Ruth B .
PHOTO : CARAS / IPHOTO
RUTH B . PERFORMING AT THE 2017 JUNO AWARDS having fun . And then the other half of it kind of took me back to my roots , because with quarantine and COVID , I came back to Edmonton and just started writing again from home in my room .”
Those writing sessions would often take place at 1 a . m . with the singer starting “ with no melody and no lyrics . And then in like two hours I ’ d have a song that I ’ m super proud of and obsessed with .”
Other songs would be laboured over for months on end , pieced together a lyric at a time .
“ For me , there ’ s no proper way of doing it . It ’ s just whenever inspiration hits . I do really enjoy the process of just sitting there with nothing , and then finishing with a song . And usually that , for me , starts with playing chords .”
There ’ s a rumour that Paul McCartney would write songs by chanting nonsense words ( the legend is the original hook to “ Yesterday ” was “ scrambled eggs ”) and Ruth B . follows a similar method .
“ I find it ’ s the best way , because even singing nonsense , or you can literally just talk about your life , but singing it . I ’ ll sing about what I ’ m going through , what I ’ ve been upset about , what I ’ ve been happy about , and then something in there just makes sense .”
While Safe Haven was the work of one young woman , on Moments in Between , she threw herself into the collaborative process .
She asked her management to set her up on a series of “ blind dates ” with various producers in New York . For the first time , she found herself with co-writers whose other credits include big names like Solange and Ellie Goulding .
The outside input is detectable in subtle ways : the hip-hop beat and synths of “ Holiday ;” the acoustic guitar that drives “ Sweet Chamomile ” and “ Favourite ;” the jazzy chords in first single “ Dirty Nikes .”
“ This was a whole new experience of letting other people into the writing process . So , I just said , ‘ I don ’ t want to be biased , I don ’ t want to research anyone . Just throw me in there with whoever and let ’ s see what happens ,’” she says . “ So , I started doing that and then I kind of found two or three that I really , really vibed with and became friends with them and we just started writing . It was really weird at first because it was such a ‘ me ’ thing ; writing was very intimate to me . But I think if you find the right people , it actually makes it so much more fun and so much more beautiful . Putting your mind in someone else ’ s and seeing what you both can come up with is so much fun .”
Perhaps no song shows the strengths of this approach to writing as much as “ Situation .” The wistful atmosphere combines with lyrics like , “ You say we ’ re having fun , then you say I ’ m the one / But this is so dumb , got me confused ” to perfectly capture the ennui that comes with dating in your 20s . It ’ s no wonder that Ruth B . points to the track as her favourite on the album .
“ I really love the production on that song . I love the sound and I love the story of it , too ,” she says . “ It ’ s super honest about a time when I was just confused in this relationship ; I didn ’ t know what was going on . I think it encapsulated that feeling , particularly the bridge . I ’ ve always wanted to try a bridge like that , where it was just like seven words , but really pretty .”
With four years spent on the album , there was plenty of material that didn ’ t make the cut . Some older songs were cast aside in the interest of the album feeling like a cohesive whole that represented a portrait of Ruth B .’ s current life . Others have seen the light of day as singles released to tide fans over . And then there ’ s “ If I Have a Son .”
Released in June 2020 at the height of the Black Lives Matter protests that followed the murder of George Floyd by a Minneapolis police officer , “ If I Have a Son ” paints a stark and heartbreaking portrait of the fear that police violence strikes into communities . “ If I have a son , I ’ ll teach him to be brave . Cuz if I have a son , he ’ s never really safe . When you run to the corner store for a snack , I want to know you ’ ll make it back ,” Ruth B . sings over a simple , mournful chord progression .
By all the metrics that made “ Lost Boy ” a hit , “ If I Had a Son ” was not . But the song may have been Ruth B .’ s greatest artistic
36 CANADIAN MUSICIAN