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Interview: Ruthie Collins on ‘Hypocrite’, touring with Sam Outlaw and new music plans

We caught up with the singer-songwriter on her recent visit to the UK.

Ruthie Collins launched her solo career with her self-titled EP back in 2014, and she’s been winning over fans with her delicate, dreamy vocals and gorgeous songwriting.

Her sophomore album ‘Cold Comfort’ – which we gave a rave review to when it was released – was one of the standout records of 2020, and she followed it up with a deluxe edition ‘Cold Comfort +’ this January, including her latest single ‘Hypocrite’. She’s also been wowing audiences on her visit to the UK last month, performing both as a solo act at C2C Festival and alongside Sam Outlaw on his latest tour.

Whilst she was here, I sat down with Ruthie to talk about her C2C experience, working with Sam, her approach to her songwriting and her plans for the rest of the year.

How did you find the experience of playing at C2C?

It was amazing. It was so great to be back in London. I came here in October 2020, when we thought everything was opening back up and then it all abruptly shut down. So I was in London for about a month but didn’t get to play any of the shows, so we did like a live stream instead. So it was so nice to be back in town and having to bring people out and on the streets and actually getting to sing and get to finally experience the UK audience that we hear so much about in America. Everybody just raves about how wonderful it is playing for the UK people, and it was great. Everyone was attentive and singing along and we’re not always used to that in the States, so it was really, really nice.

You’ve also been supporting Sam Outlaw on his UK tour. What can people expect from a typical Ruthie Collins show?

So my shows are normally… I play and I sing, and I write everything and I do a couple of covers. They tend to be very overshare-y – I tell a lot of stories and you’re gonna leave knowing basically everything about my life, whether you want to or not. And then on this tour I also played in Sam’s band, so these shows were really fun because I was singing background and playing guitar for him as well. That was a new experience for me but just so much fun.

How do you find the contrast between going out on stage as a solo artist compared to being part of a band like? Is it a challenge or do you quite enjoy it?

I really enjoy it, because I’m just used to being alone on stage. I play a lot of solo shows and even when you’re getting to play with a band it’s still kind of all on you. You’re the focus, you have to make sure you’re clever and witty and telling good stories, and then of course singing on pitch and all the normal stuff too. So I feel like it’s nice to kind of relieve the pressure a little bit, where you can just enjoy the great part about music, which is just the emotions and getting carried away and the feeling of it.

So I’ve had a great time doing that. Although it is funny, we rehearsed so much for Sam because I didn’t know any of these songs that he gave me – I think 25 or 26 songs to learn in a weekend…

No pressure!

Right?! So I spent the three weeks before I came here just crazy rehearsing with him, and then when I wasn’t with him rehearsing to get ready for the rehearsal. I was joking that I was gonna start singing at C2C and all of a sudden just be singing a Sam Outlaw song because I couldn’t remember how my own went, but that wouldn’t be a terrible thing. His music’s great.

You’ve also recently put out ‘Cold Comfort +’, the deluxe edition of your second album. Why did you feel this was the right time to do a deluxe version?

So we released ‘Cold Comfort’ right at the beginning of the pandemic in April [2020]. So obviously it was terrible timing in as far as the tour got cancelled, the radio tour got cancelled, the UK tour got cancelled, all the press was done over Zoom. So it wasn’t exactly the fanfare that I felt that that record deserved, just because I had worked on it for… I mean some of those songs were like seven years old. So I put years and years of my life into this record, and there’s no record release party or Opry debut – we had to cancel everything. So I feel like it’s such an emotional record, and I’m really proud that we released it at a time when everyone was really feeling their feelings collectively in the world. That was great. But I just feel like it didn’t get the life that it deserved.

So when we were talking about what to release next, we threw out, “well what if we added some songs to Cold Comfort?” and kind of gave it new life that way. Curb [Ruthie’s record label] really loved that idea. So we added my single ‘Hypocrite’ and three acoustic tracks, and ‘Cold Comfort +’ is now out in the world and it’s been great. We’ve got to have a record release party just a couple of weeks ago which was a long time coming. But it’s great.

I also wanted to ask about ‘Hypocrite’ – can you tell us a bit more about that song and the video you made for it as well?

