New York songwriter explains the stories behind her fiercely independent new EP
Talullah Ruff is an artist with a distinctive sound and a worldview that is truly unique. With an approach to songwriting that echoes her heroes, this is an artist that acknowledges yet moves beyond the light and shadows cast by the giants of the genres in which she works.
Shrewd turns of phrase and dynamic instrumentation that’s smart enough to lead but not drown the sentiments of lyrical content all show Ruff as an artist that is also a avid student of the craft she is mastering.
Her new EP What is Honest is slated for release this summer – and it promises to be one of the most interesting independent releases to emerge from the East Coast this year. ARTISTdirect caught up with Talullah Ruff in her apartment in NYC, to ask about her process, her ambition, and just where she keeps all the candy.
Where are you right now?
I am holed up in my apartment, reminded of how grateful I am to be in New York City.
Tell us about your new project: Who did you work with? Where was it recorded? What’s it about? Is there candy?
My upcoming EP, What Is Honest, is made up of five songs spanning from my freshman year of high school through my sophomore year of college, an amalgamation of my writing and vocal styles and influences. Each song is based upon my own experiences, thoughts, and emotions throughout these years, reflections of my inner workings put into a poetic, musical format.
The recording process was spread out over a few months due to the allotted time for school recording projects, monetary constraints, me just trying to manage all of this for the first time, etc. I really wanted to make the most of the recording studios at my school (The Clive Davis Institute of Recorded Music), so a large part of the recording was done there with project partners and friends.
The recording also took place during a 24-hour session at Brooklyn DIY studio Mama Coco’s Funky Kitchen, which was a real trip (that I also partially can’t remember due to the exhaustion-haze). Cello, violin, and trumpet were recorded in dorms/apartments and I recorded all of the background vocals in my bedroom.
There’s no candy at the moment, but if I had to choose, I’d pair the record with red and black licorice for aesthetic purposes (although I’m actually into the harder stuff: Airheads, Starbursts, Junior Mints, etc. and black licorice disgusts me anyway).
How do you describe your music to new friends?
My music is a blend of ‘70s rock and ‘90s singer-songwriter reflectiveness. Most of my influences are classic/art rock artists, but I also lean towards the abrasiveness of the nineties. My music is very lyric-driven because most of my ability lies in writing and the joy of fitting words together. However, as I’m a very visual person, I also strive to create aesthetics and imagery with my chords/arrangements. But if I was actually speaking this out loud, I’d probably stutter and mumble my way through an approximation of this.
Other than Talullah Ruff, what should your hometown be known for?
I believe Billy Corgan and Grace Slick are from my hometown, which is a thing that it could be known for (you don’t really want to know what I think my town should be known for)… Billy Corgan has a tea shop nearby there that I went to once, but then I accidentally spilled tea and my embarrassment was only furthered by the lady who worked there glaring at me so hard that I never went back.
Please look around you right now and please describe the first item or person you see that’s significant to you (and that your relationship with it/them). Can we see a photo?
One of my most prized possessions is my leather jacket; it was my mom’s when she was at RISD [Rhode Island School of Design] and even then she got it from a vintage shop. But I really enjoy finding and wearing pre-loved clothing from different eras. In the case of the jacket, it was worn-in by my mom (and it’s a badass oversized leather jacket) so it feels like slipping on a second protective skin when I wear it.
What first inspired you to pursue music? If it was a musician or a specific piece of music, please tell us all about why you find it so inspirational…
Music has always been vastly important to my life and growth, but I think the first artist/album that truly made me feel like I wanted to write songs for a living and perform them, was the album Grace by Jeff Buckley. His music was introduced to me by an ex-boyfriend, which is sort of unfortunate, except that his music has honestly made my life better. In listening to his expansive vocals, intricate melodies and instrumentation, and mystifying lyrics, I learned the depths of what talent means and what your talent can mean to other people.
I first truly listened to his music during a difficult time, and it made me feel like he was the friend or teacher I needed, helping me through, despite his not physically being there and all of our other differences. The way his music helped me made me realize that there’s a capacity to help people through your art- no matter how dissimilar you may seem- and I knew then that that’s what I want to do for people with my own music.
What’s the best advice anyone has given you about pursuing a life in music?
If you’re not rocking the boat or pissing somebody off, then you’re not doing it right.
Not including your current crew, who (alive or dead) would you love to have in your van for an all day drive from gig to gig?
I would love to spend time picking the brains of Tori Amos, Prince, David Bowie, Freddie Mercury, Jeff Buckley…
What song best sums up your life right now?
I think there are way too many songs that I would love to insert here, but a song I’ve been listening to a lot lately is “You Could Make a Killing” by Aimee Mann. It’s perfect for being a superb cliché on the subway late at night.
What is the best reaction to your music you have experienced so far?
I think some of the best reactions were a couple people saying that my lyrics captured something they were feeling, or they were really able to connect with a certain lyric. That reaction means everything to me.
Take a moment to dream – Where do hope to be a year from now?
Hopefully a year from now I’ll be playing steadier shows (with steadier crowds) and my fan-base will be a bit more secure. That pretty much broadly encapsulates my hopes and plans…
What’s your next step towards that dream?
I’m about to release two more singles with visuals to accompany them, and I’m also getting together more shows for the next couple of months!