After a mesmerizing sonic introduction to American audiences on Bloodshot’s 13 Days of Xmas holiday compilation last year, Ruby Boots (the musical nom de plume of Australian singer-songwriter Bex Chilcott) is following up the “hello, how are you” with her recently released newest full length album Don’t Talk About It. For our newest NoiseTrade One-on-One, we interviewed Chilcott to talk about her new collection of songs (including the wonderfully fed up “I Am A Woman”), her creative partnership with The Texas Gentlemen, her fascinatingly nomadic journey from Australia to Nashville, and much more!
NoiseTrade: Before we get into your new album Don’t Talk About It, tell us a little bit about your amazing backstory and your nomadic journey that started in Perth, Australia and led to your current stop in Nashville, TN?
Ruby Boots: I left Perth at 19 after a rocky start to life during my formative years. I needed to get out of a city that reminded me of my troubles, so I hitchhiked up the West Coast of Australia to Broome on an 18 wheeler truck and started working out at sea on pearling boats. After pearling for about three years, I moved South to Exmouth and worked for a while in the Monte Bello Islands – this incredible archipelago of around 170 small islands. It’s a marine sanctuary too, so the marine life there was incredible. We were living on a house boat out there and it was a really different time for me. The solitude over those years gave me the time and space to work through a lot of things. I traveled all through the UK and Europe from there and landed back in Perth, Western Australia around 2004.
I had started playing guitar and writing when I was out at sea and after busking and playing open mics abroad, I started gigging in Perth for a while. Then I found out I had two really big nodules on my vocal chords that were too big to operate on without leaving scars and damaging my singing voice. So I stopped singing for three years and once I rose up from those ashes, started recording music in 2010 and eventually I was touring around Australia. I started visiting Nashville in 2012 and felt like it was where I needed to be but I had a lot of work to do in Australia before I felt like I could just up and leave. I like to listen to the flow of life until something that is calling me clicks into place. After visiting a couple of times a year each year and making enough friends to feel like I had something to land on in town, I eventually moved to Nashville in early 2016 to write the new album and here I am.
NT: Listening through Don’t Talk About It, there seems to be a fearlessly unconventional mixture of musical and lyrical inspirations flowing through your own unique songwriting filter. What are some of the specific songs and artists that have informed some of your new songs?
Ruby Boots: There is so much that goes in before something comes out! Not just musical influences but so many books, so many conversations, so many thought processes, so many ways of looking at life before I can come to a conclusion that this is how I feel about life and the world and myself right now in comparison to how I did before and this is how I want it to translate and sound. To be more specific in one realm, I was thinking just the other day about some of the albums that have shown me that I should follow whatever my instincts tell me to do – and then do that, no matter what – and Lucinda Williams’ World Without Tears is the first album that comes to mind. Listening to “Atonement” and “Fruits Of My Labor” on the same record – it’s almost like there it is in plain site, do whatever the fuck you want. Just make sure it’s what is calling you at the time.
NT: One of the most resonantly moving songs on your new album is “I Am A Woman,” especially the closing line: “You lay it all on the line, when you lay down with me.” What initially sparked the writing of that song and how has the response been to it when you sing it live?
Ruby Boots: It was initially sparked from a place of fury. A place that isn’t foreign to me. A place that I have visited before but am just now finding the voice and perspective that I want to express it through. As a woman, when I hear someone say they can do whatever they like to our bodies, just as they please, anytime they feel like, as though we don’t have any fucking control over what happens to our bodies, I think it’s safe to say that its time to get angry and that it’s getting old and we need to weed that behavior and language out. There is no place for it anymore. I feel that writing about it is one of the most important things I can do to communicate how wrong it is. So I did. I tried to do so in a way that doesn’t exclude anyone from understanding that what I am saying is that we need to treat each other with love and respect.
When I play “I Am A Woman” live, I have just been singing it on stage by myself with no instrumentation. Just my voice and the song. Without fail, every time there has been pin drop silence. Men and women have cried and people have been saying it’s brave to do it that way, so exposed and bare. I think now is the time we need to be brave. We can get angry but we need to step into a place where we are brave and speak up about what we want to fight for.
NT: What led to you having The Texas Gentlemen as your backing band throughout Don’t Talk About It and what was that experience like for you to hear them interpret your songs in a full-band format?
Ruby Boots: I met the Gents through my bass player Chase McGillis. He had been playing with me live in Nashville since 2015 and is on the album also. The Gents were traveling to Newport Folk Festival from Dallas and stopped in Nashville to play a warm up show at The American Legion. They played Kris Kristofferson songs before they landed in Newport to back him up as his backing band. I got to talking with Beau Bedford who produced my album about what I was doing in America and we kept the conversation going. We kept bumping into each other and eventually I started send him songs. I sent him the “Infatuation” demo and he loved it. So I went to Dallas to cut the song and we worked really well in the studio together, so we moved forward and made the album together. It all happened really organically and there was a hand of synchronicity amongst it I think. I had an incredible time in the studio working with the band – which was made up of some of the core members and other Gents family members – and everyone had so much musical input that just worked seamlessly together. It was a really fun and easy process bringing it all together.
NT: After hearing Don’t Talk About It, I’m sure there will be a ton of new Ruby Boots fans that will go back and check out your previous full-length album Solitude. What differences (and similarities) will listeners hear between the two albums?
Ruby Boots: I think there is still an element of rawness and honesty to the lyrics. I just think that the perspective has changed. A lot has happened in the years that I wrote Solitude to now. So much has changed in the world inside of me and the world around me. I’ve grown and I think I am more self-assured and aware of my surroundings, but I’m still able to express myself in a very real way. Musically there is a difference in sound, the last album was an alt-country album and this one I feel is more of a rock and roll album.
NT: Finally, your song “I Slept Through Christmas” from Bloodshot’s 13 Days of Xmas last year was not only one of the standout insta-classics on the holiday comp, but it really served as a nice statement that you are among kindred spirits at your new label. What’s been your favorite part about being a part of the Bloodshot roster so far?
Ruby Boots: Bloodshot is a label that I myself have loved and respected for many years. It’s the first US label that I paid any real attention to from Australia. That’s the thing. There are fans out there just like me that are fans of the label, that will trust what they put out as something they should listen to. I was, and still am, one of those fans. So sitting on the other side, the receiving end of that, has been really exciting and fun! Not to mention that working with genuine people that are supremely passionate about the music you make and helping to get it out there is priceless in this industry!
When writer Will Hodge (@will_hodge) isn’t shaking the clammy hand and repeating the 23rd psalm, you can find him running off at the keyboard about music, concerts, and vinyl at My So-Called Soundtrack