When singer/songwriters and bands contact us on an international level it always seems to work out in a very interesting experience for us. Andy Ruck was no exception to this – this Irishman provided not only songs full of heartfelt melodies, but an album with a clear and pointed view on experiences he’s dealt with first hand – up to and including domestic abuse. A very humble and honest man, it was our pleasure to have had this interview with Andy through sleepingbagstudios. On a personal note – I was going through a great number of emotions myself at the time this interview was being both developed and answered – it was fantastic to have Andy share his stories with me to help me through my own difficult times, which we’ll go into here through the article as well when we talk to Andy about family, song writing, his other DJ life and so much more….read on!
SBS: The heavy theme of domestic violence/abuse runs deep throughout your new album “Pictures.” You mention in a posted interview that you don’t always know where a song will take you…we’re you surprised to find where your mind would gravitate during the writing of this album?
Andy: I’ve never been good at verbally narrating my true feelings face to face. I find I always tend to convey the wrong sentiment. I grew up in a very troubled and violent yet often happy family environment so I’ve seen the damage this type of confrontation can cause. Music has always been my companion. I’ve secretly cried listening to songs. Even fast songs. My life always seems to move at 100 miles per hour and I’m often high on life. When I get time to play the guitar I drift off into a placid and sometimes depressing place in my head. That’s when the softness of my soul escapes and the words (often sad) flow. I’ve seen myself writing a song in what seemed 20 minutes then looking at the clock and realising I’ve been on another planet for about 4 hours. I’m releasing all my deepest sentiments and most honest feelings into the words and music……..so to answer your question, I really am not surprised. I was pouring my heart out and nobody got physically hurt.
SBS: I appreciated the way that you chose your words through these interviews. Seemed like you took your time to say what you needed to say and communicate your message. How hard is it to write the lyrics to your songs? How do you know when you’ve said what you needed to say through a song or communicated what you’re looking to say effectively?
Andy: I find it so easy to write the lyrics. My honesty is critical to the substance of the songs. If I’m being totally honest, when I’m writing a song with my guitar I don’t just hear the plucking and strumming of the guitar. I hear the cellos, the violins, piano, distorted rock guitar fading off into the background. I hear children singing, wind blowing. I’m really in another place. When the demo of the song is recorded in the studio it frustrates me as all the pieces of the jigsaw are not where they should be. I know when the final mix has been mastered and everything is in place that I’m proud to call it a song as I know that the words and every subtle sound have combined together to help to communicate the message in the song. I need everything to work together.
SBS: Who is Michael? Who is he to you & in relation to the new album?
Andy: Michael is actually “Michael Jackson”. Just like myself, he was a troubled soul. He had quite obviously sunk into a very dark and dangerous place. Nobody really took him seriously when he spoke. People mocked him, doubted him, ridiculed him. When he communicated through music, people sat up and took notice. I tried to imagine him in another place talking back to the world through his music. Come to think of it, maybe I was actually imagining what I would like say after I die. My words, my songs will always be my legacy. Once created, they are there for eternity. How sad it is that every person in the world doesn’t get the chance to be heard after they die. We’ve all got a message. We all need to be heard.
SBS: I enjoyed the segment on you talking about your mom – you can see the genuine love you have for her. Beautiful stuff my friend. I love my mom too! And you and I are getting personal here – it’s only fair that I share with you too I suppose! I honestly don’t understand family – very split family circumstances that have led to me having seven parents currently! No joke! One bio mom & dad, 2 step parents of each gender and one mother in law. And right around the time that we got in contact – my bio-mom asked me to discontinue all contact with her. It all came from a situation where my confronting her with some issues and trying to help, led to the great “push” away…not grandstanding here – that’s the way it went down… But that’s my story…anyway – Andy, we’re here for you! Tell me about the importance of family from your perspective.
Andy: My family (I’m talking about Dad, Brothers, Sister) are very much a bit of a mess. I find that we all come together for the wrong reasons. The damage caused by years of domestic violence during my childhood has really inhibited my ability to bond with another human being in the way that I think I should be bonding. One marriage down and now married to a lovely girl since last year. I’m in love again. The closeness and love that I talk about in “Angel” relates more to the bond I felt (at times) towards my Mum as a child. I felt, growing up that my parents were lost in a world of their own. Alcohol played a destructive role in fueling the violence. I loved my Mum totally. I just kept my distance through my teens. I found myself going to see her for all the wrong reasons when she was ill. She passionately loved me and took great pride in me and my music. I carry a lot of guilt for not working harder at trying to re-establish the closeness.
I’m determined never to expose my son Matthew to anything like I was exposed to as a child. He’s never out of my mind. I can’t get angry with him. I don’t want to drive him away like my parents unwittingly did with me. A parent can’t stop loving a child. I know that about my Mum. She was my Angel, she just lost sight of her responsibilities for a period and I (although riddled with guilt) never forgave, just as I can’t with my Dad.
SBS: You also mention that you believe in the power of the song – referencing it to be complete with music & words… take us further though – what can it achieve, this power?
