Jazz singer and founder of The Bristol Sessions, Ruth Royall is true Bristol royalty. Along with hosting a weekly event at The Gallimaufry and releasing her own material it’s safe to say she is one of the busiest people in the Bristol music scene. Our writer Amy spoke to Ruth amid her upcoming single launch and the next Bristol Sessions show.
Your new EP The Rapture is out soon, could you tell me what it was like to record?
The Rapture EP will be coming out later October, it’s not quite ready yet I’m finishing the rest of it in October which I’ll be doing with a full live band. I’m basically doing it with the Bristol Sessions, it feels like a family project – just an extension of that. The first two singles were recorded with a producer called Tony Briscoe and they’re much more electronic but they’re still very rooted in soul jazz which is where I’m from. Tony Briscoe is great, he’s worked with Beverley Knight and Craig David. It was such a pleasure to work with him.
The initial concept for the EP – it’s called ‘Rapture’ – because it’s different angles of love and different approaches so there’s some more personal stuff in there, some political. There’s loss, there’s a story about someone else and their experience with it. It’s a very broad subject and so it’s kind of continued because we had four tracks and now it’s extended even longer so there’s more tracks coming in and there’s a lot more funk stuff going in. The original concept was this idea of different angles of love and what it means to different people.
You’ve set me up wonderfully for my next question! Does the EP deal with any themes?
I think it’s getting more broad now because we’re adding in a lot more funk tunes. I’m a very autobiographical writer and so I write either about things I see or things I feel. And I think a lot of writers are that way. For me I love people, I love interaction and I love how people associate with each other and things. It fascinates me and that’s what I’m always writing about, overcoming things. It always revolves around that and it’s a massive subject. I think people can take it in the wrong way. When I was on the radio we were talking about the subject and relationships and that it’s not just an EP full of love songs but it’s more – it’s bigger than that.
You managed to get the EP crowdfunded, what was the reason behind doing that?
It was such a good experience, it really was amazing! I think crowdfunding is the way to go now. A lot of people are doing it because of the way the industry is, selling music doesn’t make money so the way to do it is to do this pre-ordering. If you want something by this artist, buy it now and we can make it for you. I think it goes further than that because you’re connecting with your fanbase. They’re part of everything and I think the way social media works these days now as well it’s great so you can show them and let them into your world a little bit.
In the world of a musician or an artist it’s quite an enigma in a lot of ways, there’s no manual of what you do and you’re allowing people into that world and they’re seeing the writing process, they’re seeing behind the scenes of a music video or in the studio. You know little things like that, people really value that.
The way I write is with a guitar and a piano and I’ll just switch my phone on and record straight away. I’ve given them [fanbase] an EP of some of the tracks from the Rapture EP in demo form. Little things like that. It’s fun! I was so blown away by the support, getting big chunks of money from people. You can pledge however much you want, they just wanna give you the money to make this. I really recommend it to artists who are looking to release or to make their first EP or album.
How has your musical style changed over the years? What were the beginnings of young Ruth Royall?
I started as a jazz singer, that’s what I did as my trade. When I grew up I was hearing my mum, she was very into folk music such as artists Joni Mitchell and Carole King. My grandad used to play jazz and so did my uncle. I’ve got quite a musical family so there were jazz records around which is what I was hearing. My first influence was actually Billie Holiday and I used to imitate her. I had this compilation CD called Vintage Songs or something like that which I’d found somewhere in mum’s stash and I just used to listen to it on repeat. There was a version of ‘Blue Moon’ by Billie Holiday that I was obsessed with and I just used to imitate her. She’s very unique in sound and that gave me my first taste of style. Then I guess I started learning lots of jazz stuff and singing lots.
When I was signed I was very young. I was 19 as a jazz singer and that was when Amy Winehouse was big that was a huge influence for me at the time. We were all experimenting with jazz and listening to lots of it and that’s my roots. When I moved to London there was a huge soul and neo-soul scene and it was the first time I really heard it. There’s a lot of jam nights in London which is why I set up the Bristol Sessions. It’s based on those nights. So there was a different style of music which i picked up on, lots of smooth trills, they were [singers] very skilled the way they were using their voice and I just remember going to these jams and looking at the singers and thinking “I’m never going to be able to do that!”. It took me in a different direction and I was then starting to write much more smoother stuff.
The next step was coming back to Bristol and hearing all this hip hop and electronic stuff that was happening and it’s all merged into what I do now and this sound. I’ve definitely kept hold of the jazz in my singing style, there’s a lot of scatting, a lot of improvisation. The inflections in my voice are very jazz but my writing is much more down the soul/neo-soul route which works.
You mentioned Billie Holiday and people like Carole King, with that in mind who are your biggest musical influences?
