be nice to get to tour some of the music, finally.

One thing that I've heard musicians say a lot is once they put out an album, and then especially when they tour that album, it starts to feel like the music doesn't belong to them any more. The fans take it and run with it. Are you feeling that to some extent yet with the new album?

One hundred percent. I think that's the part, as a person and an artist, where you have to disconnect, because everyone's going to have their theories and their ideas of what songs are about. That's the special part about creating music. You can write about a really specific thing—or not!—and then as soon as you release it, it's not yours anymore. They can do whatever they want with it, and you just have to let it happen.

Photo courtesy of Beth Saravo
Photo courtesy of Beth Saravo

But on tour, it's so fun because the songs just evolve so much. Once you get the band involved, and the drums get amped up, and you add guitar parts and keys, the songs sometimes completely transform. It's really cool to watch.

On the other hand, is that scary at all, or I guess nerve-wracking to realize, "Oh, my God, this many people are connecting with my art?" And they can, like you said, do whatever they want with it. There's a loss of power there, I suppose.

Yeah, it's super nerve-wracking. I'm also just a pretty private person. I have a really small circle of friends and only share my private information with them. So it's a really contradictory thing, being a private person and then [sharing] your whole life through music online. And then people can make whatever assumptions they want, so yeah, it is scary. But also, I think that's where you just can't look at the comments because the creation [part] is your job, and then what happens after that is out of your hands.

When you’re on tour, people only see you when you're on stage having a blast. They don't see everything that goes on behind the scenes. So I’m wondering, in your experience, what is the hardest part of being on tour?

I would say probably keeping your social battery up, I think. It's draining to be around that many people. And also just because I really do love being around my fans, and I appreciate and respect them so much, I want to give them as much time as possible. Sometimes we spend hours with them, and you get on the bus and be like, "I have no energy left for myself." So I think it's prioritizing alone time when you're on the road for so many months.

It's really interesting because I feel like I'm such an introvert, and then as soon as you get on tour, you have to switch on a button to feel like you can include everyone and talk to everyone and turn it on a little bit.

Is there a part of the All-Star Weekend that you're most excited about? Anyone that you really want to meet?

I'm excited to watch the game! I've never seen the All-Star Game in real life before, so that's going to be fun. I'm excited to bring my dad and watch him geek out over all the players. It's going to be fun for him to be by my side and get to experience that all with me. I think I'm actually drafting a team, too, so it'll be interesting. I might have to study a little bit.

An NHL All-Star Game taking place in Toronto is a very Canadian situation. How much pride do you have for Canada? When there's a new Canadian on the scene, whether it's in movies or music or sports or whatever, how hyped do you get for that sort of thing?

I'm so honored to be a Canadian. I think some of the greatest artists of all time have come out of Canada, and it's always such an honor to be put on lists beside them or talked about in the same conversation as them. Some of my favorite artists are all from Toronto or my area, and it's really cool to watch. And then also, you want to make your country proud, so it's always cool when I get to talk about it and bring it back to my hometown.

Who is your favorite Canadian artist?

That's so hard. Obviously, The Weeknd and Drake are pretty incredible.

Originally Appeared on GQ