Weeks ago 17 year-old Ruby Jane not only graduated from high school, but released her first solo album. The Texas based fiddler and multi-instrumentalist has been playing music since her youth and has been rewarded numerous awards and shared the stage with the likes of Willie Nelson and Lyle Lovett. And now she’s writing her own music and playing festivals and small down gigs with her own band, the Ruby Jane Show.
While the fiddle is her base instrument and bluegrass the music that, in part, put her on the scene, Ruby Jane is expanding her horizon and breaking into new boundaries as she writes her own songs and picks up the guitar. Having graduated from high school a year early and with such great musical success already under her belt, Ruby Jane has built up a name for herself and is nowhere in site of slowing down.
The Grateful Web’s Angela Gattuso was fortunate enough to catch up with Ruby Jane before heading out for a few shows around Texas following the June 19th release of Celebrity (Empire of Emptiness). Beyond expressing the surreal yet exciting feelings of graduating and releasing her first record, Ruby Jane shared her ideas for the future, the search for the “Ruby Jane sound,” her never ceasing and inspirational goals, and her dream of dreams to work with Tom Waits.
Grateful Web: Hi again. I’m Angela Gattuso, I’m with the Grateful Web and I’m here today with fiddler and multi-instrumentalist Ruby Jane for an interview. So, how’s it going?
Ruby Jane: I’m doing really well. I’m getting ready to head to Fort Worth today for a T.V. thing tomorrow and then a show at McDavid’s Studio on Friday night in Forth Worth.
GW: Oh ok, that’s exciting. Do you have some other tours lined up after that or are you going to be on the road for awhile?
RJ: Well, kind of. We’re just going to Forth Worth for this date and then coming back. And then got a few shows around Texas and then in July we’re heading to Finland for a few shows out there, which should be fun. And then kind of, we’re just kind of back and forth you know, going out for a few dates and coming back and out for a few days and coming back. And then we’re probably doing more kind of touring, like going out for a month at a time, closer to the end of the year.
GW: Oh ok, cool. Is this going to be your first time over to Europe or have you been to Finland at all before?
RJ: Well I’ve been to France. I played in France a couple summers ago, but this will be my second time over there. This will be my first time in Finland.
GW: Well that sounds exciting. I wish I could go do the same.
RJ: I know, it should be interesting. I’ve heard a lot of interesting things about Finland. I’ve heard really, really great things and then I’ve heard that food is kind of bad. So I have no idea what to expect.
GW: Well hopefully it goes more on the good side for you.
RJ: Yes, definitely.
GW: Well congratulations also on your high school graduation and your record release. How does that feel to have both of those accomplished right on the same day or within the same week?
RJ: Oh, it’s really weird actually. Like you know, it always felt like these really big milestones in the future and now that they’ve both happened I’m like, wow ok, so what’s next. And I mean it feels really good actually because they’re both really important sort of things happening in my life, you know, and I was really eager to have both done. So now you know, now that it’s done it feels great and now it’s kind of focusing on that year and that next kind of chapter and writing more music and touring the album. And you know, working, getting ready for the next album, so it is great.
GW: Cool. I was reading on your blog that you are going to take that year off from school but you do have plans to go to college thereafter. So is that what you’re going to focus on, is just writing the music and getting new material together then?
RJ: Well I’m taking one year off and really, that’ll be...I mean I’ll always be touring and playing music, that’s always going to be my number one for me. So it’s not like, ok I’m taking one year off to tour and then I’m going to a college for four years and I’m not playing music anymore, you know. It’s really just, I mean I graduated a year early from high school so really now I’m taking that year to just take the time to really tour the new album and get it out there. And you know, just utilize that time so I can focus full time on music and not be thinking about studies. But it is really important to me to get a college degree, so after that year is up I’ll probably look into taking some of my college basics online. Like University of Texas has an online department and I’ll probably do that for a year and then you know, see what happens after that, maybe take some classes at a brick and mortar college, just a few classes. But I’ll probably end up having to take it all really slow just because I’ll be focused on music first and foremost. But getting a degree is definitely really important to me.
GW: Yeah, that sounds like a good plan. Do you have any ideas of what you might want to degree in at all or, just like you were saying, take those basic classes and then kind of see where you want to go from there?
RJ: Well I’m sure it will change, but right now I’m looking at, I really enjoy liberal arts and I think it would be great to have a liberal arts degree. And I’m not necessarily getting a degree so that I can look into getting a job, just because I already have my goals lined down and my passion. So I don’t think that I’ll need a degree for that. I’d just like a degree to be a better educated person. And I really enjoy liberal arts so I’m looking at maybe a liberal arts degree. I’m thinking about maybe getting possibly a business degree just so that I can be more business savvy for my career. And then I also really love philosophy so maybe like a minor in philosophy or something like that. That’s what I’m standing at right now but that’s probably going to change.
GW: Yeah it’s hard to make a difficult choice like that but like you were saying, there’s plenty of time so I’m sure you’ll figure it out.