Cinematic Orchestra definitely. I think Billie Holiday not so much now but she was the original singing style. I tell you who I’m really into, a band from Brighton called Kudu Blue. I’m really into them and I was listening to them when I was doing a lot of writing for this EP so they’ve definitely had an influence. There’s all sorts, Tom Misch aswell. Maybe not so much vocally but in terms of the writing style and what he does. Cinematic Orchestra have always been my main bucket list, if i’ve seen them I’m done. I can go home happy!
Why and how did you set up The Bristol Sessions?
When I moved to London there were all these jam nights. There was one at Ronnie Scott’s and Jam Tart, there was Sessions 58. There were all these jam nights for singers and it’s where we went to network, it’s where we went to get session work, people were meeting A&R people. There was a buzz, a real buzz. And it’s still happening, it’s not as intense as it was but it was really exciting. And then I came back to Bristol and there were loads of jam nights but nothing for singers and I was like “where are all the singers, where do we go!?”. You could go to The Leftbank and it was very much a musician jam, it was very loud, there was no space for a voice so I thought “I’ll make my own!”. I called it The Bristol Sessions after Sessions 58 in London. It’s my London home I adore it and I love the people that run it so it’s kind of a little homage to them, calling it the Bristol Sessions.
I kind of took the idea from the Ronnie Scott’s jam which had a house band and then just taking the idea from Sessions 58 and bringing singers in. I just researched the hell out of singers in Bristol and I managed to get a hub of the best singers around. I feel so proud just watching it. The musicians are just so good and it’s a pleasure to watch so that’s the idea behind it and it’s a lot of fun.
What is the most exciting thing that has happened as a result of The Bristol Sessions?
Honestly, the most exciting thing for me is the community that has sprung up around it. Working at The Gallimaufry it’s really special. They really work with us and help us make something that is good quality and worth doing. I feel like the friendships and the collaborations that have come out of what we’ve made and what we’ve done there is gonna last. People are starting to release music and put stuff out there and we’ve had this hub, this space to get good and have the time to be on top of our game and show the world what we’ve been doing. It makes me feel all warm and fuzzy when i think about it.
You’ve got people involved such as Holly Wellington, Brook Tate, Alun Elliot-Williams etc. What was the process in deciding who you wanted for The Bristol Sessions live at The Lantern?
It was just who stuck out. It was based on people coming to the sessions regularly and just noticing who was doing something interesting. I knew Holly was writing solo stuff which I really wanted to hear. The band is made up of the guys that we work with regularly so it’s bringing everybody together and it’s a nice crossover with Waldo’s Gift aswell so we’ve got Alun and James in from Waldo’s Gift.
I’d hear songs every now and again at Bristol Sessions at The Gallimaufry and think “that’s fantastic we need to do something with this at The Lantern”. It’s nice having that platform which you can gradually see everyone and see everyone’s work and also it worked out well that James Paton has obviously just released his EP and he’s headlining the first half with his EP and I’m headlining the second half with my EP. It’s going to be good!
The Bristol Sessions has recently hit the milestone of two years old, what do you think the future has in store? How are you going to progress with it?
I think our thought initially was that we’d like to take the show that we do at The Lantern and take it to some festivals and do that. What I’d like to happen is everybody collaborating in a collective, not just with Bristol Sessions but with Waldo’s Gift and with Backbeat and making a communion style collective where we’re all releasing music and cross promoting. I’d like to set up some kind of blog or some kind of way of promoting the amazing talent that we have. I’m always full of a million ideas, whether or not it can fit them into my life that’s another question!
Next year I think we’ll probably be doing the nights [at The Gallimaufry] and keep mixing it up a bit and getting different features things like that. I think it would be nice to start taking the show on the road and do it as my original stuff is coming out. It’s going to be very me fronting it with my original set but bringing the Bristol Session crew along with it.
What are some of your favourite bristol bands/musicians people to see on a night out?
James Paton! All of The Gallimaufry, Waldo’s Gift are brilliant. We go down there and enjoy it a lot. I’m really into China Bowls she’s doing some interesting stuff. Feelgood Experiment are really really good, I’m really intrigued to see Holly’s [Wellington] solo stuff. I tell you who’s really exciting at the moment is Yola Carter. She’s a country artist she is getting pretty big at the moment and she’s got just an absolute powerhouse of a voice it’s amazing. She’s got a great band too.
I hate to draw this to a close but lastly, where can people grab a copy of you single/EP?
On the 16th there will be hard copies available of the single ‘4 U’. On the 29th the single is going to be available everywhere so iTunes, Spotify, Soundcloud. I think it’s going to be online distribution initially and we’ll see how sales go. I’d quite like to release that one on vinyl as well. I’m working with a really good PR company that I’m really excited about! It’s out everywhere from the 29th.
Ruth Royall will be hosting The Bristol Sessions Live from the Lantern on Saturday 16th September and her new single ‘4 U’ will be available online from 29th September. She also hosts The Bristol Sessions at The Gallimaufry every Sunday (she doesn’t stop!). Be sure to grab a ticket for the Lantern gig here.