INTERVIEW: Ruth Ruth
Chris Kennedy -- vocals/bass (RCA Records)
By: Alex Steininger
Touring is not a glamorous life. But, like many bands, touring is Ruth Ruth's life. One of the hardest working bands -- and most dedicated -- today, Ruth Ruth is currently en route to your town to promote their new album, ARE YOU MY FRIEND? (RCA Records).
One of the best pop albums of the 90's, from one of the best pop bands in the 90's, ARE YOU MY FRIEND? joins the ranks of a handful of albums that can make you rock out one moment and the next moment make you feel deep emotions. Whether the beats are hard driving, or Chris' delicate voice is softly slipping out, Ruth Ruth keeps you wide-eyed from beginning to end.
Talking to Chris via phone during yet another tour, we discussed the new album and their future tour plans, as well as several other things about the band -- past and present.
Alex: How does it feel to finally be on a label, and get your long-awaited follow-up to THE LITTLE DEATH (Epitaph) out?
Chris: It's a combination of relief, fear, and being happy. A lot of hard work and time went into getting the record out. We originally recorded the album for American [Recordings], but once it was done we didn't want to give it to them. We just wanted out of our deal with them, because we didn't like the people. But our new deal came about in a strange way. We weren't shopping demos around or anything like that, because we really couldn't. We were still under contract with American. We were doing a weekly time slot at a club in New York City -- The Continental -- and one day some reps from RCA came in there and they liked us. They approached us and were like, "We like you guys. It's too bad you're under contract." We were like, "We're not under contract, though." So, from there, we worked to get out of the American deal.
Alex: How was your recording experience different on ARE YOU MY FRIEND? compared to past sessions?
Chris: It was very different. I did a lot of the producing, and Chris Shaw did the engineering. In the past I have always had a finger in the pie when it came to producing, though. But this time I handled most of it, and I liked it. I want to keep it this way.
Alex: How do you go about writing songs? Do you get an idea and start crafting lyrics, or does the melody come first? Also, is there a certain mood or environment you have to be in to write the songs?
Chris: A lot of the lyrics come from reading and movies. They also come from watching people interact and talking to one another. It all depends on the mood I'm in. A lot of the times I'll start out with a title and go from there. Sometimes I'll have a title going around in my head, but I won't know what to do with it. "Mission Idiot" [Laughing Gallery] was one of those songs. The title was in my head for years before I knew what to do with it.
Alex: Did you alter your songwriting styles any for the new album, or was it a natural progression to a more sophisticated, detail-oriented sound?
Chris: I naturally changed my songwriting style a bit for the new album. But I definitely wanted to evolve. I didn't wake up one morning and look into the mirror and decide I wanted to change my style, though. I'm not a fan of bands that do the same album over and over again. There are people that want us to make LAUGHING GALLARY all over again, but I just couldn't do that. I mean, we love to play those songs live, and all, but I could never make that record again.
Alex: Did you go into the studio with the full-blown songs, or did they take shape in the studio?
Chris: When we went into the studio, they were completely finished. But it was too much pressure. I basically wrote and recorded all the songs myself on the demo. I put a lot of time into demo'ing, and then I'd have to go into the studio and try to re-create everything for the record. It wasn't as fun. Next time I want to have everyone go into the studio and record. If everyone built the songs together, it would be fun.
Alex: So, you're a multi-instrumentalist?
Chris: Yeah. At least enough to make a demo.
Alex: Did you record any songs for the new album that didn't make the cut?
Chris: Yeah, "Protecto." We thought we'd use it for a 45" in Europe or something. We recorded and finished it, but it just didn't make the record. Other than that, we recorded a whole bunch of material. We did 22-25 songs, and only 13 made it.
Alex: What does RCA have planned to promote you guys, both short term and long term?
Chris: The plan is to have "Chemical Peel" ship to radio as our next single. Other than that, they're going to keep us working. We've never had that before. They want us to work through March to promote the new album. We've never worked an album that long, so it's a new experience for us. Another thing we're doing that we've never done before is headlining shows on tour. It's great to go to Detroit and play for fifty people that are there just for you.
Alex: Touring until March? Do you have any specifics for this tour or any upcoming tours?
Chris: Well, we're in Green Bay tonight. We've never been here before. And just a few days ago we were in Milwaukie. We're basically playing the 'remember us' game. Some of these places we've never been before, and others we haven't been to for a long time. So we're trying to jog everyone's memory on who we are. Then there are those places that we play a lot, like Chicago and New York. We have a great following in both those places, so it's always nice to play for them.
Alex: Is there a common theme or ideal presented throughout the new album?
Chris: If anything, it would be aggravation and emotion. I was going through a very emotional time while recording this record. I wrote a lot of stuff when I wanted to leave American, like "Kaboom!" I was very unhappy, and it shows.
Alex: Were you under the assumption the album would never come out?
Chris: I was counting on the album to never come out. It really affects the recording when you don't know about the label. But I think the fact that we believed in the album really helped us out. We never broke up, although a lot of bands would have under similar conditions, because we believed so much in the album. That's what I attribute it too.
Alex: Is there a re-occurring message that you hope listeners pick up on?
Chris: I'm trying to figure it out, myself. I don't know, though. I want to say "hope." I know I went through a lot of emotions making this album, and I never want to do this again. So, hope would be a good re-occurring message.
Alex: What elements of the new record do you think stand about your past releases, and which ones do you find to be better portrayed, if any, on previous releases?
Chris: I really like the production on the new album. I had a great time doing that. Overall, the whole recording was a lot of fun. We had a good time drum tracking, picking out the tone of the guitars, which guitar to use, amps to use, and everything like that. On LAUGHING GALLARY we just thrashed it out. I love the new album, because it has a bit of everything. From one song to another you can get a totally different feeling. There's the thrash like on "Think! Anatomic" and then there is "Girl From Planet Mars," where we've never been before.
Alex: How did the loss of Dave Snyder [the original drummer] set the band back? How has the new drummer and additional guitarist helped strengthen Ruth Ruth sound?
Chris: At the end of LAUGHING GALLARY, and THE LITTLE DEATH recording, everything was hard. Dave and I weren't getting along, so three weeks before THE LITTLE DEATH was to be released, he quit. Other people would have broken up, but I went into defense mode. I went and tapped all my friends for a drummer, but eventually put an ad in the paper. We auditioned like twenty drummers, and when [Christian] Nakata came along, we knew he was it. All that time I told my manager to not let the label know 'we've broken up,' because I wanted THE LITTLE DEATH to come out. As for the addition of Michael Kotch [second guitarist], it has made up ten fold better. I think the addition of two new people made us take a leap.
Alex: Where do you see ARE YOU MY FRIEND? taking you in the coming months? What are your expectations and goals for the album?
Chris: We want a lot of people to hear it, and look where we're going. We're still in the 'birth' mode. People don't know we've got a new album out. Also, more radio play would be nice. We want a hit. A label that will be there to nurture us and watch us grow would also be nice. We haven't put out a second album on a label, so that's kind of scary. I'd like to have breathing room. I don't want to have to worry about the word 'dropped' hanging over my head.
Alex: Have you began to think about your next album?
Chris: I'm concentrating on the new album, so no! We want to promote the new album and get the word out about it. We're just living day by day.