Insanely charismatic mood-roots singer/songwriter Ruby Friedman and her Orchestra released the video for the “Journey on a Bullet” track this week, and she plays Black Rabbit Rose on Tuesday night, so we chatted about it all.
L.A. WEEKLY: When did you start writing, singing and performing, and when did you start thinking that it could be a serious career?
RUBY FRIEDMAN: I started singing at age two my mom says — in the bathtub with her. She was a professional singer. My mother’s side of the family, many generations back, were all professional musicians — jazz mostly, banjo, piano and vocals, one opera singer. Her father/my grandfather, was a classical violinist as well. We were in New York City a lot when I was a child to catch Broadway shows and that’s where I was first inspired to be a real singer — as in, no microphone needed, huge belters. I couldn’t believe they were real humans. I’ve been obsessed mostly with vocalist/musicians from the 1920s and 1930s but worship the greats, Lee Morse and Jerry Lee Lewis the most, for their all-around style that’s a hybrid.
I started performing around age 5 in musicals. I didn’t realize I was performing though; it’s what I did naturally. Being off stage was always more performative than onstage for a long time, until maybe 4 months ago.
I had a boyfriend when I was in 8th grade who encouraged me to write and sing. He told me it was easy. After that, it was. The songs that come to me that are important are not written because I want to write them. They are written because it feels there is a gun to my head and if I don’t get them out, I will die.
Serious career. Hmmm. I’m not sure those two words describe my path. I mean, I’m serious about my career, but expressing passion, art, poetry and spirit is more important than a career. If my career as a singer/songwriter was more important than those ideals, I would have taken some people up several different offers for a more cemented career path. My career has been pretty stealthy.
Describe your sound/style…
My sound and style is always a familiar nostalgic and transcendental vibe. I like to think that I’m from the far off future attempting to recreate the past and present. Never getting it right. Time travel. I suppose I am writing for the essence of humans, all spirits — to find the common frequency. Hopefully not the least common. It comes from pain and unanswered questions. The kind you may find out the answers to when you are no longer alive.
You’re online location drifts between Portland, New Orleans, L.A. — where are you now? Does the location affect the sound?
I move around a lot. My heart is one place and my body is in another all the time. My spirit is always in New Orleans. My dog Clovis (French Bulldog) couldn’t live full time in New Orleans. Right now we’re mostly in Portland but it looks like I’ll be in Nashville for a while next. I do love Portland though and may stay there as long as I can. Especially with climate change. It’s better for Clovis.
I don’t think the location affects the sound. My influences are always the same musically — jazz blues gospel country. Old, old, old sound but throwing in the irreverent with the reverent. Sometimes I am asked to do certain things for a film and TV or book trailer, and they already have the sound concept dialed in. But left to my own devices, the lyrical and emotional space is what defines the musical.
The song I wrote about Lee Morse had to be angry and cowpunk-esque and sound like something she’d really sing. But from the future. Her future. “Journey On A Bullet” had to sound like an odyssey of human trial and error across centuries. I think John Fryer and Colin McGuinness really got that down. The extended version is available on the official video only.
What can we expect from this Black Rabbit Rose set?
Well I’m playing with my great players here and they are also my friends. Seven of us. Maybe think Led Zeppelin meets Bessie Smith meets X for this show. I’m looking forward to moving people the way we do and connecting on the deeper levels people appreciate. I love playing that club since the aesthetic pretty much looks the way we sound.
After that, what do you have coming up this year?
Well there’s an EP coming out which will include the latest singles plus the ones that will be released shortly. It’s called Mistress Anonymous because it’s me recording and writing with various producers. I believe it’s a six-song EP. We’ve talked about recording “Aint Got Yo Money” soon and adding it to the mix. That one is always so popular live and it’s not recorded yet.
I also have another 5-6 song EP coming out with the Hit House. I did the Clio Award winning ad campaign for Sony’s Bloodborne with them (also used in Godless) and a lot of video game music with them too. So that collection is dark dark and orchestral and I’m very excited the Bloodborne fans will finally get an EP of music similar to what freaked them out initially. There are some other really cool things going on but I can’t discuss those yet. You know. Superstitious. I also can’t discuss baseball until after the All-Star break so I’m glad you didn’t ask. (Go Dodgers!!!) I am just really grateful to have an audience for what I and my musicians do and look forward to continuing.
The Ruby Friedman Orchestra plays at 9 p.m. on Tuesday, July 9 at Black Rabbit Rose.