Yeah. So ‘Hypocrite’ is a song I wrote with my best friend Natalie Stovall, she’s in that Runaway June band. And it was spring of 2019 when we wrote it. I was going through this breakup – I don’t even know if you can call it a breakup, but this relationship was just sort of crumbling in front of me, mostly due to logistics. He lived very, very far away and it became… it was a very heated quick romance and we realised very quickly, “there’s no feasible way to keep this together”. So I was pretending like I was totally fine with that, but really I’m one of those “but love conquers all!” kind of girls. In my head I was like, “I know this doesn’t make any sense but I wish it was different”.

So I was having a hard time, and I was staying at Natalie’s house, technically in her driveway because I Airbnb my house on the weekends and I would stay in my Airstream trailer, which at the time I had parked at her house. So I was staying there, and I just texted her. I was trying to write this song and I was having a hard time, and I was like, “can you come outside and finish this with me?” And she did, she was so gracious. So we finished ‘Hypocrite’, and then when Curb picked it to be my single, it was just so special that we got to share that together.

And we did record a music video with Running Bear Films, a really amazing brother-sister duo in Nashville. They just won an ACM [Award] actually, for ‘Drunk (And I Don’t Wanna Go Home)’, with Miranda Lambert and Elle King. So they’re fabulous, and I knew I really wanted to work them ’cause I’m just such a big fan of their work. We sent the song over and the treatment they sent over was quite a departure from anything I’ve ever done before, like, “and at the end of the video you stand there in a T shirt”, and I was like, “oh… ummm… no pants? How big is this T shirt?!” I’m not that kind of person. So I don’t think I ate for like two months leading up to the music video but it was really great working with them. I just kind of had to trust their process and be like, “OK, this is gonna be something really great at the end of it”.

I remember the first time I watched it, I was like, “I am very uncomfortable, I don’t recognise that person at all, I don’t know who that girl is”. But everybody at the label loved it. It’s a very unsettling music video, in a way. I basically break into my ex-boyfriend’s birthday party, I kind of show up uninvited, and then I go upstairs in his room and put on his T shirt and get in the shower and sing. It’s like crazy girl stuff, I would never do anything like that, no, never. So that was fun to just kind of put on this hat and play the part of this girl who was so heartbroken that she just did not care about social norms. It was really fun, really outside of my comfort zone, but it’s been great. The reception’s been great from it.

When you were picking the acoustic songs for the deluxe edition, did you find that quite an easy decision?

Well basically I had done these three acoustic versions for Bob Harris, for a quarantine session that he had asked me to do. So I recorded them when I was up at my mom’s house during Covid, I went to stay with her on the farm in New York. So I had my recording equipment, I had my laptop and Logic but I didn’t really know how to do any of it. I was gonna learn during quarantine and then the next thing you know they’re like, “Can you record these things?” And I’m in this tiny little town without access to anyone to help who knows anything about it. So my engineer at Curb in Nashville talked me through a little bit and said, “If you can just get the stems recorded and send them to me I can mix them for you”.

So it was my first kind of dabbling in any engineering by myself and production by myself. I played everything and sang everything and recorded everything, and sent it off to Nashville to get mixed, and I was just really proud of the way they came out. I loved how different they were from the tracks, and when Curb was like, “Well what do you think we would add to the deluxe record?” I was like, “Well I love how these songs turned out”. So that kind of made sense. And obviously we had to put the single on the record as well. So it wasn’t really hard. It was just like, “Oh this makes sense” and I loved it, so that’s what we went with.

Would you like to do more of the engineering and production side of things in the future?

It definitely is, especially the production side. The engineering I find to be quite… I just haven’t done it enough to get over the giant learning curve that technology is. Especially when you’re recording. I feel like the whole first year of learning Logic or Pro Tools is basically just… it just freaks out on you all the time for no apparent reason, and you just have to keep shutting it down and opening it up and you never know exactly what it is. So there’s a lot of crazy times that goes with the first few months of that and I just haven’t had the time to sit down and really get through that, but I’m very excited to. I’ve got a lot of friends who build tracks and send them to me and I’m always just like, “God I gotta do this” because it’s the most fun.

