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Ruby Fields: Life in the fast lane

It was around ten years ago that Ruby Phillips first hit the streets with an acoustic guitar in clutch, her eyes wide and set squarely on Australia’s ever-burgeoning indie-rock scene.

She was 13 – and like all of us in our tweenage years, Phillips’ ambitions were lofty, driven by the naïveté and optimism adults would often (understandably) scoff at. But the strong-willed Sydneysider was deadset on making her dreams come true, and at 19, Phillips – better known by then as Ruby Fields – became a staple of the scene with her bright and boisterous debut single, ‘I Want’. Theatre shows and primetime airplay followed shortly thereafter, with two EPs and a stack of well-earned acclaim at the hands of tracks like ‘Dinosaurs’ (eventually certified Platinum) and ‘Trouble’ making Fields one of the country’s most luminous stars.

Last week, Fields hit another monolithic milestone with the release of her debut full-length, Been Doin’ It For A Bit.  The album shows Fields at her most honest and open-hearted, letting listeners into her world with no fancy decorations or meticulous fluff to hide the intimate – and oftentimes intense – rawness on display. To figure out just how she brought such a powerful and punchy debut to life, BLUNT caught up with Fields front the front room of her Northern Rivers sharehouse (she’d usually do interviews from the backyard, but it’s snake season up in the Rivers, and that morning Fields had come scarily close to a run-in with a baby brown snake). 

The album is here! Congratulations! What’s the vibe like in your world right now?
It’s kind of incomparable to anything I’ve done before. I feel like it’s this culmination of so much of my life. My music and my personality are kind of the same thing, and I think maybe that’s what makes it so relatable or accessible to people. But the album is a big part of myself and my journey coming to fruition, so I think it’s an awesome goal to have reached, and I’m very proud to have made it here with the boys. I’m very excited for everyone to hear a bit of a different side to my music.

Well as the title implies, you have been doing this for a bit – why’d it take you so long to get a full-length album in the bag?
I suppose the short answer is COVID. But we put out two EPs, and I think they could have been albums, but they just didn’t feel ready to me. And then when we got this collection of songs together, I just thought, “I don’t want to wait anymore. I want to put it out.” We actually recorded the demos two years ago this month, and then we recorded the whole album about a year and a half ago. So it was ready to go at least a year ago, but we were like, “Let’s wait until people can dance along to it.” Because so much of our music is in our live performance and our interactions with people in the crowd, and being able to play and meet people. So I think we wanted to wait, but we just got to this point where we were like, “Alright, let’s just release it.” So now hopefully it won’t be too long until we get to share it live.

All the experiences that you’ve had over the past few years as well, having cut your teeth in the scene and touring a whole bunch – do you reckon that all made for a better album in the end?
Definitely. I think the best reactions you get are live, when you’re actually performing your music. I kind of got this gauge for the songs that people loved and the songs people were a bit more quiet in, or the songs people would message me after hearing and say they liked. Sometimes at shows, I’ll play things that I will probably never release. I always gauge the audience’s reaction, because they’re the most important people – they’re the people that come out and support us, reach out and all of that. So I think playing live for the last few years has really given me a nice gauge on how to make a better album, so that everyone in an audience is able to find something to enjoy in it.

Is there an overarching theme you wanted to explore, or vision you wanted to manifest?
I think my music’s always been quite self-explorative – I don’t know if that’s a word, but it’s just always about me trying to figure things out as they’re happening. I think you can see a very genuine journey that began with my first songs, when I was in high school and didn’t know who I want to be, and then going out to nightclubs for the first time and acting like a menace. The problems are a bit more complex than that now, and the songs have become about my relationships with myself and my parents and other people, and my relationship with the world. I think you can see a very believable account of me trying to navigate it all, and all the things I’m realising – bad things I’ve done, and good things that I hope to do in the future. I think most of all, I wanted it to be honest. It’s a bit of a narrative about growing up. I think I’ll always want my music to be like that, y’know, so you can listen to a song from when I was 18 or when I’m 40 and go, “Yeah, I can hear exactly where that’s coming from.”

“I want everyone that comes to a show of mine to feel like they know who I am.”

