|| Print ||
|Written by Agnes Cadieux|
|Friday, 29 January 2010 00:00|
I sat by the phone on an overcast Wednesday afternoon, my research at hand, my recorder ready, and I was all set to interview Canadian-born singer/songwriter Deric Ruttan. What I didn't expect was to feel like I'd just received a phone call from an old friend. Even though I was speaking to an award-winning country music star about his upcoming tour, the release of his latest album, and his take on country music, the genuine, down-to-earth Canadian roots resonated across the line.
With a plethora of awards and nominations too long to list, Deric Ruttan is a shining star in the Canadian country music sky. With his latest album Sunshine hot on store shelves and a 20-city tour that kicked off January 21st, he seems to be doing everything right and loving it while he goes along.
(Cult)ure: What is it about country music that you love the most? What was it that really pulled you to toward the country music scene?
Deric Ruttan: I was always attracted to country elements in the rock and roll music I grew up with. My parents grew up in the '60, so the record collection I was exposed to were artists like Credence Clearwater Revival, the Beatles, and the Kinks, but there was some country in there as well like Johnny Horton and Dolly Parton, but the stuff that I liked was the countrier Credence stuff. When I got to high school I got into Steve Earle, who bridged that gap for me between rock and roll and country, and I just further went down that path. I think what attracted me to the music was the earthiness of it. We grew up outside of [Bracebridge, Ontario] on 300 acres of land that my grandfather bought in the '20s, so I kind of grew up with this rural background, so in those rock songs that I was gravitating towards, it was usually the country stuff I identified with. I was attracted to the stories of country music, they were plain-spoken and honest and seemed to relate directly with the audience they were singing to. Unlike rock and roll, where it seemed to be more a 'hero-worship' thing, country seemed to be more on the level of the fans. The only difference between the country fan and the country artist is that the country artist is holding the guitar. They're just everyday people singing about everyday things. That's was attracted me to it and what keeps me interested in it is that relatabililty between artist and fan.
Having said that, our live show is pretty high energy, and I always get people coming up after the show into the autograph line (which is what I do after every show -- meet as many fans as I can,) and they'll say, "Man, I really don't like country, but I really like you." I really don't know what that means, but I take it as a compliment.
You've clearly cracked this mythical shell of the music industry and made yourself a household name for country fans. How does your success affect your perspective on your writing at this time, as opposed to seven or eight years ago when it wasn't as big?
DR: I don't think I look at it any different, to be honest. The writing process for me is still the same as it was seven, eight years ago. I hesitate to say this, but I think I've become a more confident writer (but I'm still not sure if that's true). I think that there's an element of insecurity in the personality of all good artists. I think that's what propels people to want to be better and to get to that next level. The process is still the same, writing and wanting to do it better each time, not wanting to write the same song, but honing in to whatever identity you've created for yourself and just write better songs as you're developing.
You have quite a busy tour schedule coming up, and it looks like you won't get a break until the end of February. How do you maintain the energy you claim is so important to complete the circle of your musical process, keeping your fans going, and keeping yourself going through all this travel and time-shifting?
DR: This may not sound very rock and roll, but the biggest challenge is staying healthy on the road. We're not flying during this tour, we're in a tour bus the entire time, which is basically just a big germ tube that we're sharing among seven people. So we're trying to keep healthy, and eat well, and drink a lot of fluids. Kind of like being an athlete. But as far as the energy goes, that just kind of comes, no matter how much media I have to do, no matter how tired I am, there never seems to be a lack of energy on stage, and I think it's because the group of guys I have [with me]. We just have a really good chemistry on stage. My name is on the backdrop, but it feels like a band to me. I just really enjoy the camaraderie we share, and I think that shines through. I think anyone who comes to our show, anyone who has never been to a Deric Ruttan show, the first thing they will think is, "Man, you guys are having a lot of fun up there," and we are. And the other thing they say [to me] is, "Man, I never knew you wrote all those songs."
What do you want your fans to take away from your show?