I think I’ve also been putting it off because I used to do a little bit of that, years and years ago. Just like messing around on Garage Band and building little demos. And I would get so lost in it that I would look up and eight hours would have gone by. And I just know that I’m so busy and there’s so much going on that I’m like, “I can’t afford to waste myself in days of recording”. [laughs] So there’s a little bit of that. But I love it. I’m very interested in it.

Following on from that, I know you spent the first part of lockdown here in the UK where you were doing live streams and that then involved into your ‘Live At 5’ series. How did you find that experience of making music and performing in the pandemic?

It was a lot. I found out pretty quickly that everybody was going live, since it’s all we could do. And so I think the first Friday I did a live on Facebook, it was like a record release show basically. So I played the record top to bottom. And the first ones, I was staying at my mom’s still and she had terrible internet. I mean it was practically dial up internet. And the whole show was so choppy, but there were a few people on at the same time. And then the next week I thought, ‘well I should do another series, like past present future shows’. And the next week already there were like 40 people, whereas the week before there had only been 10.

So it became very clear very quickly that if you wanna stand out you need to do something different. Because everybody was getting on Facebook Live and Instagram Live and just doing all these free shows, and I was like, “well if I can’t tour I have to replace my income somehow, I can’t just always do free”. But I felt like, ‘well if everyone’s going on live for free I have to provide a much higher quality product if I’m gonna ask people to pay for tickets’.

So I went ahead and I learned this technology called OBS, which is like a broadcasting system. And it was like a learning curve to learn, like getting the audio right. It was kind of the same things I was talking about with production and engineering. So many things would go wrong for no reason, and you’d spend all this time getting everything set up and then there goes your audio and it was so frustrating. So the first month or two was just like getting through that. You just gotta keep doing it.

And I remember I would sometimes get off live and just burst into tears because something went terribly wrong. I think it was a metaphor for the whole world feeling so out of control, and then the only thing you can do is this little thing and then when that didn’t work you were just like, “Ahhh!”. But I eventually got the hang of it and now it’s really easy for me. And by the time I got here I pretty much had it down. I brought all my live stream equipment over here, and I remember I did like four live streams from England as well. So it’s been great.

And now that I can go back on the road and in-person work has picked back up, it’s definitely too much to maintain a show every week like I was doing, because in order to do a show every week for the same audience because it’s online I was like, “I can’t do the same songs every week”. So I would do themed shows where every week was a different theme and I was learning about 11 songs a week, and that takes a long time and I was pre-recording a lot of it. So it’s not feasible to keep that up.

But like you said, that’s kind of evolved into the ‘Live at 5’. Because I still wanna be present with these people who were with me through the whole pandemic and kept me off unemployment. So I’m very thankful that it went that way and that I had these people who supported me and were just so great. And I grew to know my community so much better. Because I might have three minutes in a meet and greet line with someone after a show if we’re lucky, but I was doing 20 minute Zoom calls weekly with these VIPs after the show. And now it’s like, “Oh how’s your new car? How was your kid’s soccer game yesterday?” Like I know them, and I think we’ve grown a lot closer that way. So I’m very thankful for it, but hopefully live music is always gonna be around. It’s just the best.

I wanted to ask about your connection with your fans. You come across as so funny and relatable on channels like Instagram and TikTok, and then the honesty and vulnerability in your music as well. Is that sense of connection something that’s important to you?

Very important. It’s one of my core kind of pillars. I think that comes from just being a person who’s always been an open book and a people person. I love talking to people and hearing their stories and vice versa. There must be something in my personality or my energy field or something that makes other people feel that way, because I’ve always been… I don’t wanna say jumped on because it hasn’t been in a negative way, but people tend to just like share their deepest darkest secrets with me, even when they’re strangers. There’s something in my personality that makes people feel like that’s an OK thing to do, which it totally is. And then I kind of feed back on that, and that’s what makes me jokingly say I’m an oversharer on stage.

And then also, I just think it’s important for everyone’s mental health to be vulnerable and authentic and share. So that stuff’s really important to me. And I think a little bit of it comes from writing in Nashville for so long. You know, I wrote for a decade in town before I really got started on the road. You have to sit in these rooms with strangers and even something like this – we’ve never met before and I’m just supposed to tell you all these things.