GW: Well talking about studies I know that you had started your music with classical training and then kind of segued more into the bluegrass side. But since then, now that you’re growing as a person and your music is changing and growing as well, what other kind of music are you interested in learning or maybe just trying your hand at?
RJ: I’ve really experimented with a lot of different genres in the past and you know, playing the fiddle I really loved it because I was really free to play any genre that I wanted and explore all the different genres. And it’s really important to me to be well-rounded as a musician, so you know, I was able to tour with all different kinds of bands and things. But now I feel like is really the time for me to hone my skills and focus on my music and sound. So I’m not really focused on straying around anymore, and I’m sure maybe down the road I’ll put out some weird album that nobody is expecting. But now I feel like it’s really the time for me as Ruby Jane and as an artist to have a sound. You know because every great artist needs that sound and that defining quality to their music and I want to have music that’s unique from anything else. So right now I’m just really focused with this album, really finding my sound, you know, what is the Ruby Jane sound. So that’s really what I’m working on now, and maybe down the road when I’m a really well established artist I’ll be able to explore maybe some wacky things. As far as the genres of music that I listen to, I listen to just all kinds of music and I’m influenced by all kinds of music. But as far as the music I put out, I really now am focused on capturing what that Ruby Jane sound is.
GW: From all the different kinds of festivals you’ve played at that have a lot of younger bands and groups similar to yourself that are new and fresh to the music scene, is there anyone in particular that has really captured your attention or just inspired you, even in creating your own sound?
RJ: Well, I mean I’m inspired by a lot of different artists. I honestly love a lot of older artists. Well not like old, old older artists, but like Tom Waits and John Lennon and The Rolling Stones and all these really well established artists. But I mean are you asking about newer artists from the scene that I’ve been inspired by or just artists in general?
GW: I’m thinking newer artists because you’ve played kinds of festivals with, not bands that play the same kind of music as you, but they are a newer sound on the music scene. So is there anyone within that grouping of people that you’ve picked up on?
RJ: Well definitely a band that has had a really big impact on my sound in the past and had an impact on me creating this album is My Morning Jacket. And I really love My Morning Jacket because they’ve really achieved creating a sound that is completely unique. And I was able to see them live at ACL Festival back in October which really had a big impact on me because their show is just so amazing and so unique and just so energetic. And I just love their music and I love their lyrics and the message that they send and I just really am a big fan of My Morning Jacket. The main thing that I love about them is just their unique musical sound and so that’s something that I was really inspired by in making this album, because it’s really not able to be classified because they put out some albums that are more rock and put out some albums that are more folk-like. But their sound is unique, and I really, really was inspired by that. So My Morning Jacket would definitely be a big one, and let’s see. Another band that I really loved watching is James Blake and he’s from England and he actually played at ACL this last year as well and he really does have a music that isn’t like anything that I do. But he has a sound that really is...really I look at artists and I look at, when I’m creating my music, I look at artists that are unique and that can’t really be classified as anything because their sound is just so different from any of the pigeonholed genres. And James Blake is like that. Are you familiar with James Blake?
GW: No, that one I don’t think I’ve heard at all.
RJ: Ok, well yeah you should definitely look him up if you get a chance. I can’t even really classify him, but a little bit of it has a little bit of a pop-ish feel but a little bit of it is just very mellow. Like almost just very, very mellow not even rock. I don’t know I can’t even classify it, but he’s experimental and watching him onstage, he plays all his music, or he plays the keyboard. But his band is playing through these electronics, but the music isn’t like electronic music, it’s like a weird kind of mellow...I don’t know, it’s so difficult to classify. But he’s just amazing and he’s like one of the best singers I’ve ever heard in my life, too, so I love him. I also love The Felice Brothers. And I heard them at ACL a couple years ago and I think they were at Walla as well and their music is folk, to the folk side of things with a little rock. But they have a fiddle and they have an accordion and stuff but their music isn’t like bluegrass or folk; it’s leaning more toward the wacky, rock-ish side, but they have all these different instruments. And they’re music is very kind of carefree but they’re lyrics are really great, so I love The Felice Brothers. I guess those would be three big ones for me.
GW: Ok, cool. I know My Morning Jacket but the rest I’ll definitely have to take a look into, sounds worth it.
GW: You had mentioned that there are a lot of older influences like the big name, staple musicians that have influenced you. And there are others of those that you’ve toured with or played with or have even been taught or mentored by. Is there anyone that you have yet to work with but you would jump at the opportunity to do so?
