Folk music fans might know Ruth Moody best as part of The Wailin’ Jennys, but she has also made a name for herself as a solo performer and driving force behind the band she fronts.
Ruth’s album Wilder Things garnered widespread critical praise. “Ruth Moody hits the ball out of the park on this atmospheric second solo album,” No Depression raved. “If you like such artists as Mary Black and Nanci Griffith, you really ought to hear this.”
We are excited to have Ruth – and the latest incarnation of her band – in Daniels Hall on Friday, June 23. We caught up with her via email to discuss new projects, life on the road, and how she connects with audiences.
For fans who know you in the Wailin’ Jennys, what can they expect from a concert by The Ruth Moody Band?
There are some obvious similarities – but there is more of a focus on my voice and my songs, and because the three-part harmony is not the main feature, the result is perhaps a more intimate show, with a lot of emphasis on lyrics and mood.
I have an amazing band – Sam Howard on upright bass, Adam Dobres on acoustic and electric guitar, and my brother, Richard, on fiddle, viola and mandolin. They are all world-class instrumentalists and what I love about them is how diverse they are. They can sound delicate and ethereal one moment, and groovy and oldtimey the next. The strings add a really beautiful chamber-grass feel to a lot of the songs. And they all sing, so that adds another dimension, as well. I love that as a writer I can bring anything to them and know that they will take the song exactly where it needs to go. To that effect, a Ruth Moody Band show covers all sorts of genres within the folk realm, and you’ll hear classical and pop influences as well.
Last summer you told the Kitsap Sun you were ready to get back into the studio, and that you were even wood-shedding some tunes with your band. Is there a new project in the works? If so, when can fans expect to see it released?
Yes! There is a new project in the works; I have an album’s worth of songs that I can’t wait to record, but I ended up starting the ultimate project last November instead…I had a baby! So that has pushed the album back a bit. But my plan is to get back to it this fall.
You were born in Australia and are now based in Winnipeg, Canada – where you also grew up – and you spend a lot of time on the road including in the United States. Do you feel a bit of the musical traditions of all of those countries and cultures in your music?
I’m based in British Columbia now – I moved there for the birth of my son and to be closer to my parents. But yes, I’ve always travelled a lot. In fact, I realized that this summer it will be 20 years since I became a professional touring musician. It’s hard to say exactly what informs my writing – I feel a strong connection with Celtic and American folk traditions, for sure. But certainly my travels, my musical upbringing, my love of literature and poetry, and my love of nature are all influences as well.
As you see it, how has touring changed since those early days, both personally and for the music industry?
I remember it being so much about the experience in the early days – every place I travelled to opened my eyes and mind. It was inspiring and romantic. I wrote a lot of songs. I feel like it was a more innocent time, but then I was younger and I was on the road with my first band – nothing can compare to that! I think, as with anything, when you have to be more concerned with making a living and you know a bit more about the way things works, you approach decisions differently. There is more at stake. I guess that can make it more rewarding, too.
As for the industry, it’s changed a lot. The digitalization of music has changed how much artists get compensated for their recorded work. As a result, there are a lot more musicians looking to book shows, because touring is such an essential component of making a living now.
At the same time, social media and music being so easy to acquire has increased fans’ interest in seeing their favourite artists live. And that’s a great thing for a touring musician! It’s much easier overall for fans and artists to connect with each other.
In terms of the actual touring experience, GPS, the iPhone, and all the rest of it make things a whole lot easier. You can find a restaurant, book a hotel, advance a tour, and communicate with your fans, all from your touring vehicle. The other side of that, I suppose, is that it’s hard to be present and receptive to the muse when you’re glued to your device.
Knowing what you know now about touring, what advice would you give to someone who is just starting out?
It’s not for the faint of heart, that’s for sure. It takes a lot of energy and can be quite ungrounding. And the performing part of it makes up only about five percent of the experience. But if someone really loves performing and is willing to work hard and be flexible, there’s nothing quite like it.
When a friend heard you were coming to Swallow Hill they asked if you were going to play “One Voice” – which you wrote and recorded with the Wailin’ Jennys. Do you play “One Voice” with the Ruth Moody Band?
Very rarely. We have on a couple of occasions… but the guys just end up cracking themselves up. It really feels like a Jennys song, after all these years of closing our show with it.
On a related note, I hear “One Voice” being played live quite often – at open mics, at political rallies and other settings. When you wrote the song did you have a feeling it might achieve the success it has, and that it would be a song you would be known for?
No, but I wanted to write something that would bring people together in some way. I had a strong feeling when I wrote it – it came out very quickly, within a couple of minutes really, so that I almost don’t feel like I wrote it. It’s a gift, when it happens that way. It makes me so happy that so many people are singing it now. That was the whole point!
This Q&A was conducted via email with Swallow Hill Music Content Marketing & Publicity Manager Barry Osborne.