So I think songwriting really helped me do that, because you had to get so vulnerable so quick for the sake of the song so you were sharing sometimes really personal moments with a stranger in order to get the best kind of art that you could at the end of the day. So I’ve become very comfortable sharing with people. So yeah, that is really important to me in my music.

We’ve touched on this already but I wanted to ask you more about your songwriting process. Do you have a typical way that you approach writing, or does it vary?

It varies but I usually start with a title. Like I’ll say something out loud and then I’ll have to write it down. That’ll gestate in my mind until the right time comes, like maybe the melody hits with the lyric at the same time and then I’ll sit down and write. Sometimes I write to tracks a lot recently, because some of my best friends have started doing that, so they’ll just send me stuff and if I’m on a long car ride I’ll write to it and get some ideas going. Or if I just hear the track it makes me instantly think of something. But usually melody and lyrics come together.

But yeah, I’m in a really nice position now where I don’t have to write every day for work. The label’s not like, “Yeah, you must write 9 to 5 every day”. So I kind of have the luxury where I get to write when I’m inspired and I’m always inspired by life experiences. That was really hard for me during Covid too. I realised that I’m inspired by adventures that I’m having and when I can’t go anywhere and do anything I’m pretty much dried up for a while.

I was also going to ask – you mentioned some of the songs on the record were written six or seven years ago. Is there anything you’ve been sitting on for a while that you’re trying to find the right time to release?

Yeah, I think there are song that you know, “OK maybe this doesn’t fit into what my label wants”. Maybe the most commercial possible thing or something uptempo and lighthearted which I don’t do very much of. And then you have these songs that you know are not that, and that maybe… not that they’re above what the audience wants to hear right now, but even at a time like this I think after what we’ve all gone through and the state of the world, maybe we don’t want to hear these dark super-heavy songs right now. It’s kind of nice just to go out to a pub and hear some country singer singing some lighthearted things about going out and drinking a beer. It’s kind of nice.

So I think there is. I have this one song called ‘What Angels Do’ that’s very strange and weird, but I know there’s gonna be a right time to release it. I think that’s a really special song. So yeah, there are ones that you park and you go, “We’ll find a home for that in its own time”.

Do you ever get writer’s block?

I don’t any more. But I wonder if that’s because I’m not making myself write all the time. I’ve definitely been in situations where it’s so much about the energy in the room, and I’ve definitely been in situations where you sit down with one or two people and it’s just not gonna happen that day. We always joke in Nashville how great it would be if it was socially acceptable to just admit that. Because you end up sitting in the room for like six hours and like, maybe someone’s on Pinterest behind their laptop and somebody else is on Instagram and you’re like, “Come on, let’s call it, let’s just say it’s not gonna happen today. Let’s go get lunch and shake hands and try again”. But it’s like nobody does that! [laughs]

But I think now, being in the position where I’m only really writing when I’m inspired. Although it is harder to write songs when you’re happy. I just went through a breakup so now I’ve got 500 songs I’m in the middle of, whereas like a month ago I was like, “ah, I’m happy, everything’s great so there’s not much to say”. So that does help. Good for the creative process. There’s always that.

You’ve got a headline tour in the US coming up soon as well as the shows with Sam and at C2C. Is it quite surreal to be back out on the road?

It’s very surreal. C2C was very surreal, especially being in London and knowing I couldn’t sing for anyone last time I was here and now there were these giant crowds. It was awesome. It’s also so cool to see London full of people with cowboy hats and boots on. I just felt like I was on Broadway or something, it was so fun. Super surreal.

And I think also for me, my career’s kind of coming up now at a time after the pandemic. So really most of my touring experience has been opening up for other acts. So this is really my first time headlining, so I don’t even really know what to expect. I did a tiny little tour, maybe four or five dates in the spring, where it was my first time going out and ticket sales were all on me, and you just don’t know what to expect. You have no context for what’s good or bad.

I remember being very disappointed with the show attendance and then calling my manager and she was like, “You sold how many tickets? No, that’s really good! I have artists who’ve toured that city five or six times there and they can’t sell half that” or whatever it was. But you just don’t know. So it’s all just this kind of huge new journey for me, that I’m excited to see how it goes. But just thankful to be out there again.

Are there any songs you’re particularly enjoying playing live at the moment?

