The crazy world of Jumanji, otherwise known as the year 2020 that we are all currently fighting our way through has forced us all to adapt. The music and creative industries have been forced to change quickly as shows and widespread touring have been severely restricted on both sides of the Atlantic. England, like the United States had a long spell where shows were not possible but prior to the second lockdown enforced at the start of this month, we had found ways to get live music going again with safe, socially distant and controlled measures in place.
Despite that, the growth of country and Americana that had rapidly been occurring in Europe could not continue as easily due to no artists from Nashville hopping on a plane to head over with the threat of a fortnight in quarantine before they could even explore the country. However, one artist decided to take the plunge and whilst circumstances have changed since her arrival in that venues have once again been forced to close, it is delightful to finally have Ruthie Collins over here on British soil. I first got to see Ruthie play back in 2018, so the promise of a debut UK show in the midst of adversity was something to be very excited about but unfortunately that plan has had to be adapted and the Curb Records recording artist originally from up-state New York was still looking to be positive about her trip over to the UK when we spent some time hanging out over Zoom.
Today is my first day back in the outside world. I can go to a grocery store or a supermarket as you guys call it! I’ve finished my quarantine, technically this morning I am a free bird. Well not a free bird, you know. I’ve finished my quarantine and entered my lockdown! I’m excited to be able to go take a walk around London and go outside and get some exercise. Everything’s so beautiful and old here that just being able to see anything is enough for me. The promoter for my show tomorrow said before I even came over and this is when we thought it would be a real, real show: Are you sure? It’s so much to ask for you to quarantine for two weeks just to play a couple of shows? Then I was like, I know I speak for every musician in the world right now, but I would happily quarantine for six weeks or ten weeks to be in a room, playing music with people! We are not quite doing that, but they are amazing here, we realigned, worked things out and we are going to be live streaming from the venue in London so hopefully we will have even more people there virtually. It’s “Country in the Evening” now so it’s going to be great, I’m really excited about it. They announced lockdown thirty-six hours after I started my quarantine I think, so that was a shock and they were asked would you just like us to send you home? But I was like I’m here and I have a fridge full of food. I was quarantined in the Surrey countryside so it was beautiful and there are farm animals so even if I can’t see another human being for two weeks, I can pet this dog, so it was all good.
Now her quarantine over here has ended, like most visitors to these shores she was looking forward to getting out and explore as much as possible in the current climate for the remainder of her stay: I hope to see what I can see, I’m not really sure what. Basically, I will be walking around London, getting some exercise, taking in the beauty and the architecture here. It’s so crazy to an American how it’s so old, which I love and I’ll just do what I can safely and try and enjoy some travel but I have a lot of travel plans. I’ve never been to the UK, it’s my first time! I’ve always been obsessed with vintage everything you know. I got a new car the day before I got here and it’s a 1989 campervan! I just love old things so being here in the UK where everything is from like the 1600’s, I swear it’s like a dream!
After spending two weeks on her own in the countryside, I asked about whether she had now mastered the art of making tea correctly where I explained that putting the milk in before the hot water is probably the biggest sin you can commit in the United Kingdom. Then I elaborated to explain the only thing that comes even close is how London has an unwritten rule of avoiding eye contact and under no circumstances may you engage in conversation with strangers on the tube: I like that rule on an aeroplane too! Every time I get on an aeroplane, somebody wants to talk my ear off. A couple of years ago, I had this very strange endorsement with a deli meat company which I don’t even know how my agent found this, but we would go around playing corporate events basically. The reason I’m telling this is because anytime I would get on an aeroplane and anyone would ask me what I do for a living, I would say I’m in the deli meat industry. I got so tired of saying I’m a singer because then it is over! Then you are talking to grandma for the entire flight and she’s showing you eighteen videos of her daughter on YouTube singing so I’m not lying when I was saying I’m in the deli meat industry and nobody wanted to talk to me.
Her latest aviation voyage brought her into a fortnight of quarantine in the Surrey countryside with the plan to follow it up playing her first shows in the UK and having a physical audience in front of her. This clearly has not gone to plan given England returning to a national lockdown shortly after her arrival but without knowing this would happen, Ruthie talked about why heading over here and trying to get live shows rolling again was something that was something that she really wanted to do. I think we have to! I wouldn’t say I would do anything for music, but I would do almost anything for music and especially these days where if we don’t have art, things like visual, music, theatre or ballet is like a life without colour. Yes, we have to adapt and be safe, but we have to fight for the arts. That’s kind of what it was for me, we’ll figure out a way to do this safe and by the rules, but we’ve got to get playing again. We’ve got to keep creating and however we can stay connected, it’s more important than ever. Honestly, in the States or at least where I am in Tennessee, which I’m learning is very different to other places, things have been going more open not less open. It’s going to be cold when I go back, so who knows what’s going to happen when it’s winter, but I wasn’t really prepared. I thought wow! London is already letting artists play in venues which in Tennessee is just something that is starting, so I kind of thought we were down the road a little bit more and I did not anticipate the lockdown. I’m glad I didn’t because had I known, I don’t know if I still would have come. I just think it’s something that’s so worth fighting for and just to be able to stay connected to my community in any way, then it’s an adventure! I’m doing all the same things here that I would be doing at home. I can’t tour, so I would be writing songs, doing my livestreams and working on my book, so in my mind that was what I would be doing which I could do from here and I love my alone time. It’s so funny, I’m just a strange human in that way, everyone has been asking are you so excited to be out of quarantine? I was like I could do two more weeks easy! I never did the sit and watch Netflix for six days in a row part of quarantine, it’s nice to be alone, it’s nice to be with nature so it really didn’t seem like a big ask to me.
