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Ruarri Joseph - The IndieLondon interview

Ruarri Joseph

Interview by Rob Carnevale

RUARRI Joseph’s new album Shoulder To The Wheel is available now and is a remarkable listen. We chat to the singer-songwriter about the inspiration behind the tracks and the journey to getting it made.

He also talks about why his wife has such a great instinct for which of his songs work, why the Internet is helping to create a better music industry and the best advice he’s received in getting to this point.

Q. Hi Ruarri, we’re loving the new album – it must give you a tremendous amount of joy and relief to have completed it given all that has happened to you in recent times?
Ruarri Joseph: For sure. I’m really proud to have finished it and be out playing again.

Q. How does it shape your outlook on life when you go through an experience such as discovering that your son, Alfie, required emergency brain surgery?
Ruarri Joseph: It certainly puts things into perspective and makes you cherish everything and everyone that’s close to you.

Q. You seem to have had a pretty remarkable career path to date… how does it seem looking back on it now?
Ruarri Joseph: It’s been interesting no doubt, but hopefully it’s all just the overture for what happens next, whatever that may be!

Q. Your wife also seems to have been a great influence and support, especially in those early days of setting up a record label… can you talk about that?
Ruarri Joseph: My wife is my head in the clouds and my feet on the ground. It basically works like, I run something by her and if it gets the thumbs up we go for it, if not we shelve it. She has an amazing instinct.

Q. Your PR states that you initially found yourself completely unprepared for the music industry? How do you feel about it now?
Ruarri Joseph: It is what it is, but back then I didn’t know what it was!

Q. And how has it changed? Is it harder to get records completed? Or do things like the Internet in fact make it easier?
Ruarri Joseph: The Internet has definitely had a huge impact on the industry. There was a time when businessmen looked at the figures of record sales and decided to invest their money in music for that reason only. Now that the figures are decreasing, hopefully they’ll all go invest somewhere else and more control will go back to the artist. It feels like we’re still in transition at the moment but the aim is less money, better music.

Q. The new album – Shoulder To The Wheel – is great! There are so many good songs… beginning with Nervous Grin. What inspired that (we love the lyrics)?
Ruarri Joseph: My wife has the best nervous grin. I like the idea of trying to find the happiness in amidst the chaos and that seemed like a good template for the record and a nice way to start it.

Q. And likewise An Orchard For An Apple – it kind of sums up the optimism surrounding this record?
Ruarri Joseph: Yeah for sure. That was the first song I wrote after a period of not writing anything. It wasn’t that conscious but on reflection I can see that we were on our way to finding the light at the end of the tunnel again. And it’s a song about accepting the fact that life doesn’t slow down for you but the best thing you can do is try and deal with it face on.

Q. How important was it to retain a sense of optimism on this album? And why did you decide, as the PR states, to shape some of the songs by gospel?
Ruarri Joseph: Ha! It’s not so much gospel as the idea of gospel. I couldn’t name you a gospel singer and my experience of gospel music probably comes from The Blues Brothers, but I love the idea of music that gives you hope or faith or truth. Musical truth. I hope it comes across as an honest record. Songs like As Always and Raining Stone are pretty confessional.

Q. Can you talk a little about A Fool Of Us All, another of our favourites?
Ruarri Joseph: Love is like being really drunk sometimes, it makes you do and say stupid things. Especially those early days. A friend of a friend unloaded a whole bunch of relationship woes about her ex and her ex-ex on me one day when I was just minding my own business waiting for someone, and all I could think of saying was ‘well…love makes a fool of us all!’ I then left her to it and ran into the other room and wrote that song! I’m not the best counsellor eh?

Q. And the use of harmonica at times… what makes that such a great embellishment to a record?
Ruarri Joseph: I guess it’s a sound that goes in and out of style. I’m a bit of a novice but have always been a fan. I must have used it at a time when it’s in vogue again?

Ruarri Joseph

Q. What has been the most pleasing reaction you’ve had to the album so far?
Ruarri Joseph: I’m just happy it’s out there.

Q. How was growing up in New Zealand? And when did you first know you wanted to pursue a career in the music industry?
Ruarri Joseph: New Zealand is a cool place though we lived in the middle of nowhere so pursuing music was only ever a dream. We played in weird little bars and cafes but I couldn’t see a future beyond that really so bought a ticket to England when I was 17 and started a band.

Q. What was the greatest piece of advice you received along the way?
Ruarri Joseph: When I left for England my mum said: “Keep it in your trousers.” I met my wife at the first gig I did!

Q. You describe this album as your most mature collection of work to date, so what did you learn and take away from the experience of writing and recording it? Did you learn anything new about yourself that surprised you?
Ruarri Joseph: I only had one microphone and a demo of some music software on a computer that sounds like it’s going to take off. I learned that I can be pretty resourceful. There’s definitely something about being limited by your means making you more creative.

Q. On a lighter note, which artists inspire you?
Ruarri Joseph: Artists who are artists before anything else.

Q. Who would you love to duet with if given the opportunity?
Ruarri Joseph: I’d say Joan Baez. Her voice is unbelievably honest.

Q. And which song would you like to cover at the moment?
Ruarri Joseph: We’re playing Fumblin’ With The Blues by Tom Waits at the moment. One of my favourites by far.

Q. Finally, what are the 10 tracks that are never far from your iPod player at the moment?
Ruarri Joseph: Falling Rain – Link Wray
Alice – Tom Waits
Watching Birds – Stornaway
Satan Your Kingdom Must Come Down – Robert Plant & Band of Joy
Paths of Victory – Bob Dylan
Maps – Grey Dog
God Speed – Ryan Ashley Jones
Love Me Tenderly – The Felice Brothers
Uncloudy Day – Staple Singers
Dry up Those Tears – Prince Fatty

Read our review of Shoulder To The Wheel