Ruby Boots’ debut album, Solitude, has just been released and her national tour kicks of on Friday, May 15, at the Rosemount Hotel with The Ghost Hotel, Flooded Palace and Little Lord St Band. BOB GORDON chats with singer/songwriter, Bex Chilcott.
There’s a song on the album called A Long Time Coming so it must be true. For Bex Chilcott, from studying Basic Music Industry Skills at TAFE, to running open mic nights as she momentarily quit singing to save her voice, to initially embarking on her journey as Ruby Boots in 2010 to releasing her first EPs to maintaining an ever-changing cast of band members… it certainly has been a long time coming for the release of her debut album, Solitude. “Oh darling!” she laughs long and loud at the thought. “It’s been interesting doing the interviews, actually. It’s almost like a stark place to be thinking about it from; I’ve had to warm to it because I’ve been so desolate in my thought process around it. “I’m leaps and bounds away from when I finished the record and was first really excited about it. And I’m still excited about it, but it’s hard to go back to those places emotionally. I feel like I’ve been touring it already even though it wasn’t even out!”
Chilcott says that for this chapter, the album had its beginnings in 2012.
“I had started writing a few songs, but it was in ‘13 that the songwriting really started cranking up. I did a couple of trips overseas to Nashville and stayed with Vikki (Thorn, The Waifs) in Utah. It started in ‘12, was recorded in ‘13 and was mixed in ‘14. Nearly three-and-a-half-years ago.”
During that time of with all the stops and starts of writing, recording and touring, Chilcott played a few new tracks to Universal Music MD, Michael Taylor, in Sydney (she is now signed to Universal affiliate, Lost Highway).
“As I left he said, ‘just keep on writing songs Bex’,” she notes. “I really took heed of that. I wrote 33 songs or something like that. I’m so glad I did. I’m so glad I kept writing before I did the track-listing because I used some of the last of those songs. I could see myself developing away from where I was I was writing into before and where I’m writing now. It wasn’t so much that poppy/folky kind of stuff. I think internally I have a lot more grit inside of me, inside my soul, than that music displayed. I was getting bored really fucking quickly (laughs) so I’m glad I kept writing and really searching inside myself of where I wanted to write from and what I wanted to write about.”
Trips to Nashville for songwriting and recording eventuated. The importance, for Chilcott, of visiting the American heartland cannot be overstated.
“I think it was pretty pivotal, because in 2012 smack bang in the middle of that was when I started co-writing with people and in the heart of Nashville writing that kind of music was a real eye-opener, especially recording over there. You could get any player at any time of the day or night to come over and make shit sound good (laughs). And really have it sound authentic. Everyone was living and breathing it.
“I guess I was searching for a place of belonging in it all. I’ve always written alternative country, Americana stuff, you can hear it in my very first EP. So it’s not something I’ve gravitated toward, it’s just always been that way. I don’t know why; it just has. But really feeling that sense of belonging when I was over there it was like, ‘Okay. Now I know where I can take this’. I know that I can be really true to myself just by feeling it around me.”
Another important step forward for Chilcott was visiting Utah to co-write songs with Vikki Thorn, after a recommendation by Waifs’ manager, Phil Stevens.
“It was really daunting because I had zero idea of where I was going and what I was walking into,” she says. “I mean, there’s nothing around where she lives, so it was like throwing yourself in the deep end, with someone I’d admired for so many years, and in my formative years of writing. I still do. It was rewarding, refreshing and relieving, is probably the best way to say how it felt that we got along well. Donna (Simpson, Thorn’s sister) was like, ‘wow, I’ve never seen Vikk get along that well so quickly with another female (laughs)’.
“It worked out so well that I went back a few months later to write some more. We finished Ruby Blue and I got Baby Pull Over out of those sessions. The Middle Of Nowhere was from the first one. She’s just been a really good friend and writing partner. It can be really serious at times and funny at others. We explore all the colours of the rainbow together.”
While guitarist, Lee Jones, and bass player, Belle Harvey, are key members, Chilcott has a rotating line-up of members in Melbourne and Sydney, allowing her to tour more freely.
“It all kind of depends on how much the tour’s paying me and how many flights I have to catch as to who I can take with me.
“Emotionally it can be quite tumultuous because you are sharing the stage with people and you want to feel connected which is why I take Belle and Lee with me whenever I can. With those two guys standing by my side it always feels cool and connected, but at the same time I have a full Sydney band that I use over there now and it does make it a lot easier to tour.
“I played at Tamworth on the main stage without having met my drummer other than speaking on the phone. Wow! But that’s what I can do now if it has to be done. It happened and we pulled it off. At the end of the day it taught me that I have to hold it down no matter what happens. I have to be strong enough and confident enough to hold it down. I know my songs and I know I can sing them with all my heart and hopefully that cuts through anything.”
Somewhat inevitably, the stage name is taking over from Chilcott’s own. Many seem unaware about her real name while others just prefer to think of her as Ruby Boots.
“It’s happening already,” she notes. “And some people ask if I mind if they call me Ruby and I’m like, ‘sure go for it!’”
In some respects it seems that a persona has evolved. However, it’s not how Chilcott positions Ruby Boots, but how the stage name positions her.
“I have to agree with that,” she says. “I was just thinking about this before over my morning coffee at a friend’s house I’m minding. I did 18 shows in March, and there I was sitting in silence. I lose myself in the music sometimes because it’s so hectic all the time. I forget who I am as a person at times because I’ve got my blinkers on and I haven’t seen my friends in so long. I barely have time for my family. I suddenly become Ruby Boots… just to get through it. You have to, to have that level of energy.
“I sometimes have to rediscover who Bex is rather than who Ruby Boots is – who is this constant performer and artist.”