Interview: Ruth B
Technology and social media have transformed the way artists can share their music, allowing “stars” to be born before record executives are even involved. The latest to acquire their big break from a social media platform is Canadian singer and songwriter, Ruth B (the B is short for her last name, Berhe). After posting a six-second clip on Vine of what would become her viral hit “Lost Boy,” everything changed for her. The 20-year-old was suddenly approached by numerous record labels; she ultimately signed with Columbia because she felt they best understood her vision.
In November of 2015, Berhe released her debut EP, The Intro. She wrote and produced all four songs, which feature just her voice and piano, creating an intimate, unrefined, and truthful first piece of work from the songstress.
Here, Berhe discusses her authentic approach to songwriting and reveals the meanings behind each tune from her EP.
Laura Antonelli (Songfacts): You’ve said that your writing process is unique for each song, but can you think of some techniques that work best for you?
Ruth Berhe: When I write, it just happens all at once. When I have an idea, I’ll go straight to my pen and paper and just start writing exactly what’s coming to me. I won’t really think that it’s a song – I’ll just start writing and then maybe later I’ll look at it with more of a critical mind, but I think the best thing to do at first is just to be honest and put your feelings onto the paper.
Songfacts: When you first joined Vine, it was just for fun and not with the intention of posting videos of yourself performing your songs. So what compelled you to start sharing your music that way?
Ruth: It happened organically. I just one day decided to sing a six-second original and then people almost started asking for that versus covers. So I stuck with it and I think people gravitated more towards the original content versus the covers.
Songfacts: What was your experience like recordingThe Intro EP in Brooklyn, New York?
Ruth: It was awesome. It was a pretty fast process because all the songs were already written, but it was fun. It was really cool to be in a studio and hear my songs come alive and go from my basement to an actual studio.
Songfacts: “Lost Boy” was the first song you ever wrote and it started with you posting a six-second clip of it on Vine. Can you describe the evolution of that tune?
Ruth: Sure. One day I was down at my keyboard playing with random chords and just singing different words. I happened to sing the first line of the chorus, “I’m a lost boy from Neverland, usually hanging out with Peter Pan,” and it was just that. I decided to post it and it got a pretty cool reaction so I started adding more and more lines, and then eventually sat down to write this whole song, which was fun.
When I originally posted the Vine, it was just some catchy words, but when I sat down to write it, I really wanted to make it more than that because I think the song had the potential to be super cheesy and just about Peter Pan, but I wrote it from a more personal place when I actually sat down to write the song.
Songfacts: Can you explain the tale happening in “Lost Boy” and how it was inspired by the television show, Once Upon a Time?
Ruth: Yeah, I was watching the show and it was all about Peter Pan so my headspace was in a fairy tale world. When I made that first line up, that was it. When I sat down to write it, I was like,The main theme of the song is lost boy. How can I connect that to real life?
Everyone has been lonely. Everyone has been in need of a friend at one point or another. I know I’ve been there, so I wrote it from that point of view.
Songfacts: The inspiration for “2 Poor Kids” came to you while you were on a city bus. Can you recall what sparked the idea for that song and explain the actual story taking place in it?
Ruth: Sure. I was on a bus one day going home from school. Two kids got on the bus and the girl wasn’t wearing shoes and she had on a tank top – it was still pretty cold out. Everyone was looking at them kind of funny, but they seemed to be oblivious to everyone else, and didn’t really care. It was before I started writing songs, but I remember thinking, Wow. Someone can make a movie about these guys, because they just didn’t care about what anyone else thought.
I was inspired by that because I don’t think that’s common nowadays. Everyone cares about what’s going on, but these guys just didn’t, so that’s where “2 Poor Kids” came from.
Songfacts: “Golden” has empowering and uplifting lyrics. What motivated you to write that one?
Ruth: I wanted to give people some truth. That one’s something I definitely felt in my life where people doubt you and tell you that you’re not good enough. I think it’s all those things that people tell you aren’t good about you that actually make you who you are, though. So if I could go back in time when I was 14, it’s the song I would give to myself and tell myself, “It gets better. Just relax.”
Songfacts: And what was the process of writing that one?
Ruth: I sat down and I was like, “How can I be honest?” It just happened real fast.
It was more me sitting down and thinking back on experiences and just writing it. It wasn’t one specific thing that inspired it. It was more me looking back and writing from an honest place.
Songfacts: How did “Superficial Love” come to be and what triggered you to write it?
Ruth: It started as a Vine as well where I sang the first lyric of the chorus not thinking much of it and then wrote around that. That is more me saying some people are going to try to be in your life for the wrong reasons and just be careful of that.
Songfacts: All of your songs are your vocals and just piano. Do you have any desire to add more instruments to your music?
Ruth: Yeah. Definitely for the future I’ll get some production in there. All my life all I’ve really had is my keyboard. It comes naturally to me and writing with that is easy, but expanding my sound is something I’m actually really looking forward to doing.
Songfacts: What songwriters do you turn to when you’re in need of inspiration, and why?
Ruth: Songwriters that I genuinely enjoy their work are Ed Sheeran, Lauryn Hill, Lana Del Rey – a lot of storytellers. I try to incorporate that into my music so I love listening to their stuff.
Songfacts: And what is it about those artists that you love so much?
Ruth: They all share something in common, which is they all are really honest and they all tell stories. It’s like their songs have characters and problems and solutions and that’s something that I try to put into my music, and that’s always been my go-to in times of happiness and sadness and excitement. I always go to songs that tell me a story.
Songfacts: You plan on recording a full-length album in the future.
Ruth: Yeah, for sure, definitely. Hopefully sometime this year there will be a full album out.
Songfacts: Can you give a glimpse as to what we can expect from it?
Ruth: It’ll be an extension of The Intro: a lot of honest music all coming from me and just me telling stories that have happened in my life, my friends’ lives, and just songs that make me, me.