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Debby Friday delivers remarks on stage after winning the 2023 Polaris Music Prize in Toronto, on Sept. 19.Spencer Colby/The Canadian Press

Asked about the $50,000 she was awarded for receiving the 2023 Polaris Music Prize, Debby Friday said she would use the money to help pay off student loans.

“There’s quite a bit. I’ll need Polaris and then some,” the 29-year-old said about the cash she won Tuesday at Toronto’s Massey Hall. Remember when rock stars and pop music people bought sportscars?

Friday, born Deborah Micho, immigrated to Montreal from Nigeria with her family as a toddler. The winning album from the now Toronto-based musician is a brooding, audacious work of electronic R&B, techno and industrial rock, with a woozy alt-pop song (So Hard to Tell) thrown in for good measure.

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Friday’s full-length debut album is titled Good Luck, which is what the loan-strapped artist (or anyone else) will need to make it in the independent music industry these days.

You move between several different styles on the album. Do you have something against genres?

[Laughs] It feels natural. My generation grew up on the internet – the idea of genre-blending and hybridity has always been a part of the way I consumed art and music. So of course it’s going to be a part of the way I express myself.

Did Sub Pop, your U.S. label, try to rein you in aesthetically?

Sub Pop has been amazing. They’ve always encouraged my creative vision, and their support has been unconditional.

That label has a history of developing rock bands. What are your influences, rock or otherwise?

I grew up in a house where a lot of gospel music was played. I’ve always loved electronic music, and I’ve also loved rock music as well, starting with the more bluesy stuff from the 1940s and then heading into early rock ‘n’ roll, with Chuck Berry and Little Richard. Also funk, with people like Betty Davis. And I really like seventies-era rock. Cherie Currie and Joan Jett were women who influenced me – not just the music, but their stage presence and public personas. They were fierce women.

Do I hear a little Pat Benatar on your Let U Down?

Yes. [Sings, “Your love is like a tidal wave, spinning over my head …”]

That’s the one. Pat Benatar’s Heartbreaker.

It’s one of my favourite songs. I actually did a cover of it a few years back.

Your bio information mentions you had some personal issues. Can you talk about that and how it fits into your timeline?

I had started DJing in Montreal in 2017, which is when that life breakdown happened. I took nine months and rebuilt myself. During that time I taught myself how to produce music by watching YouTube tutorials. I released my first EP, Bitchpunk, in 2018. That same year, I was accepted into a master’s degree program at Simon Fraser University. I moved to Vancouver that fall.

After self-producing your first two EPs, you worked with a professional producer, Graham Walsh, for Good Luck. How did that collaboration happen?

I consider myself an autodidact. Also, producing the EPs myself was a way for me to find my voice. For Good Luck, I was looking for someone to help me finish the album – two heads are better than one. I met Graham through my manager, and we ended up having great synergy. It was a beautiful process.

You use a lot of moody minor keys for your songs. It’s quite dark. It makes me want to ask: Who hurt you, Debby Friday?

It’s so funny that you say that. In my day-to-day life, I’m quite goofy and lighthearted, all my friends will tell you. But you need a place to put all your other stuff. I put it in my music.

In your victory speech, you said it was a miracle and that you didn’t realize it was a possibility. Were you referring to the Polaris Prize specifically, or were you talking about your career?

I was thinking about being an artist. I don’t come from a family with that background, so I had no frame of reference for art as a job. But when I began working as a musician, it began to hit me that this is a thing someone can do – you can sustain yourself, you can make a career.

Some would argue that point. It’s tough for you guys, more than ever.

For sure. I’ve been paying attention. I’m not blind to the difficulties. And I definitely have my criticisms of the industry. We’re in a stage of crisis, and you look around and ask, “Is this sustainable?”

And is it?

Though I’m an optimist, it can feel a little apocalyptic. But I want to believe that we will figure out a way to move forward toward something with security and sustainability. It’s one of the reasons I’m so intentional about what I do. This is what I want to do for the rest of my life. I’m going to have to figure out a way to build this as solid as a rock.

This interview has been condensed and edited.

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