The core of this record lies in these really heavy-hitting, poignant songs like ‘Bruises’, ‘Pokies’ and ‘Pretty Grim’ – why is it important for you to really open yourself up and lay your soul bare like that?
There’s a lot of honesty, in my first songs, about who I was. And even though it was naughty, and everything else, I think I was just trying to distract myself from what was really going on. And I think by putting that out into the world, I was, like, “Oh, everyone will think that I’m cool, I drink beers and I do this and that.” And y’know, a lot of other younger people that listened to it probably did think that – but there were definitely parts of that which weren’t entirely forth-giving or true. My life wasn’t a total party the whole time – I wasn’t this tough person that could take on the world. It was just this kind of… I wasn’t representing myself completely, or the way that I was feeling and the things I was going through.

So with this album, it was important for me to show all sides of who I am in that respect. I wanted to show sides that are still heaps fun – I love the boys, I love drinking, I love touring, I love all that – but I also wanted to show a side that was like, “Hey, this is the relationship I have with my father. This abusive relationship I’ve been in in the past. This is this, and this is this…” And I think there’s a lot of small stories and small introductions that I would like to delve into a lot more in the future. But this album is kind of like the first time I was comfortable enough with myself to let those feelings out, or express myself in this way.

I think from the outside looking in, you’ve cultivated this image as a real down-to-earth, open-book kind of person – like I said in my review of the album for NME, you’d be fun to crack tinnies with at the beach, but we could also have like a four-hour D&M at 4am on a weekday morning. Is that how you’d describe yourself away from the spotlight, or would you say there’s a dissonance between Ruby Fields and Ruby Phillips?
Oh, 100 percent! And sometimes it’s both, y’know? I want everyone that comes to a show of mine to feel like they know who I am. Obviously, everyone’s entitled to their own lives and privacy and whatnot – but I want people to be able to listen to my music and go, “Oh, she’s not untouchable. That’s someone I could talk to.” I remember reading quotes like: “People don’t want to see the kid from next door onstage, they want to see someone in crazy outfits.” And I agree with that – like, I would die to have a beer with Elton John, I think people like that changed the game – but at the same time, I think it is nice to have accessible role models, so that someone who is a bit more quiet, but loves music, could go, “Hang on, I could do that as well!” Music doesn’t need to be something up here or down there – you can exist in the middle. I’m quite shy when it comes down to it. I do love a good chat and I love a good beer, but I can be quite an introvert sometimes too.

How did that duet with Adam Newling (aka Ders) come about?
Ders and I have been really close friends since I was about 14. We’ve lived together, worked together, written and recorded together, toured together, ripped each other’s heads off, and told each other we love each other countless times. I wrote that song about my relationship with my dad, and when we were in the studio, I was like, “Oh shit, who’s gonna sing this?” And then Ders was just like, “Hey, I’ll give it a go!” He obviously has an incredible voice, and his solo project, Adam Newling, is mind blowing. It was a really cool moment because realised: “Hey, if you jump on this, we can say ‘ft. Adam Newling’!” I just love how deep and emotional Adam’s voice is. And yeah, it really did prove to be a special moment on the record. It goes from these very rock-y songs to, like, almost this jazzy kind of intro that’s really low and meditative. It’s probably one of my favourite songs on the record. 

I also wanted to ask about ‘Kitchen’, because I feel like it’s such a stand-out moment, being so heavily anchored in positivity. Where did that track come from?
I actually wrote that song quite a long time ago, and I’d kind of forgotten about it. I remembered that chorus – “You’ve got my back mate, you know I drink coffee instead of tea” – because we were all making coffee and tea in the mornings when we were recording. So that song wasn’t actually on the agenda, but when we were doing the demos, I just went “Oi, let’s let’s throw this one in there.” And I distinctly remember when I was recording the vocals, in the quiet bit when I was singing, “We hold each other’s hair when we’re feeling sick”, I looked up from the booth and Tas [Wilson], my bass player, was crying. I rewrote a lot of the lyrics so I could mold it around the relationship between me and the boys. Any song I sing about them is naturally happy. ‘Worms’ is another song I wrote for them – we and Ders had an argument that I felt terrible after, so I wrote this song for him and the boys, and it’s all about how much I love them and how great they made me feel. I think all the tracks about the boys are always going to be happy ones.

>> KEEP READING: Review: Ruby Fields – Been Doin’ It For A Bit <<

Been Doin’ It For A Bit is out now independently
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