Then what it is exactly about the UK along with what she has heard about playing over here which has made it such an important priority to try and make work. For years, I have been hearing: you are going to love it, they are going to love you! I’ve been wanting to come here forever, I’ve been so excited to tour the UK and really the best response to “Cold Comfort” has been here. I have Bob Harris to thank for most of that, it’s really changed my life so even from the record label perspective, they were like basically as soon as it’s safe to get you over there we are just going to ship you over there and leave you there! I’ve been hearing it for years and just been dreaming about these UK audiences because they talk about touring here as a musician is like this mecca, people listen there! You always hear you will sing to a crowd, who just look at you and they just listen. It seems like what it should be, but it’s not and especially in Nashville, where everyone is so critical. I’ve always just heard about how encouraging and warm the audience and the communities are, which is so funny being from the States that this small place is more welcoming, I’m not going to talk crap on America, it’s great but you could fit the UK in one of our States and they value it more somehow, so it’s exciting to be here.
“Cold Comfort” had been particularly well received in the UK and within the Americana community. Given that the album came out at the start of the pandemic back in April and she has had a lot of time to work on new music but not be able to tour the album this year, we talked about releasing music during this time and what is next on the horizon musically. The thing that’s amazing about “Cold Comfort” and the UK is basically between Bob (Harris) playing it and Bobby Bones playing it, somehow it wound up in the first round of nominations for Female Vocalist of the Year even though I didn’t release a record to country radio. I don’t blame them, but my record label wasn’t excited in the current climate about releasing a female to country radio as a business decision but it’s getting better. We released it to Americana, a genre that is much more accepting of women so that’s why we went that route but it’s funny that now all these country people are like this is still country so it’s now the label are saying we need to do this, they are courting you now which has been really wonderful. We are actually going back in the studio, recording a new single and we are putting it out to country radio! We’re going to release a deluxe version of “Cold Comfort” with a couple of new songs, I think we all deserve a little 2020 redo so I’m excited about that and new music very soon! Whilst she has not been able to tour this year, it has not stopped her performing and connecting with her fans with weekly live-streams throughout the pandemic. Through this vehicle and social media, despite not being able to see fans in person, I asked Ruthie whether this has actually been able to bring her closer with her community than she ever would have previously? One million percent! I’ve been doing these livestreams every week and I have my core group of people who always show up, then I’ve been doing VIP Zoom calls afterwards. The VIP’s, most of them are the same people, some of these people have been fans of mine for years and there are some new fans but some of them I remember from shows. Before they would have got shuffled through a meet and greet line, we would take a selfie, give them a hug and maybe we would chat for a couple of minutes but now these people are filling up every single week and we talk. I talk to these people more than I talk to my family sometimes for like twenty or thirty minutes, I know their children’s names, I know what they do for a living, I know what they are scared of right now, what they are going through personally and I know about their relationships so when I get to be in a room with these people again, it’s going to be insane. In that sense it has been amazing and my community feels so much closer. I think there’s something too that you take ownership in an artist when it’s like guys, you are putting food on my table right now! You buying a ticket to the show is letting me pay my electric bill because when you are a musician, how do you make your money? You tour and just like everyone else we set up our lives based on the income we are bringing in and all of a sudden, it’s gone. We still have a house payment, we still have an electricity bill and we’ve still got to eat so I think there’s a really special thing when these people are like, we are helping you through this time because we value what you do. You’ve been serving us with music for these years, now we want to help serve you back and help you during this time so you can continue to do it. It’s really just the stuff that makes you cry, it’s very special and we have to keep supporting the arts in these times. That’s why people like Bob Harris, he’s my British earth angel and that’s literally what I call him, we were Zooming the other day talking about his “Stand By Me” song that he did. It’s so wonderful there are people out there like him that are helping these UK artists and there are people helping to keep the lights on for these venues. We need them, we need them! It’s amazing how it has brought people together but man I want to give someone a hug!
Hugs are definitely something that is a big part of being in Nashville to the extent that people that don’t like it almost have a label of being a “non-hugger” and it really is one of the things that visibly demonstrates the whole ethos of the country music community. I know! Being from New York, I was not raised that way but it kind of started for me in college because there were a lot of Southern people there and now I’m just like a hugger but I’ve got a friend who is quarantined in LA since the beginning of this and she lives alone, obviously works from home now and she is like I have not hugged a human since March. That’s not OK but we’re all going to get through this together, we have to get through this together. It has to be happening for good because it’s happening, we just have to find the best way to adapt and come out on the other side better, more skilled, more creative, more loving, compassionate and kind, not less! America, especially it’s so cool to hate right now, it’s like the trendy new thing is to shame and hate when we need to learn to love each other better.
