Although originally from a tiny town in Northern California, Ruby Landen’s journey to her debut album takes in two of the biggest cities in the world. Aged 18, Ruby uprooted herself and moved to Paris, for what she has described as a musical awakening, whilst busking in metro stations and performing in bars and cafes. On returning to the states, Ruby settled in Brooklyn and discovered a musical community, including the performers who would help shape her new record, Martyr, well, which is out now.
The follow up to a series of well-received EPs, Martyr, well is something of a thematic departure for Ruby, foregoing her previous flirtations with metaphor and instead focusing in on an unflinching glance at memories and their ability to continue to shape the people we are today. At the heart of the record, Ruby seeks to explore the idea of relationships, whether that is with her family, the wider community or herself. Particularly compelling are the songs that reflect on Ruby’s relationship with her parents, particularly the previous single, I Look Like My Mother, which premiered on this site. The track is an exploration of the burden placed upon women and how that can be passed through generations, as well as a reflection on her relationship with her father, and how it shapes her relationship with other men in her world. Throughout the record, Ruby presents a feeling of rootlessness, and how that ties into ideas of not truly knowing herself, present in None Of It Was Mine when she sings, “to stay still long enough that your roots start to take, just to be ripped out again and put on display”. Particularly raw is the closing track, Self Help, a song written for a person who tried to make Ruby into something she is not, “I danced in your reflection and you did the same in mine, you made me in your image but it’s your version I don’t mind”. For all the lyrical progress, musically too Martyr well is a record that stretches Ruby Landen’s sound, while her transatlantic take of folk still incorporates elements of British, American and Celtic folk music, here she seems to incorporate more of herself into the sound, channelling the straight-talking melodic style of Joni Mitchell or Laura Marling, alongside fluttering finger-picked guitars and waves of strings. Ultimately this is a deeply personal record, yet it reaches outward rather than pulling back. Like a particularly tricky jigsaw puzzle, Ruby Landen’s music seems to find the joy in the process of reconstruction, not just the finished product.
FTR: For those who don’t know who is Ruby Landen?
I’m a singer/songwriter and guitar player. The songs I write are rooted in various types of folk music (American, English, Celtic) and the melodic and structural shapes are the result of not knowing anything at all about how to play music and alternate tunings. I grew up in a teeny coastal Northern California town, moved to Paris, France at 18 years old, where I lived for almost 7 years, before moving to Brooklyn, NY where I currently am based.
FTR: What can you remember about your first show?
I started playing Celtic fiddle as a tiny 4 year old or something. I don’t think I have ever felt more nervous in all my life than the yearly violin recitals my teacher would put on. My first performances as a singer/songwriter in the Paris metro stripped me of much of my stage fright, though. Most people would walk right past me, though there was the occasional lingerer – sometimes they’d be pleasant, sometimes they were just waiting around for the perfect moment to grab a 5 euro bill and book it. Either way, plenty of room to fuck up and to learn. I don’t remember much about my first show outside the metro other than it being uncomfortably quiet. In retrospect it was actually a pretty noisy bar, just felt quiet due to the absence of trains and RATP announcements.
FTR: Why do you make music? Why not another art form?
Even though I don’t really know how to play music, I feel like it’s the only thing I kind of do know how to do. When I was a kid my older brother used to ask me what I wanted to be when I grew up and I’d always say “musician”. I remember him getting so upset every time I answered that question because of how unrealistic it seemed to him.
I’m also a visual artist – my recent thing is dumb tattoos. Music has always been the center of my life, though. My dad is a guitar player (which is why I ended up gravitating towards guitar – there were always so many around!) and would take me to shows any chance he got. I grew up listening to some incredible stuff, which meant I was always no fun to be around for other kids because I always had something judgmental to say about Britney Spears or NSYNC. I was a very pretentious kid.
Anyway, I think music has always been one of the only things I really intuitively understand. In the writing of Martyr, well, I was able to tap into a sort of honesty with myself that helped me process some of the things in my life, which ended up being really healing. Catharsis in the act of writing and not only in listening is something I’m only now starting to understand.
FTR: What can people expect from the Ruby Landen live show?
A lot of self deprecation and awkward oversharing. A sound tech at Arlene’s Grocery once had to interrupt me mid sentence over the PA to tell me to stop shitting on myself – I’m not a comfortable talker.
FTR: What’s next for Ruby Landen?
I don’t really know. Hopefully some shows and playing with buds again in the near future. Definitely some more writing.
They Listen To…
Half Waif – Sourdough
Cassandra Jenkins – New Bikini
Joshua Burnside – Higher Places
Bill Frisell – Poem For Eva
Arooj Aftab – Mohabbat
Martyr, Well is out now. For more information on Ruby Landen visit https://rubylanden.bandcamp.com/.