Andy: The power lies in the ability to lift us when we are sad, to sooth us, to make us smile, to depress us, to anger us, to convert us……..and many others. A true passionate songwriter doesn’t have to be a great musician. I know guys who would play me off the stage but come to me and say “how the heck did you write that song”.
The song has it’s purpose. I believe that every song was written for a reason. There’s a message in every song no matter how silly or complex it is.
Of course, there are good and bad songs. The sad thing is……many songs go virtually unnoticed because the singer can’t convey the passion with his or her singing it. I never noticed Hallelujah until I heard it in Shrek. Now I’m ready for as much Leonard Cohen as you can throw at me.
SBS: There are also typically “album” people and “song” people in this musical world of ours. Assuming you’re a “song” guy Andy – how do you approach not just the consistency of one song, but the consistency in an entire album?
Andy: I didn’t intend to bring out a complete album until I had completed about 6 songs in the studio. Only then did I realize that I was close to completing an album. Incidentally I completed song 6 about 3 years ago. I went through a 10 year period of being very down, depressed. Most of the songs on this album relate to that period. I actually wrote more songs but I gave them to a friend who recorded them for his own album. (He never released it so expect more of the same in the future from me when I reclaim my songs from him). I just couldn’t write a happy song during that period.
SBS: The production on “Pictures” is outstanding throughout – very crisp and clear. I can sense some of the real classic songwriters that I grew up with as well when I listen, people like Gowan and Zappacosta. Many of the references in production could be made to Phil Collins albums – that real studio feel – you can sense the work that goes into making them that way. But in terms of a current sound – how would you respond to people that might say there are points where it would potentially sound “dated?” There’s the use of auto-tune as well on the album – however – that’s also a polarizing issues for people. Or does the idea of trying to be current, or sound this way or that, even matter Andy? Thoughts?
Andy: There aren’t too many singers of today who don’t succumb to the temptation of the so called “auto tune”. I don’t go as far as Jason Derulo or Chris Brown or Rihanna. They probably go way over the top to the point that it creates a “current” sound for them. They actually are probably brilliant singers in their own rights. They’ve set the trend so to speak. I used a tool called melodyne more for convenience. I’d record my vocal, go home from the studio and listen on the hi-fi. I’d hear a slightly sharp or flat note. Rather than rebooking the studio for another day it’s more convenient to call up the producer and ask him to touch up a few notes that I wasn’t happy with. I love actually playing around with sounds in the studio too. In “Better Days” I intended to use an effect for just one line and ended up using it for the whole song. It’s angry song and needed a real “dirty” type vocal effect.
In my own personal songs I never went for anything but perfection. I love all styles of music and so I’m going to be influenced all the time. I really didn’t aim for a “current” sound. “Dated” is a compliment. Rubbish or crap might hurt more. I’m immensely proud of every song.
SBS: You mention God on some of the tracks from the new album as well. How does religion play a part in your life & in relation to “Pictures?”
Andy: I’m more an agnostic than an atheist. I want to believe in a greater being. I just wish this greater being would have more consideration and help for those who need it. All this being “part of God’s great plan” is bullshit. Religion wasn’t shoved down my throat too much. There’s more good in the genuine priests, ministers etc of the world than there is bad. If they have a good message to send through their teachings I listen and I encourage my son to listen. I talk about God/Lord in my songs loosely to the extent that there is hope. Not necessarily in a God but in a brighter future if you can find your way.
SBS: You also seem to be a very empathetic and sensitive person overall through what I’ve seen and heard – traits I admire greatly. I also appreciate that honesty and how you were ready and willing to take on any question! So here’s a random one for you Andy – because you’re not afraid to go after the dark topics and I don’t get that all the time… What do you think your friends might say about you at your funeral? How would you be remembered by them on that day?
Andy: I have this image of many of them clambering for my album and saying “Oh my God, his songs were actually really very good”. I believe one day my songs (well one or two) will be extremely successful. I’ll be long gone by that time. The Van Gogh of music.
My wife is my biggest fan. I know she analyses all my lyrics and has filled me with a confidence that nobody has ever done before. My Son is secretly proud and does like my songs. Just not cool to admit it. I’m actually quite hurt that my music has been virtually ignored by my family. My Father probably couldn’t name one song from the album. If Matthew was so into something like this I’d become his other limb. I’d support him all the way. He’ll never stop knowing that.
SBS: Ok, ok, ok – I’ll get off the funeral topics! You’re currently a DJ as well. Take us through a day in the life of the DJ side of Andy Ruck!
Andy: I never try to conform to the norm if you know what I mean. DJ Andy Ruck finds it hard to play a Radio edit in the nightclub. I love the energy of the remix. I love the interpretation that the electro remixer gives a song. I love the base. The bottom end. The melodies tearing up the club. The day of a gig starts with me piling on a disc, all the downloads of the week and listening to them to get my brain into DJ Andy frame of mind. By the time I hit the club I’m ready to rock the house. It’s my drug for taking me up. Maybe that’s why I write sad songs. After a high is usually followed by a fall. After the gig I jump in the car and have a relaxing drive home listening to the soft new sounds of gentle music on BBC Radio 2.
