For the record, Ruarri can surf, though not well enough to win any prizes. Come late last year, submitting songs for his second album, Ruarri’s rapid rise hit a hitch. His music had matured from the demos of his debut, the oldest of which had been written eight years earlier, in his teens. The label wanted more of the same. After a spot of soul searching and a trip to Thailand to soak up the sun, in January, Ruarri split from Atlantic Records, ditched the material he had been working on and holed up in the shed at the bottom of his garden with an assortment of instruments and a resolve to make exactly the music he had in his head.
By the end of the summer, Both Sides Of The Coin was completed. Its surprise inspiration had been a turbulent few months in the lives of the singer’s family and friends. “The start of this year was a dark time for a lot of people around me,” recalls Ruarri. “My dad was divorcing my step-mum, my cousin had split up with his wife, one of my best friends was in trouble and weird stuff seemed to be happening every day.
It didn’t help that I was unsure of my own future and how I was going to get my music out there.” In one sense, Ruarri returned to his roots. In his teens, he wrote songs to make sense of his life, rather than because he hoped lots of people would hear them. In his shed, he got to grips his own frustrations and the strange situations of those close to him. The result is songs that bristle with tension and trouble, but retain his upbeat pop melodies.
On Red Mist, the laid-back vibe of old has been replaced by forcefully-strummed electric guitar, a hip-shaking groove and a creeping sense that the walls of his world are tumbling in. ‘I wanna know why it has all gone wrong/But somehow my voice is too distant to hear/And no-one is listening in’, growls Ruarri in a voice that tells you his blood has been boiling. “I am not a vengeful person in real life,” he insists. “Infact, I am very relaxed and laid-back, but only because I pour my emotions into the music. Once I’ve written a song, I realise there’s no point staying mad.
It just screws you up.” Album opener Susie Don’t Be Sad sees the singer vent his anger at a former family member – ‘I’m not saying who,” laughs Ruarri, “but she was the devil incarnate” – while wistful break-up ballad More Than Most recalls Tom Waits, documents the failings of men and casts an hypnotic spell with accordion. Not one to let a spiteful woman stand in the way of a pretty tune, on Adam’s Wing, Ruarri recalls the vengeful behaviour of a friend’s ex-girlfriend on an Al Stewart-tinged track with a distinctly murky undercurrent. Yet that is only half the story of Ruarri’s second album. One side of the coin, if you like. In the middle of writing – around March and April – several lives took a sunnier turn, including his own.
His worries about releasing his music went when his former A&R at Atlantic, who had also left the label, heard the new songs and was so blown away he suggested the pair set up independently. Meanwhile, his dad seemed happier single and his friends started getting back on their feet. “All of a sudden, life was going well again,” smiles Ruarri. “I knew my writing had grown-up and got better and that the people I cared for were in a much better place.” And so to the second side of the coin, the happier, more optimistic, latter half of the album. Hope For Grey Trousers is the most joyous sounding, certainly silliest song Ruarri has ever penned.
Based on a blues riff he wrote years ago, but never got round to using, and already a live favourite, it tells a crazy tale that could have come from an old country standard and sends it in to a honky-tonk bar to jam for fun. There We’ll Be is a stunning love song about wires coming uncrossed, a guitar ballad given space to breathe, written in a few blissful hours one night in a hammock on Ko Phi Phi beach. “I used to fill up the gaps in every song, probably because I wasn’t sure of my own ability,” admits Ruarri. “Now I can see that, often, less is more. But I didn’t want the songs to sound too perfect.
I’m not the greatest guitarist, but rather than do fifty takes, I’ll go with the second or third because they have more feeling.” What links the halves of Both Sides Of The Coin is a depth to the songs that didn’t exist on Ruarri’s debut. Thanks to a year spent touring, the songs are tighter; thanks to growing up, the arrangements are more adventurous and the emotions more artfully articulated. Almost every instrument on the album – including guitars, drums, banjo, accordion and harmonica – was played by Ruarri, despite having to move them in to his shed one at a time. “There was some patching up involved,” laughs Ruarri. “I couldn’t play the drums as a whole kit because I only have one mic.
First, I’d do the snare, then the bass and fit them together after. When I brought the accordion in, my guitar had to sit outside because there wasn’t enough room.” Little wonder Both Sides Of The Coin sounds so lovingly crafted. “It was an incredibly satisfying album to make,” says Ruarri. “I’m still proud of Tales Of Grime And Grit, but they were basically pub favourites, songs I had been playing for years to get people to look up from their pints. I love that this album has its own vibe, but two distinct sides.
If you listen from start to finish, the songs make you feel like you’re moving from a dark place in to the light. Er, if it’s not too pretentious to say so.” Given their first live outing earlier this year, when Ruarri supported Seth Lakeman on tour – and even bagged a bunk on his tour bus – the new songs are destined for stardom. “Hm, I’m not sure about that word,” says the unassuming singer. “My ambition hasn’t changed. I just want to continue making music for a living.
That’s what makes me happy.” Read more on Last.fm. User-contributed text is available under the Creative Commons By-SA License; additional terms may apply..
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