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Ruarri Joseph Interview

Faye Aitken-Smith


Having just released his new album, Shoulder to the Wheel, Ruarri Joseph gives us an insight into the life of a singer songwriter.

MTTM: Your latest album, Shoulder to the Wheel, was quite reflective and I felt contained heartache, was this the case personally at the time?

Ruarri: I like to think that whatever heartache is on there is balanced by a sense of hope.  I’ve made the mistake before of singing songs that take you to a place you don’t really want to go, and if there was one objective for me as a songwriter, it’s that I wanted the songs to lift me up when I sang them.  Orchard For An Apple is about that; “I threw myself in at the deep end from the highest darkest height, but that’s alright”.  Bad stuff happens and there’s nothing you can do except try and find some way of dealing with it and that’s the vibe I hope comes across in the record.  It’s reflective but not necessarily personal.

MTTM: Do you think the album had enough time spent on it, being released so soon after the second album?

Ruarri: Well the second record was released in March 2009 but I’d finished it probably summer 2008, but because I was releasing it myself, I had to learn about how to go about doing that which is why it took so long to get it out.  And this new one comes out November 2010 though again it was finished in the spring, so I think that’s plenty of time between records.  

MTTM: How did it come about doing the cover of Rich Folks Hoax?

Ruarri: Rich Folks Hoax was one of the last ones to be recorded.  It always was a song that meant a lot to me and I’d been playing it for a while.  I like records to have some kind of narrative and there seemed to be a gap for a song with that kind of angry vibe, so I just thought why not stick it on there?  I wasn’t going to write a better one and I liked the idea of the angry song not being my own.  Passing on the bad vibes and letting someone else’s song tell my story you know?  Cheers Rodriguez!

MTTM: Do you find it hard to be creative under pressure or motivating?

Ruarri: It depends really.  Sometimes pressure is what you need to be able to see things how they really are.  Other times the music and creative process might need space and time that a deadline just wouldn’t give you.  My new album needed that space and as soon as I backed off, it all came together.

MTTM: You’ve toured all around the country, do you have a favourite venue where you most enjoy playing?

Ruarri: Favourite venue is a tough one.  The Falmouth Pavilions has become the local homecoming kind of place where it’s always special to play.  Further afield, some of the more obscure venues have been fun.  Like Holmfirth where they filmed Last of the Summer Wine, which is this tiny little idyllic village in the Yorkshire dales and smack bang in the middle is a hulking great music venue called the Picturedrome.  That was cool.  The Buxton Opera House is pretty special too.  I prefer the old fashioned venues to the new fangled ones with no character.

MTTM: Do you think you will stick to your own label PIP for future albums and if so what are the main benefits of doing that?

Ruarri: I set up PIP because I wanted to know what it was like at the opposite end of the scale from Atlantic Records.  My main thing is to have creative control of the record and being on your own label definitely gives you that but I’m not naturally a business man so when it came to doing the business stuff, I felt I got bogged down in it and the creative side wasn’t getting enough attention.  So I’m not closed to other options in the future at all but right now my objective is to find a balance between my two different experiences and so making the record on PIP but then licensing through ACP Recordings seems to be working out just fine.

MTTM: If you could tour with anybody who would it be and why?

Ruarri: I’m not sure really.  Not Dylan, he’s been on tour for the last 20 years or something ridiculous, he must be knackered.

MTTM: Who are your greatest inspirations?

Ruarri: Musically I’d have to say Tom Waits is someone who has inspired me a huge amount over the years.  I heard a song of his once at a party and it stuck in my head so I spent the next few months buying his records trying to find this song.  So I’d just listen through from start to finish hoping to track it down and finally got it on about album number seven.  But in doing that the music had completely soaked in and it’s unbelievable.  Then obvious influences like Dylan, Joni Mitchell, Elliot Smith, Nirvana got me started on the guitar, Pearl Jam, Blind Melon, Django Riendhart and Steffan Grappelli and all the older stuff which I discovered late on, Link Wray, Rodriguez, The Band, Billie Holiday.  Currently, artists such as Grey Dog and Stornaway where the song is king!