SBS: Aside from the DJ sets – any chance we’ll get to see live material posted, or any upcoming shows for supporting the new album?
Andy: I’m in the process of recording a few of the tracks live. They will be posted online soon. Gigs? I used to, a few years back. I gigged solo for about 10 years. Went from loving it, to hating it. Let’s see how the album is received first. No golf clubs or hell raising pubs though. I’ll leave all that to the DJ Andy Ruck. If I go back to performer “Andy Ruck” expect to be drawn into a world of deep and meaningful emotion.
SBS: And aside from all the heavy subjects throughout – c’mon Andy – you gotta be EXCITED too right? I mean, the new album “Pictures” is out MARCH 29th! How are you celebrating that event?
Andy: The album release is one of my greatest and most meaningful things I’ve ever accomplished. Nobody except the people I am closest to will ever fully understand that. 29th March is my “wedding day”, “the birth of my first child”, “my 21st birthday”, “my 1st day at work”. A day I don’t want to forget. It’s highly personal and an achievement that I will cherish for a lifetime. I’ll share that moment with the two most important people in my life; my son Matthew and my wife Seema.
SBS: Where does the music go from here? I know the new stuff is just coming out but I’m always encouraging people to continue to write and put more of their art into the world – so I’ve gotta do the same for you here Andy! What’s up-coming? Tell us about the future!
Andy: As I mentioned before, I penned several songs for a friend of mine. He recorded them and then abandoned the project. There’s some amazing deep stuff there. I’ve also written a few others recently. There’s actually enough for a complete album. The problem is, every time I write a new song it becomes my favourite for a while. Another album will be extremely expensive to complete in a short space of time. Expects bits and pieces in the meantime. I’ll be posting new stuff on a regular basis. Maybe an E.P would be more realistic.
SBS: How will you challenge yourself to grow in between this album and next? Will you want to re-visit the same lyrical content or would you see that possibly going in a different direction?
Andy: I wouldn’t be surprised if it took a similar path as I write better when I’m feeling low. I suppose though it all depends on what path my life takes me down. Expect deepness and thought provoking words though.
SBS: With “Pictures” – was there an overall goal? In saying what you’re saying through song, and highlighting these important issues – ultimately, who would you say that you’ve made this album for?
Andy: I suppose it’s mainly for myself but It is definitely a massive part of my legacy. Maybe, in 50 or 60 years time someone (family or not) will discover it and take the time to listen and understand it. It’s like this interview. It’s inscribed into the digital age and can never disappear. This interview has allowed me to open people’s minds to my work. It’s a chance to explain and be understood. Let this be the “preface”. Now go and listen to the album.
SBS: I found the video for “Down” to have one incredibly expressive actress in it. She really had some amazing facial expressions and could communicate the emotion behind the song. Now – I know shooting a video – that’s not always the case – sometimes the actors haven’t even heard the song! But that’s not what I see here. Not to me at least. So tell me about that – were you able to communicate the importance/subject matter to her for reference? How much experience did she have with the song itself?
Andy: Believe it or not, that “incredibly expressive” actress is my lovely wife “Seema”. We’ve spent hours discussing the songs. She’s in love with them and is always asking me about them. She absorbed herself into the part of the broken wife. I know she’s had some personal family issues which relate closely to my own so “Down” (I suppose) fitted her like a glove.
SBS: And how about those high notes you’re hitting Andy! Impressive man! Have you had professional training in that respect?
Andy: I introduced myself to an online vocal coach called “Eric Arceneaux”. He teaches the open cycle. It starts with breathing and then when your respiratory muscles are properly developed he introduces you to some incredible vocal exercises. At one stage, I thought that my voice lacked that falsetto ability. I’ve worked hard on it and developed a unique ability of using it when I deliver a vocal performance. I must admit, I drive people around me crazy when I do my exercises.
SBS: Our traditional open floor here for you Andy. No interviewer could ever get to all the important stuff in one shot – so I like to make sure you have the ability here to bring up ANYTHING else you like that we may have missed or that you just want to add. The floor is yours!
Thank you so much for your time Andy! Keep in touch and let us know how you’re doing in the future. I always appreciate an artist with a point of view and you clearly have that my friend.
Again, thank you for sharing your art with the world, and with myself.
Andy: Thanks Jer for giving me this amazing opportunity to relate my story and introduce myself to people so close to the release of “Pictures”.
It’s very difficult to be honest and sincere, even to one’s self. I’ve made some huge mistakes in my life and had some pretty low and also high times. I’m just like anybody else.
I suppose I fall into that low percentage of the population that has crept through the crack in the wall and managed to establish a platform to tell his story. I haven’t tried to be unique. I just did it. I’m proud of it and I think I delivered it in a way that will make, at the very least, a few people sit up and take notice.
I’ve painted the “Pictures” now please take time and study the brush strokes.
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