"But what is happiness except the simple harmony between a man and the life he leads?" - Albert Camus
With her sophomore album Happy Now Ruby James finally seems to have gotten that simple harmony down.
Ruby James has been on a journey through darkness and doubt that left her questioning the absurdity of everything in her life. After years playing her music successfully while living in Boston, New York, Charleston and Orlando, Ruby was back in her hometown of Los Angeles struggling to find a real home for her songs and herself. A broken off engagement, a serious car accident and her deep disillusionment with the industry would lead her to leave her art altogether. Ruby found herself alone and depressed in a dingy Hollywood apartment. In her darkest hour she asked for help in finding her way. Ruby met Matt McCormack, the man who would offer a bridge to the new path that would lead her to Happy Now. Ruby recalls, “Matt was a breath of fresh air in the L.A. music scene that I knew. He was from Austin, Texas and trying to get out of his hometown blues as well.”
Matt was in town playing with the L.A. incarnation of his band the Rock Bottom Choir which featured such luminaries as Mike Thompson (The Eagles) and Bobby Tsukomoto (Rod Stewart).The song “‘Passengers’ was born during one of our late night party sessions on the fire escape where we were laying and staring up at the stars while singing the chorus back and forth to each other,” Ruby notes. Listening to Ruby’s smoky voiced songs intently, Matt urged her to go to Austin, meet some of his friends there and make an album. He was convinced that his friends would “get” her and that her music would be fully realized in a way that it had not been before.
At the same time Ruby was contacted by Aquila Guitars through her myspace page. Fans of what Ruby was doing, they asked her to travel to South Carolina to play some shows for them. With nothing to stay for in Los Angeles, Ruby went to South Carolina where she was warmly welcomed and given a nurturing and safe haven in which to write songs and play. Finding such a welcome refuge, Ruby’s writing flourished and before long she had a top-hat full of songs ready to be recorded.
Back in Austin Matt McCormack, still intent on getting Ruby out to Austin, invited her to play with the original formation of the Rock Bottom Choir, a collaboration of exceptional local musicians that included Will Sexton, Bill Carter, Ryan Carter, Joey Sheffield, and Mark Andes. It was a whirlwind introduction to the city and Ruby fell in love, as one does in a place when one finally feels at home.
Matt took Ruby to several meetings with the “it” producers about town to talk about making her new record, but she was wary. After spending many nights watching Will Sexton play at the Saxon, Ruby was taken by his “twisted soul and beautiful music” and instantly knew he was the one to produce her album if she could convince him to do it.
“It's funny because Will was never even presented to me as a producer. That was never even a thought but there was something about Will that I just loved everything about right from the start. It was just an instant kind of kindred soul mates.” Ruby anxiously relayed her thought to Matt, “I just really want Will to help me make an album.” To which he replied simply, “Well then call him up and tell him that.” Ruby had two wishes for her album, first that Will would produce and second, that Mike Thompson would play on it. Upon arriving back in LA, Ruby called Will, Will called Mike, and it was done. The Austin Sessions were born.
The original Austin sessions yielded an immediate smolder and flame although the project would ultimately take three full years to complete. The initial recording was set up in Charlie Sexton’s house, who Will had also drafted, where they recorded eleven songs over three days; with Charlie on vintage drum kit, Mike Thompson playing a tiny standup piano and Will Sexton with a Paul McCartney-esque bass. Ruby was perched on a stool in the kitchen, Charlie having lent her his jumbo bad-ass cherry red Gibson acoustic. Ruby laughs when she recalls the reality, “I still had no idea just how special this moment was until people started telling me the history of these two brothers. This project was a reunion of sorts, bringing them closer together; it was also the first time the Sexton boys played as a rhythm section.” Another session yielded three more songs. In between recording, Ruby would go out on the road to tour for stretches and work on another album, revisiting Austin to continue her work on the project with the Sexton brothers when they were available.
Meanwhile, Will, the original producer, relayed that over time the reins had organically passed to Charlie who had been busily working on the production side of the album alone. Ultimately Happy Now grew into a true collaboration between Charlie and Ruby.
Charlie muses, “It was a project no one could get away from. It kept tapping you on the shoulder and whispering in your ear.”
Upon her final return to Austin to finish up the album, it became apparent to Ruby that through the journey of this recording, her life had profoundly changed. She had found an entire community of support from those who came to contribute their time and efforts so graciously to help her make Happy Now a reality, so many people who seemed to arrive in her life at the exact moment that they were needed. Ruby muses “There is a peaceful feeling of home in Austin and these amazing musicians have brought out the best of who I am as an artist and reminded me of all it is that I can be.” Ruby James now sits comfortably in between her former darkness and new found light. She is Happy Now.
Happy Now, a long day’s journey into light, is set to release on May 30, 2010.