Having crossed the pond to explore musical opportunities in Europe, US-born singer-songwriter Ruby Jean Rose is about to embark on an experimental new cabaret adventure, incorporating drag, burlesque and live music.
Ahead of her upcoming performance at Toast Hawaii, the composer chats with indieBerlin about the challenges she’s faced being a woman in music, and navigating the Berliner scene as someone who has no intention of pigeon-holing herself.
indieBerlin: For those who aren’t familiar with your work, could you tell us a little about yourself?
Ruby Jean Rose: I’m a singer/songwriter based in Berlin who loves Americana, travel and playing on the streets.
iB: You were born in the US, but moved to the UK as a teenager. How did you find the transition from one music scene to another, and do you think there are any notable differences?
RJR: When I lived in the States, I was more into classical music and theatre – I played cello in orchestras and acted in plays. Moving to the UK is what really made me pick up a guitar and start writing my own songs. So it’s hard to say whether I transitioned from one music scene to another at that period in my life. Moving to Berlin from the UK felt more like that. Both the US and the UK have very competitive music scenes, whereas Berlin has a real charming sense of community that I haven’t seen anywhere else. That being said, I’ve returned to Los Angeles a few times over the last few years and I like what’s happening in their folk scene.
iB: Talk us through your latest record – what’s the inspiration behind it?
RJR: I had these songs I’d been performing for quite some time and really needed to get them down. The last few years held some major changes in my life and I really wanted a record of the whole process. I took a combination of songs old and new and did my best to piece together what healing sounds like. Also, Nancy Sinatra & Carole King.
I want to see more trans, women of colour, and non-binary fem-identifying people being present in music worldwide.
RJR: When I was 21 I ran a big burlesque/live music for Brighton Fringe and fell in love with Cabaret instantly. For my latest record release show I really wanted to replicate something similar; by accident the performance and music followed a contingent story-line. It felt like all my experiences being rolled into one; I was so moved I felt I had to do it again. Toast Hawaii asked us to come back, so I’ve decided to do this show for my birthday. This time with a script!
iB: As you used to work as a sound engineer, I can imagine it might be tricky to get out of the technical headspace and into a creative one when performing, if that makes sense! Would you agree with this? Do you think your technical knowledge has helped you as an artist?
I wouldn’t agree with that at all! I’m a live sound engineer, so it fits in perfectly with what I do. Knowing what sounds good and how to ask for what you want, definitely helps. I play a lot of concerts where I have to do my own sound so I’m forever grateful for my training.
iB: Fair enough! How have you found your experience as a woman in music?
RJR: It’s definitely harder, I really wish I could say that it’s the same but it’s not. Especially when it comes to performing on the street. I’ve put up with a lot of harassment and am often in situations where the girl/boy ratio strongly leans towards the latter. Things are slowly getting better, I’m seeing a lot more women playing on the streets and taking up more space on lineups. I’m also surrounded by a lot of open-minded and supportive men who I owe a lot to. However, I want to things taken further. I want to see more trans, women of colour, and non-binary fem-identifying people being present in music worldwide.
My whole life has had a lack of identity and I’d like to illustrate how wonderful that can be – people are far too multi-faceted to be put in boxes!
iB: Are there any musicians with whom you would particularly like to collaborate?
Like if I could wave a magic wand? I love Aoife O’Donnovan, I’m With Her and Punch Brothers. It would be a dream come true to work with musicians that good. I guess while I have my magic musician collaboration wand I’d summon up Roy Orbison and Patsy Cline from the dead. In reality, I would like to start a fem string band.
iB: Do you have any upcoming projects you’d like to share with us?
RJR: The Cowboy Cabaret at Toast Hawaii on the 18th! I’m quite focused on growing this concept into taking on bigger venues and eventually hitting the road. However, I did just compose a soundtrack for my friend’s short film; picking up my cello again has opened my mind to exploring this world a little more. Maybe, might also be recording an album this summer.
iB: Exciting! What does the future look like for you? Is there anything you’re particularly looking forward to?
RJR: I know it’s the third time I’ve brought it up in this interview, but I’ve had a crazy vision with the Cowboy Cabaret and I have to run with it. I want to put on shows that are not quite theatre, not quite concert. I want to create story-lines that are sex positive and inclusive; to make an atmosphere that is weird and whacky yet moving.
My whole life has had a lack of identity and I’d like to illustrate how wonderful that can be. People are far too multi-faceted to be put in boxes! So I’d love to have this crazy circus that travels around the world, keep making records and maybe write some film scores. Just a couple things really.