I had meant to ring Ruthie to speak about her music but 30 seconds in, we're getting bang into literature instead. Virginia Woolf, to be specific, and Ruthie's observation that Woolf constantly used food in her work. “The way she writes about women and cooking… it can be a great thing that brings people together, but it can also be difficult for women, in that their lives are making food,” she says. “Even now, we kind of gender food.” My mind swings to a piece published in Hazlitt three years ago, where Jess Zimmerman writes about how a woman’s appetite is not supposed to exist. I make a mental note to email it over. I feel like we could speak about this subject all day.
The reason we’re chatting, though, about this is because Ruthie – real name Naomi Baguley – is currently doing an MA in English Literature at Leeds, where she's lived for six years. It makes sense. The three tracks she’s put out so far, “What Kind of Woman”, “Spirit Now Moves” and as of today, “Land Of My Lover” wouldn’t sound out of place in a poetry anthology. Her lyrics, too, are awash with imagery and visual metaphors. In the latter track, premiering below, she sings: “Like winter sunshine, I am cold, deep inside / But I am bright, I am bright,” over sweet, 70s-style piano chords, her voice almost wavering, her melodies full and languid.
It’s a far cry from the music she was releasing before, as the front person of DIY grunge-punk four-piece Bruising (we actually premiered one of their tracks in 2016). Back then, it was all about thick, melancholic riffs and thrashing pop choruses. Her voice sounds just as syrupy sweet in Bruising, but it gets buried between propulsive chords. As Ruthie (which she works on with her ex-Bruising bandmate Ben), her words are given space to breathe. You can hear each word and subtle shift in tone, as if she’s properly absorbing her own sentiment, and ensuring the listener does too.
But anyway, after chatting about Virginia Woolf for quite some time, we did manage to get onto other subjects. Here's everything I learned about Ruthie:
SHE LIVED IN BERLIN FOR A YEAR
“I was studying there. I took a history course about Riot Grrrl and an art history course about American art. I lived in the far West of Berlin, I didn't live in the cool bit. But we were one train ride away from a huge lake, and me and my best mate used to go to that lake every day. At the time, I was in a long distance relationship, so it was nice to have my friend there with me.”
SHE’S OBSESSED WITH THE BEATLES…
“When I was a kid I was a Beatles fangirl, decades too late. I was obsessed with them, and thought I was going to marry Paul McCartney. I still am obsessed. I also love Dolly Parton and country music. So I feel like I have an intersection of those swirling out somewhere.”
…BUT THAT DOESN’T MEAN SHE'S 100% RETRO
“I never wanted Ruthie to be a retro project, I didn't want to do the whole 'beehive, winged eyeliner, I'm someone from the 60s and all this music sounds like it'. There's a lot of good music like that coming out, but I didn't necessarily want that. I wanted it to be influenced by that era of classic songwriting, but also sound like it was made by a 23-year-old in 2019. I think that's a hard line to walk because I love the late 60s and 70s, but I'm not going around wearing bell bottoms.”
IT'S ALL ABOUT SADNESS NOW…
“With Bruising, the idea was to be fun, but a bit sad. But with Ruthie I've just gone… full sad. Hopefully this is something people can listen to and find some kinship in how they feel as well. I never want to be like Morrissey – for many reasons – because full self-pity can very quickly turn to irony. And that's also not how I experience things. Even in your worse times, as long as you can laugh at yourself, then it's going to be fine. But also, I was feeling so sad when I wrote these songs.”
… BUT SHE'S LEARNED A LOT FROM SADNESS
“I don't want this to sound too pessimistic, but you cannot trust anything to last forever, or even as long as you think it's going to last. I'm not just talking about relationship, but friendships, and people being in good health, or people living where they're living. All this stuff that was happening to me [when I wrote these], and my first realisation was that whatever I imagined my life was going to be, wasn't going to be like that. But for me, the ability to have hope that something new will come is what makes it change. Does that make sense?”
SHE NAMES EACH YEAR IN HER PHONE NOTES
“I have this thing… in the notes of my phone… when a new year ends, I give it a name. It sounds so hippy dippy. But 2017 was my year of 'Ripping and Burning' which sounds dark, but it wasn't. Then 2018 was my year of 'Bravery', the year I wanted to do everything new. So far, 2019 is the year of 'Plenty'. I cannot believe there's this much for me to take in and experience. Maybe in six months I'll be like '2019 is the year of SHIT.'”
“LAND OF MY LOVER” IS ABOUT MAKING SENSE OF A BREAK UP
“When you're in a relationship with someone, you build up a kind of landscape. You know how to navigate your life through the lens of your relationship, you know where the happy fields are, you know where your home is. But when the relationship ends, the visual map is gone. I felt as if my landscape had been destroyed. But then, the question is: what kind of landscape do I want to build for myself, and how can I create a world for myself that isn't dependent on another person, but that's all mine?”
THE THREE SONGS SHE'S RELEASED ARE A TRILOGY
“What I wanted to do with these three songs is for them to be a story. The first line in the first song is 'What kind of woman would I be?' and in the last line in the last song, the line repeats. When I first asked that question, I felt despondent. But by the end, I'm asking the same question in a hopeful way. That's such a Hannah Montana thing to say, but I think the power of self-definition is what I really wanted to stress.”
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