DR: I want them to leave feeling thoroughly entertained. I try to make it an entertaining experience from top to bottom, I want them to feel like they've been on a journey, a ride. We [start] high, giving them the country hits they'd expect to hear, like "When You Come Around" and "First Time in a Long Time," then we'll do an acoustic set in the middle to bring it down a little, and I'll also do a couple of medleys of songs that I [have written but] didn't record, which other country artists have had hits with on the radio. That's also something that's unique to our show, and that's another thing people will say in the autograph line: "I knew 'When You Come Around' and 'Unbeatable' were your own songs, but I didn't know you wrote 'Hold My Beer' for Aaron Pritchett or 'What Was I Thinking' for Dierks Bentley." I try and pack as much into that 90 minutes as I can because people work hard for their money and when they come to a show I want them to leave saying, "You know what? That was really worth it."
Your third album hit stores January 12th. Have you done anything different this time around?
DR: I co-produced First Time in a Long Time with a friend, but [Sunshine] I produced on my own. Song-wise, it's a little bit different for me in that it's probably the most personal record I've done. A lot of the themes on the record are ones that are right out of my own life, which is fun for me because as a songwriter you always pull from your own experiences; or you have that all-important quality of empathy that all songwriters need, where you see someone going through something, and you can really feel what that would feel like. There's a song that I wrote for my wife on [this record] called 'Sunshine.' My wife is the eternal optimist and will literally see the silver lining in any situation. There's also a song called 'Where the Train Don't Stop,' which is about my hometown, Bracebridge, Ontario, where the train literally doesn't stop. I've made personal references in that, and it kind of turned into a tribute to small towns everywhere. Another song called 'One in a Million,' I wrote for my kids. So, yeah, it's a lot of me on this record and I'm really proud of it.
It looks like you're quite family oriented, and it really shines through by what you're telling me. How do you maintain connections with those people not directly involved with your touring and song writing, those not with you?
DR: Speaking of my wife and my kids, we talk a lot. Well, honestly, we text more than we talk, it's like a texting family now. But my wife has her own business and she does her own thing, but we try and talk at least once a day, maybe even every other day. She'll send me little texts, and I'll call the kids, but I am home a lot. I'm on the road right now because we're promoting the record, but when I'm home, I'm home for large stretches of time and I get to be the stay-at-home dad; I'm still writing, but I make my own schedule, so I get to see everybody a lot when I'm home.
Sunshine turned out to be a very personal album. Was this your original thought when you were writing it? Did you have any particular goals you wanted to accomplish when you were creating it?
DR: Not really, it just turned out that way. My only goal was to record an album that reflected the energy that my live band has on stage, so that influenced the recording process, and there was a conscious effort made to make a more upbeat (or energetic) record than I've made in the past. And I think there is more energy and up-tempo songs on this record than I've had [on earlier albums]. As far as the personal thing, that was something that just kind of happened. I don't usually sit down and write out a theme, it just kind of happens. You write, and certain songs just start to poke through and a theme just organically emerges, which is what happened with this one. And I would say that the theme of this record is hope, and optimism, which is something that we really need more of today.
There was a large gap between your first and second album in terms of production, but only a short turnaround between First Time in a Long Time and Sunshine. Are you planning on taking a break after this, or are the creative wheels already turning for your next masterpiece?
DR: I can tell you there won't be as long a gap as there was between the first and the second record, and even though [Sunshine] has only been out a week I've actually already written a couple songs that I think will be strong contenders for the next record. So I'm already down the road with the next record, but we'll see where this one leads.
If there is one piece of wisdom you could bestow on any up-and-coming artists that might be reading this, what would you tell them?
DR: I think the first thing is to determine, honestly in your heart of hearts, if this is really what you want to do as far as going professional. I guess what I'm saying is determine your goals to either go professional or do it casually on the side because your path of things to do from that point on will be very different. I think in both of those things you want to get as good as you can at your art. That means seeking out the advice of counsellors, as well as just immersing yourself in whatever genre it is you want to do; going to those places where that music is, and absorbing as much of it as you can. [Then] go home and try to emulate what you've seen and heard. Though a lot of it can be learned through osmosis, you really have to put the time and work in. Also, don't be satisfied with mediocrity. I think a lot of people aren't honest with themselves enough about what they're doing, and they get complacent or say, "That's good enough," but the truth is, it's never good enough. Even the people who are at the top of their game, playing arenas worldwide, it's never good enough for them either; they're always trying to improve, and I think you have to keep that mindset if you want to do this for a living.
Deric Ruttan plays at the Shenkman Arts Center February 3rd. Tickets can be purchased online at: http://www.shenkmanarts.ca/index_en.html