I love playing ‘Hypocrite’. You can always tell the ones that are gonna stick around because you don’t get tired of them. Like I said I wrote that song in spring of 2019, I knew it was special right away. I remember saying to Natalie, “This song is gonna change our lives”. And I didn’t know how. I thought someone else would cut it, maybe. So I think I did a demo of it that summer and I’ve been playing it every chance I can get. It’s been a favourite of mine since then and I’m still not sick of singing it. So I think that’s how you know. ‘Joshua Tree’ as well, is like that way for me. I still love to sing that song. So I’d say those two are kind of the big ones.

The other thing I wanted to ask about was your cover versions as I’ve seen you’ve got quite a few different ones on your social media and your series at Christmas and things like that. Have you got any particular favourites?

The one that I’m playing a lot lately is this Roxette song, ‘It Must Have Been Love’. I sang that at a ladies’… I don’t even remember what it was. My friend Vicky Vaughan put together this like all-girl show, I think she does it once a week, and it was in the summer and of course I had to make it hard on myself. So I made a theme and I was trying to do all 80s, early 90s songs and that was one of them. We played it with her country bluegrass band on stage and when I sang it with them for the first time I was like, “This could be a 90s country song”. So it’s really stuck.

I play it with a band and I don’t have a lot of happy uptempos, so we play it like that even though it’s a sad lyric it feels very joyful and I’ve had a lot of fun with it. I also do a 90s medley which is all 90s country songs, that’s really fun. So I would say those two probably right now.

Something else I wanted to ask about was your Patreon. How have you found having that?

Yeah, it’s been great. I think between the Patreon and the live streams, that’s really what kept me alive during Covid. So Patreon’s a really cool thing, you get exclusive access to behind the scenes content. Sometimes I release affirmations and meditations ’cause I’m really into that, very positive living stuff. They get new songs and new releases before anybody else. And I also put work tapes up there, so demos of songs that no-one’s ever heard. It’s a really fun little community. I do Marco Polos and send people video chats. It’s just another really great way to connect with people.

What’s the one song you wish you’d written?

Oh, ‘Hallelujah’, probably. Yeah, Leonard Cohen. That’s such a special one. And it seems so universal. I think that song means so much to so many people. It’s one of those lyrics that… I find in Nashville we stress so much, not that we dumb it down but we over-spell everything out. We’re taught to be like, “Make sure the audience really understands what you’re talking about”. But I find that the lyrics of my favourite songs tend to be things I have no idea what they’re talking about at all. And it doesn’t matter to me.

Some of my favourite Patti Griffin songs, there’s one, ‘Making Pies’, where she’s just talking about some old lady and very specific things about her life – how she walks down to the church and hangs out with Father Mike and types on the computer for them. And it’s just like, “Why is that so moving?”. You know, you’re just talking about some old lady, but it is. So I’ve found that most of the songs I love are like that, and so I try not to stress so hard any more about making your lyrics so specific, and that’s one of those songs I think, ‘Hallelujah’. It’s like, “What are you talking about?”

You know, “I heard there was a secret chord”, or the part where he sees someone taking a bath on a roof and it’s like, “What?! What are you even talking about?”. But it doesn’t matter. Everyone hears that song and we’re instantly taken to this place where we’re moved and it’s so beautiful and the lyrics mean so much to us. So that’s probably the one I would say. I’ve never thought about that before.

What does the rest of the year look like for you? Obviously you’re touring over the next few months but are there any other plans at the moment?

Yeah, so we’ve got the tour in the UK and then I get to go home. Most of April’s gonna be business work, maybe a little bit of writing, and then all of May and June I’m, yeah, headlining tour. And then there’s some shows through the summer. I think by summer I’ll be starting to think about the next recording and chiselling down song lists and getting back in the studio. That’s always my favourite part.

Can you give us any hints about the next project? Or is it still far off at the moment?

I mean it’s not far off in the distance but I haven’t put too much thought into it. I’m just one of those people where I’m like, “It’s gonna settle where it’s gonna be and it’s gonna be right”. I don’t feel like I need to super-obsess over it yet. I think that the songs’ll rise to the top, they always do and I sort of let the process be what it is.

Ruthie Collins’ latest album, ‘Cold Comfort +’, is out now on Curb Records.

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