It ought to go without saying that when you’re invited to share a bill with headliners like Kris Kristofferson, Justin Townes Earle, Shovels & Rope, Nikki Lane, Reverend Horton Heat, and Tony Joe White, you’re bound to learn a thing or two. Yet, in listening to her debut album, one can’t help get but suspect that it was Ruby Boots’ own style and savvy that earned her a place on that stage to begin with. Though she hails from the Land Down Under, her sensitive and soulful style might find her easily mistaken for an artist who resides this side of the Pacific, in a town like Nashville or Austin, Texas.
Indeed, Ruby Boots – also known as Bex Chilcott – has been a traveler since early on. Her bio tells us that she left home at the age of 16, worked her way up Australia’s remote west coast, and ended up in Broone, a rough and tumble place on the edge of civilization. There, she landed a job on a fishing boat and spent weeks at sea on a trawler. Despite being surrounding by a cast of unsavory characters, she found time to pick up a guitar, immerse herself in music, and emerge with a cache of original songs. She also picked up a new nom de plume, and in the years since, a growing following as well.
To date, Ruby Boots has released two EPs, both of which set the stage for her full length debut, somewhat aptly titled Solitude. It’s a spirited set of songs that provides a proper blend of sass and sentiment. It also reflects the independent spirit that Chilcott has exhibited from early on.
“Solitude, both the album title and title track, drew a lot of inspiration from my time spent working on boats, where I was living out at sea for weeks at a time,” she said in a recent interview. “That’s where I first started writing and playing music. It was hard labor working on a pearl farm and it got lonely out there. The isolation was sometimes just as beautiful as it was suffocating.
“Music was something that showed up on my doorstep at the right time,” she continues, “and balanced [out] both sides of the isolation. It’s always been something I’ve been able to go back to and draw from, that feeling of solitude. I wanted to pay homage to that on my first album.”
The disc brings with it a lot of authority, both in Chilcott’s assertive vocals and in the pros that provided assistance – among them, Tony Buchen (Tim Finn, The Preatures, Mama Kin), Anna Laverty (Paul Dempsey), Jordie Lane, and Bill Chambers (Kasey Chambers’ father – an able musician on his own). Chambers especially provides an apt frame of reference, given that any comparison to Kasey is apt indeed. Nevertheless, Chilcott cites her list of influences.
“It’s the things you can’t physically touch that inspire me,” she says, listing, “life, people, what people feel, melody. Lucinda Williams and Janis Joplin inspire me as women and as artists. They have feeling in what they do. Real feeling. You can’t touch that.
“I’ve lost touch with materialism almost altogether, its been so long, years, since I’ve had a place to call home and I just don’t have any need for it anymore. It dulls down all the things I’ve just listed that do inspire me. It feels great to be free of that, but all of the books and records that I own are in boxes somewhere and I miss those, a lot. When I unpack the few boxes of belongings that I do still own and revisit those things, I’ll have another whole album’s worth to write about!”
This album, meanwhile, was recorded in Sydney, Melbourne, Perth, Spain, and Utah. The moving around – and its inherent solitude –helped Chilcott gain the confidence and assurance she says were sorely lacking.
“There’s always … heartache on my recordings,” she says. “This album has a lot of passion and grit throughout it. It’s not the kind of record you listen to and think, ‘This is a sweet and soft sounding album.’ … I learned a lot about expressing what I wanted musically throughout [this] process. People are always going to tell you what they think is best for you, and it’s great to be able to hear that and take what you want from it, but you have to use what works with your gut and intuition and leave the rest behind.
“Making my debut album brought a lot of self-doubt,” she continues. “Lots of insecurities surfaced and that was really unsettling. There were periods of time where I didn’t trust myself [with] the process, and material from the first session was thrown away because I wasn’t true to myself. I was glad that happened early in the process because it showed me I could trust where I wanted to take the songs, and that feels good.”
As for the future, Chilcott is equally firm and forthright. “My goals are simple and uncomplicated,” she maintains. “I want to write songs that people can relate to. That’s what I care about most. … Whatever else comes with that is a total bonus. We’re really lucky as artists, having that kind of power to be able to take the edge off someone’s day with a lyric, to be the melody line they sing when they get ready for the weekend, or on the drive home from work. You’ve got to be in love with those things the most, or you won’t last. It’s those small things that’ll keep you going, not some paycheck that you think will change your life.”