We talked about ways to process or escape what is going on around you in the world right now, where I had said how I had made full use of all eight seasons of “Game of Thrones” which I had never watched before being available on our satellite streaming service right now as the way I had managed to recently shut a lot of things off. That is the smartest thing to do, I keep telling myself because I’m still a little bit addicted to look at the headlines but now it’s almost as a laugh. It’s just like turn it off because their job is just to make you click on the article, they are just doing their job but the the easiest way to freak people out in a room full of people is to scream bomb! They are essentially just doing that because they need you to read the article, it’s their job so you look at it and think does it help me or does it serve me? No, it just makes me more anxious, more angry, more sad or more scared so just turn it off! If they come up with a cure for COVID, you’ll hear about it!
Ruthie had briefly touched on her time in college, which she spent in Massachusetts at Boston’s world renowned Berklee College of Music. This not only became a big step on her journey from New York to Nashville but also laid the foundations for what has now become her closest friendship and adding some fiddle into her life as Berklee was where she first met Natalie Stovall. We did have some classes together but how it really happened was she had this band in college called Green Line South and she had this keyboard player that I was dating, who lived with her now husband. We all became friends through that, but she was more like a big sister in college, she was like this star of Berklee. Just look at the voice on that woman, I really looked up to her. I looked up to her so much as an artist and a songwriter, but we weren’t like we are now in college, it was when I moved to Nashville that we started getting closer and closer then somewhere around five or six years ago it was like gangbusters, you’re my soulmate, best friend for life! I WOULD DIE WITHOUT MY NATALIE STOVALL! She’s just the kindest woman and there’s something about what we do and what we share that is like, you know exactly what I’m going through because you have fought the fight, you have gone through it with me and there’s just such a bond there. She is an amazing woman, I’m so thrilled for her and Runaway June. It’s been amazing to watch her journey and kind of like come up together.
Keeping down the sisterhood road, you often see through her socials that she also has learnt that life needs a little bit of Australian magic to really complete it, so I followed up talking about Natalie with finding out how Ruthie’s friendship with the amazing Nikita Karmen came to flourish: This is my favourite interview of all time, just getting to talk about my best friends! Natalie and Nikita were in the Bobby Bones band together then she had been telling us both for years that you need to hang out with Ruthie to her and you need to hang out with Nikita to me, you guys are just going to adore each other. Finally, the two of us went on a trip to Blue Ridge, Georgia to play a couple of shows and it was like Oh! You’re also my soulmate best friend! I would not have survived lockdown, COVID and the summer of 2020 without Nikita. We just got together at the pool, drank too many Truly’s and wrote songs. Literally we wrote about twenty songs in her pool. She is just a darling, she is one of the most fantastic songwriters that I have ever, ever met and she writes more than anyone I know where I write more than anyone I know so when I’m saying that, it’s like you popped another one out? She wrote songs about my life! Can you imagine having a best friend who you talk to about some guy yesterday and she wrote a song about it. She literally sends me songs all the time like this is about you and what’s his name? It’s so crazy but I have the best friends in the world and I do! Everybody needs their people and in this industry it’s nice to have real quality friends that aren’t competitive, they just love you and want this so bad for you because you deserve all the goodness and happiness in the world. Finally, I talked about how the last time I had seen Ruthie was back in June last year at Acme Feed & Seed on Lower Broadway whilst CMA Fest was going on. We had already talked about her friendship with the newest member of Runaway June, but on this occasion, she was performing with Natalie as a duo called Honeysuckle Rose where their songs were a little bit different, quite a bit sassier and definitely much naughtier. Given how much fun we had watching their performance and it being so evident how much they enjoyed doing it, I asked if time allowed at some point in the future whether we may possibly get to hear more from Honeysuckle Rose and these songs coming out into the world?
I hope so because I have never had more fun in my life! I have never had more fun in my life than dressing up in ten-gallon outrageous country and western outfits, singing the most outrageous party songs. We called it like premium cable for country music! You turn HBO on and people start taking their clothes off and saying a lot of f-bombs. We clearly keep our clothes on but these songs, we wrote most of them on a beach trip in just a couple of days and they are just so outrageous. It’s like we put on these totally different personalities where we get to be wild, crazy, fun and it’s just the most fun I have ever had on stage! We are both very busy, but these songs have got to get out there and it’s definitely only a matter of time. Just hopefully before we get pregnant! Actually, it maybe even funnier if we bumped pregnant bellies on stage singing songs about Suga Mama’s, but I think one day it will happen!
Ruthie Collins is performing virtually from The Sound Lounge on the Country in the Evening live-stream event this evening (Saturday November 14th) from 19:30 GMT (1:30PM Central) with support from Hannah White and Tim Prottey-Jones, tickets and further information are available HERE.