RJ: Oh so many, so many. I mean I’ve been really lucky. Like one of my biggest influences is Willie Nelson and so just to have the opportunity to tour with him is life changing, you know. But I guess if I had the opportunity to collaborate in any way with Tom Waits, I think my life would be complete, honestly. I have really big goals for myself, you know, and I really want to be a huge influence and have a huge impact in the music world. But I think that, I don’t know. I mean obviously those goals are huge but if Tom Waits like said, do you want to like....write a song with me or play on this track on my album or anything, honestly. Anything. I think I would be like, my life is complete, if I died now all my dreams came true. I love Tom Waits and he’s such an influence on me. So given the opportunity to work with Tom Waits I would love. I also love The Rolling Stones and I love Keith Richards and I would love the opportunity to share a stage with them. And I know they have their more countryed-out sound, but I’ve also played rock too, so any opportunity to get on stage and jam out with Keith Richards...I would just love that. So, let’s see, I guess those are the main two. But I also love Erykah Badu and any opportunity to work with her would be just amazing, even though she’s not the same genre as I am. I just, I admire her so much.
GW: Yeah, all of those would be really fun sounding to me.
GW: Cool. Well outside of being on stage and performing in front of audiences you’ve also done a little bit of work behind the scenes, on your own record being the co-producer for that. Are you interested in learning more about the technical, sound engineering side of the music business as well?
RJ: I’ve learned a little bit about engineering and the technical production of that, that’s not like a priority for me. But as far as producing, I’d like to be at the point one day where I can completely have artistic freedom to produce my own album. And I obviously would love the opportunity to work with amazing producers and with the next album I already have a few producers where I’m like, oh I would really love to work with him. But I know what I want my sound to be and I know before even going into the studio. I don’t go into the studio thinking, ok, I have this song let’s see what happens with this track. I already have an exact sound in my mind and I mean, I do a little bit of experimenting in the studio once the bases of tracks are down, but pretty much I know exactly what I want every song to sound like. I think just going into every studio I’ll always have my hand in the producing pot, whether that be me producing the album all on my own or working with another producer, just because I’m very particular about what I want my sound to be, which I think is a good thing. I think I would rather be like that than be an artist that’s going to put everything in the hands of another person, you know. Because I really understand my music and my lyrics and I understand the message I want to send. So I think that I’ll always take a really big part in the production aspect of the album, just because it is so important to me.
GW: Right, yeah. It sounds like you’ve met a lot of your goals already, but like you said, you have big goals for yourself, you want to be a huge influence and have a big impact in the music world. But I also had read in your blog that in achieving that you don’t want to lose sight of yourself and who you are. So where do you want your future to take you or what do you envision for yourself at this point?
RJ: Well, ever since I was young and started playing music...I mean honestly since I was two, three years old I had the same exact goal. And honestly the sky is the limit for me, like I want to be someone like The Rolling Stones and I want to be someone like Johnny Cash and like the Beatles and like Radiohead. I want to be one of those staples that has had such a huge influence on music and is so distinct from anyone else but that really altered a lot of sounds in the music business. I want to be that big and I want to be one of those people, but it’s also important to me because I see a lot of young people today kind of looking at celebrities and looking at stars and having, thinking the wrong message and thinking that the goal of life is to be, you know, rich and beautiful and have a lot of friends and a lot of money. And instead I want them to be able to look at someone like me and see someone that has achieved their goals but is someone famous for making a positive impact and not just famous for being rich and partying hard. I want to be one of those people that helps to redefine what it means to be a celebrity and I want to be a really positive role model. And it’s really important to me to influence other teenagers and other you people. And I do a lot of things even now, I do a lot of stuff in schools and stuff. It’s just important to me to kind of show them that you can have goals and that you really can achieve anything, but that it’s important to want to achieve something that can make a positive impact, not just because you want to be famous. So I want to help to be a positive role model for younger people and also I just want to have a big influence on the actual sound of music as well.
GW: Right. Those sound like really good, inspirational, big goals.
RJ: Thank you, I appreciate that. And I apologize, that was really vague and really broad. It’s difficult in the music business to know exactly what your path to getting to your goal is just because it’s so...you can’t really expect what’s going to happen next. And if you would have asked me three years ago, you know, I would have had the same goals I have now, but I never would have been able to tell you how I would have gotten to this point that I’m at now. So, I mean obviously having Grammys is a goal for me and all of those kind of goals. But I really don’t even know at this point exactly what my path is going to be to getting to that goal. There’s so many different ways to become well known in the music business now and all that is changing so much. So I’ll always have those broad goals and I’m just kind of along for the ride as far as how I get there.
GW: Yeah, that sounds excellent. Well I think that is all I had for you but thank you so much for calling in and taking the time, I really appreciate it.
RJ: Yeah, thank you Angela. And again I’m sorry we were a little late there. We’re running around packing to leave for Fort Worth and I was like, oh my gosh I’ve got to call. So I do apologize for that, but thank you.
GW: Oh yeah, no worries. I hope that goes well and that your little bit in Finland there is a fun time also. And hopefully we will see you come through Colorado one of these days.
RJ: Yes, definitely. Ah, I love Colorado, so I hope so.
GW: Yeah, we’ll keep an eye out and hopefully we’ll see you then. But good luck to you and thank you again.
RJ: Ok, thanks so much.
GW: You’re welcome, bye.