Interview with Ruby Rose Fox | By Kelley O’Death

Many descriptors get tossed around in an effort to describe Ruby Rose Fox (www.rubyrosefox.com), from “soulful” and “powerhouse” to comparisons to Lou Reed and Tom Waits, but how does the Bostonian frontwoman—whose first full-length album, Domestic, was released on May 24—define her own musical identity?

“Well, I have an unusually low voice for a woman,” the tenor vocalist begins. “I think it developed because, as a kid, I lost a sister to cancer, and to calm myself, I would heavily imitate Roy Orbison, Elvis, and Judy Garland. I think the low timbre of their voices soothed me and was like a musical balm to my distress. Now, I think my voice calms other people down. I think that’s why people like it.”

The velvety rumble of Fox’s voice is distinctive, but the whole of her musical persona is equally rich and textured. “I’ve had a difficult time with self-definition and a sense of identity for a long time,” she admits, “but I can confidently say I’m invested in feminism. I’m invested in telling stories that are difficult to hear and hard to tell, even when they make people uncomfortable. I’m invested in being loved on the days I don’t feel loved, and sharing grace when I wake up with it.”

Though the moniker “Ruby Rose Fox” has the mellifluous quality of an artfully crafted stage name, it is deeply significant and integrally tied to Fox’s musical mission. “Ruby Fox was my grandmother’s name,” she reveals. “She lived her life in a state-run mental institution. I think this Ruby Rose Fox is about the ‘redo.’ It’s about demanding the boldest and most fiercely-loving version of myself every day.”

Fox’s background is diverse. At different times, she pursued acting, studied classical music, and fronted a ska band called Mass Hysteria. Despite leaving them behind, all of her previous endeavors continue to lurk just beneath the surface of her contemporary work. “I think part of the reason there are nine people in the band is because ska and theater really informed everything about how I put on a show!” she explains. “My acting training taught me everything I know about voice, storytelling, and the magic that can happen for an audience.”

Fox’s band is eponymous, but the nine-piece ensemble—which includes three backing vocalists dubbed The Steinems in honor of feminist icon, Gloria—is truly a team on which every member contributes to creating the experience of Ruby Rose Fox. “There have been many versions of The Steinems—originally five and now three—but this version is the best,” Fox attests. “They are more than backup singers… There’s a spirit—the spirit of female friendship, support, and encouraging each other to be as big and brave as possible. I am so lucky to have them in my life. Actually, the first song on the record, [‘Freedom Fighter’], I wrote in my head on the drive back from last year’s tour supporting Martha Davis & The Motels, and I was sitting next to Mally Smith, head Steinem. I think that song came from her.”

“The guys are also amazing,” she continues. “They support me and do whatever they can to create a sound that will support my voice. They are all pros. David Brophy, our drummer, is also my cowriter. He is the Yin to my Yang. Even when I can start paying my band a salary, I like the idea of a band that is not just a group of hired guns. When you really have a band, you can feel it. Plus, I think I’m always looking for family, and this band is like a family.”

At the end of May, that family reached a major milestone: the release of their debut full-length, Domestic. Fox says that completing the record “means I have a cohesive piece that I can hand to someone and feel proud of it. Our fans really made it happen, as did my manager Roger [Metcalf], and my cowriter and producer, David Brophy. David kept sending me tracks to sing to during one of the darkest and saddest years of my life. I had been feeling very broken, and I’m not sure I could have made this album alone.”

Fox’s lyrics stem from both social critique and her own personal curiosities, and the words that accompany the 12 expansive, nigh-cinematic soundscapes on Domestic are no exception. “I was healing from a traumatic relationship and I got obsessed with American history, particularly the Cold War,” she says of the seed that would eventually grow into the album’s 10th song, “Ronald Reagan Killed the Radio.” “I probably watched 100 YouTube documentaries on the subject, and because I was emotionally distressed during this time, it all felt very real and immediate to me. The moment I couldn’t step away from was the moment Ronald Reagan and Gorbachev met at the White House and came so close to nuclear disarmament—but Reagan was tired and wanted to have dinner instead. I think I was looking for answers in my own life.”

“There’s also a song on the record called ‘Dirty Dog,’ which is about a group of old women who embrace fashion and general fabulousness in their old age,” she adds. “There’s a documentary on the subject called ‘Advanced Style.’ I started writing a song critiquing our youth-obsessed culture, but it kept coming off wrong. It felt like a bummer. I think that’s when you know you need to turn a song inside out and focus on what you want to see, not what you don’t. Every song is different and has its own rules.”

Despite the depth and complexity of her writing process, Fox says that once the record reaches listeners, she just hopes that “they feel something. That they feel like their time wasn’t wasted.” And though the band have been honored with and nominated for several awards over the last couple years, plus received a deluge of critical acclaim, Fox says, “I still stand firm about the importance of making a living over fame. I mean, anyone can get famous in a post-Warhol universe. That said, I’m actually completely honored by anyone who supports and loves the music. The connection with my fans and band is really my whole life and feels very real and genuine. If that’s what fame is, then… Bring it on!”

Fox will be able to connect even more closely with fans this fall when the band tour in support of Domestic. Fox and co. are still working to finalize the dates, and she exclaims, “If you want us in your town, let us know!” Their fans are likely to do just that, as Fox credits their involvement and commitment with much of the band’s success up to this point. “I just want to stress that it really was the fans and a few angel donors that made this all happen,” she asserts. “We have no label support. They just believed in the art and invested in it. So, thanks to them.”

Pick up Domestic here.

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