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Happy Bummers: Ruby the RabbitFoot, September 7 at Rozz-Tox PDF Print E-mail
Music - Feature Stories
Written by Jeff Ignatius   
Wednesday, 03 September 2014 10:12

Given her foibles, Ruby Kendrick’s decision to give up visual art for music seems like a brambled path.

In a phone interview promoting her September 7 performance at Rozz-Tox (under her band name Ruby the RabbitFoot), she said she used to be “terrified” to play live.

She loves pop music but writes these lyrics: “People with nice homes / Shouldn’t play with matches. / They’ll burn it right down, / Tear their hearts right up. / And all that’s left in the middle / Are some smoky lungs.”

Because many of the songs are deeply personal, they sometimes resurrect pain in live performance.

And in a business in which the release of new material often comes years after a song is written, she’s admittedly impatient. Talking about her songwriting process, Kendrick said: “If it doesn’t happen immediately, I’m just not interested.”

Despite all that – and even though she and her family knew she’d be a visual artist – she ditched that assumed calling in college to pursue life as a performing songwriter. (She still works in the visual arts, making her own videos and album artwork.)

At the outset, it was evident she had some obstacles to overcome. Two publications in her home base of Athens, Georgia, were painfully blunt about where she stood circa 2011, when she released her debut No Weight, No Chain. Back then, the Athens Banner-Herald described her performance style as “near talent-show rigidity. Her timid stage presence, combined with the steadfastness in her voice, borders on cloying.” And describing her progress since then, Flagpole earlier this year said that album “offered a glimpse of the songwriter’s prowess, [but] it was weakened by her distracting diffidence.”

Her second album, New as Dew, shows that Ruby the RabbitFoot has come a long way. Flagpole wrote: “The new record brims with confidence, from the full-band approach and thick-sounding production ... to Kendrick’s much-improved songwriting.”

Although I didn’t ask her specifically about the criticisms, her self-evaluation aligns with them. The major change, she said, was ditching her concerns about other people. “I really hate expectations,” she said about performing live. “And I would get in my head: ‘Oh, these people, they paid money. What do they want from me? I can’t give you what you want.’ I was too focused on thinking about letting people down, which is a tremendous waste of energy.”

The repeated acts of recording and performing helped ease that over-thinking, as did regularly switching from full-band shows to duo performances with her guitarist, McKendrick Bearden. (The Rozz-Tox show will be with Bearden. “It’s just enough to bring the songs on the record to life without having to gas up the van and feed grown-ass men ... ,” Kendrick said. “I think that the lyrics are the most important part, so I try to feel like that will be enough in the live show.”)

But she also said she had to change her mindset. “I exhausted myself with worry,” she said.

And although it might seem a small thing, some of that related to the amount of effort she put into her appearance.

“You wanted to look pretty, because people are taking your photo,” she said. “And every time I would see a photo of myself, I would just lose it. I would be so upset.”

But one night while testing out New as Dew songs for audiences, she made a decision: “I’m wearing my pajamas. I just wore what I would wear if I was just going to be me, instead of trying to dress up for a performance. I was like, ‘Dudes do this.’ You don’t see ... old crusty rocker dudes getting dressed up for their show. ... [And] I can’t do my hair every frickin’ night. It’s going to fall out.”

Self-confidence was also a major difference in making the new album, she said: “There was a lot more gusto when making it, a lot more certainty.”

From the acoustic-guitar and sweet-vocal beginnings of album-opener “Ways,” there is the casual tension of enchantingly warm surface honeying sour words: “I know / You’re probably thinkin’ of ways / Ways to be good to me, / But let me help you spare your precious energy.”

Those different tones are consistent throughout the album; you’ve never heard the word “murderer” sung with such loving sincerity.

On a practical level, this is a function of Kendrick mostly letting her band arrange the songs, and her natural attraction to pop music. “I didn’t really think about matching” lyrics and music, she said. “I was just like, ‘I want to dance.’”

But more importantly, she added, this apparent contradiction is actually a reasonable expression of her personality: “I’m pretty bummed, but I’m really happy.” (And if you think some of the lyrics are bleak, Kendrick noted that “I never release the ones that are really sad.”)

She’s also planning a new album for 2015, “and if it’s not next year, I might explode.”

Just don’t expect her to stand still. She’s made great leaps since her first album, but she said there are more to come. “I want to express myself in the most brave way that I can, I guess with reckless abandon almost,” she said. “Not thinking about letting anybody down.”

Ruby the RabbitFoot will perform on Sunday, September 7, at Rozz-Tox (2108 Third Avenue, Rock Island; RozzTox.com). Admission to the 8 p.m. all-ages show is $5 to $10.

For more information on Ruby the RabbitFoot, visit RubyTheRabbitFoot.com.

Christian Lee Hutson, Yeah Okay, I Know

Also appearing with Ruby the RabbitFoot on September 7 will be singer/songwriter Christian Lee Hutson, who is releasing his sophomore album Yeah Okay, I Know at a one-song-a-month clip throughout the year.

The record combines sure-footed songwriting with joyous, gorgeously oddball indie-rock textures, such as the insistent ’60s-rock vibe on “Playing Dead” obliterated by rapid-fire beats and a cutting blast of tremulous electric guitar.

But when Hutson pares down the arrangements – such as on the faltering-voice “That’ll Do” – the songs are no less striking. His singing and songwriting are strong enough to support bustling cacophonies and sensitive enough to deftly sketch out complicated emotional territory.

There’s also plenty of middle ground between those extremes, and Hutson never coasts, filling the tracks with invigorating detail. Near the end of “I Do Mean Well,” there’s a hiccup in the tempo – an unexpected momentary pause between the words “complicate” and “this.” I don’t know what it means, but it’s a flourish with an outsize impact – evidence of an artist who’s full of surprises even when he doesn’t need them.

Verma, Sunrunner

A day before the Ruby the RabbitFoot/Christian Lee Hutson show, Rozz-Tox will feature a concert headlined by Chicago psych-rockers Verma. (The 9 p.m. event also includes Idpyramid and Gosh!, and admission is $7 to $10.)

The band’s Sunrunner album is propulsive in its meandering – amorphously certain compositions headed not much of anywhere in quite a hurry. Buzz-saw guitars and chugging rhythms provide the bedrock for layers of freak-out noise and unintelligible singing on opener “Regolith.” The song seems to represent the band at full-throttle, but “Chrome” kicks things up to another level in tempo, volume, and angularity.

That level of frenzy wouldn’t sustain listener interest over the course of an album, and the dreamy, spacey “Erato” casts the band in a different light – able to craft mood through alien texture that, while nebulous, still has a form solid enough to operate as more than a palette-cleanser. “Sacrifice” and the title track manage a balance between aggressive sonics and an atmospheric vibe.

But “The Traveller” is the album’s sweet spot – driven ever forward by the bass, with guitars swirling around and contrasting with a bright keyboard melody that’s the song’s spine. The destination’s uncertain, but the ride is thrilling.

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