Beginning as an avid “music freak” in high school, hitting the open mic comps not too long after and ultimately evolving into a Jazz aficionado whilst working with bands at Mamaroux—Ruby May recently supported Jordan Rakei on his Perth visit at Jack Rabbit Slims.
In this latest Local Spotlight, May found time to chat with Grok on her musical beginnings, mental health, hints of her upcoming EP, and what five songs that had caught her eye right now with the first edition of Grok B-sides.
How did you start out with the music?
I’ve been literally singing since I was a baby, I grew up in church doing family-type singing . I was a music freak in school, doing all the musicals and stuff like that. Then school finished and not long after that I had some friends who encouraged that I should do music more, so I taught myself on the guitar and started doing open mic nights—that was about five or six years ago now.
Were you classically trained?
I am more self-taught: I haven’t much of a music background—I’ve just been lucky enough to be in the right places; my mum always sung and things like that. If anything I am more of a jazzy-style and that’s where a lot of the time I have drawn a lot of inspiration from: jazz/soul.
Have a lot of jazz artists influenced your sound?
It was a bit more soul, but in terms of singing styles I would say I am more jazz. My influences would definitely be that neo-soul vibe.
Was the singing from school to the open mic a transition for you?
It was because I was teaching myself guitar, trying to work it out, and I had no idea—anything besides a school girl enjoying singing after school. So the transition from A to B, it was funny and exciting—doing open mic and having all your friend’s rock-up.
I think at maybe 1 or 2 a.m. we were walking to the car (from mic night); there were three or four carloads of us and there was a sign for a competition at Rubix Bar that was giving away $500 a month. We went back and won our $500 dollars. I would go there and sing, and I would get all the votes, so that was kick-starting it. It was a really exciting time—there were so many people who loved and supported me.
It was like still half-strumming: not the best at all—just doing it because I enjoyed singing. The transition into doing stuff with them has been way more epic.
Did winning that competition become a racket for you?
I won it three times in a row and they stopped doing it. We were all kind of like, ‘what do you mean?’ It was funny because the way that it worked: you’d go do your set but when you go to the bar and buy a drink you can also place a vote, so basically I was packing out the house and everyone was voting for me. Obviously they caught on to that after three-in-a-row wins—they were basically paying these girls to play here once a month at that point.
For me that was my second or third gig and it was always more about the vocals over the playing kind of things—it was a nice start.
Did everything start to snowball after that point?
Those competitions and open mics, they happened five or six years ago. I just kept doing it: all these gigs, here, there and everywhere—the majority of the time playing in front of no more than ten people; a mixture between live music venues and corporate type stuff. Eventually it started snowballing because once you start doing something, once you hit that four or five years, it becomes what you’re used to.
Things started snowballing at the end of 2015 when I started working with the bands more. I was actually getting over it all in June and ready to throw in the towel. Then I did some really magical shows and met some new people. I changed my environment and had a lot happen on a mental health level, and then it changed everything for me from there.
Did you just take a step back and have a change of scene?
I had hit a point where my life had snowballed into something that completely…that I had become a little bit lost. I had done a show and in my head it was one of the last shows I wanted to be doing—I was at a really low point. But then at one particular show, there were probably forty or fifty people there and they were all there supporting me, and they sat down for my entire set. For a Saturday night, at a venue like 459 bar, to have everyone just sit, and listen, and sing along—it was just a really beautiful experience.
In that crowd were actually a few people who are now what I would call my best friends. So from that night I actually started hanging with different people. My mind-set on things started becoming a lot healthier and it wasn’t until about November/December that we all actually started jamming like an improv band.
Do you think mental health is a common issue among Australian musicians?
I definitely think it can be a battle with creative minds for sure. I think it is a pretty predominant issue not just with musicians but just with everyone. I think in the first-world countries we are blessed to have the internet and all these things, but it is a super predominant thing. It is super important to remember that everyone is fighting their own battles and everyone does have something going on. It is definitely a battle with creative minds, you can’t, not so much “lose your way,” but you can get consumed with the creative side of things sometimes.
Looking from that gig when everything changed, where do you think you are musically now?
I am still at the start. We are going to have an EP out within the next few months. Seeing that it’s my first EP, it is super exciting because it has been in the making for so long. I guess being that I have always been an acoustic artist for the past year and a half or so; it’s a full band EP so it’s a little bit different.
I would say this whole next chapter—it’s almost like the acoustic chapter not finished by any means at all—but it’s almost like it’s a new chapter with the band now. In terms of where I am at this we’re still just making waves.
How did you get the Thelma Plum gig for the Athena Music Festival?
I do acoustic gigs for Curtin Guild and I have been for a year now. It was super last minute—I think it was the day before…two days before. That was a really awesome gig.
In the context of the Athena Music Festival, do you think it’s getting better for Australian female musicians in the music industry?
I think that it’s important for people to remember that there’s a certain amount of awareness that must be raised on the issue because there are still people out there who have no idea that that’s even a thing. It’s having patience with people who are not aware as well—the more awareness that is getting raised, there are more females that are getting out there and doing it. Just because they are not out there doing, doesn’t mean they don’t exist.
Stayed tuned for May’s EP.