Vocalist, activist, DJ and now producer it seems there’s nothing this multi-talented woman can’t turn her hand to. Ruth Royall first burst on to our radar as the soulful songstress behind tracks like ‘Refgue’, ‘Friend’ and more recently ‘Remedies’ it’s clear she’s gaining momentum with every release. Ruth had been working in the music industry as a session signer for her entire adult life, predominantly with jazz musicians. It wasn’t until 2018 that Ruth decided to merge her professional life with her passion for drum and bass.
During the lockdown of 2020 Ruth started a campaign against the unrealistic standards of beauty society is faced with daily across advertising and social media. She decided to take a stand against the psychological damage that filters and photoshop can have and challenged instagram users to post a photograph of themselves sans filter. This act created a real movement and she’s about to relaunch the campaign in a bigger way.
From first going on tour with Fred V & Grafix to now foraying into the world of touring not only as a vocalist but also a DJ as well as releasing her own productions. In a relatively short space of time Ruth has gone from a supporting act to one of the drum & bass scene’s most promising artists. We have a chat to her about her latest release and the next phase of ‘Keep It Real’
I want to start by asking how you are?
I’m good. I’m really chuffed with how this release is going. It’s probably really bad but I keep checking the stream numbers. It’s really addictive. I have to say to myself “just put the phone down. You don’t need to worry about it.”
Talk to us a little bit about what you’ve been up to recently, you’ve got a new single out.
Just in the middle of a release which is really fun. It’s going really well. The end of last year I had a show in Rotterdam, which was so, so nice. Such a great way to finish the year. It felt really exciting last year with my first solo release and people really starting to connect to me as a producer as well, which is such a new thing. There’s so much imposter syndrome self-doubt, when you start to put yourself out there as anything new. You get known as one thing and then you’re like, I’ve got all these other strings to my bow and you worry that you’re gonna not get taken seriously. Some of the press that’s been coming back and some of the feedback and just how well the tune is doing, it’s just such a confidence boost which is spurring me on to write more and really focusing my mind.
Last year was such a massive year of firsts, first year touring my solo show, first Year touring as a DJ, first solo release, and all that kind of stuff and it’s just been great. Drum & bass fans are amazing, they’re like a different breed to any other fans and they’re so personal with you. They message you and they’ll talk to you at shows. I was playing at liquidity and this guy said “ I bought a ticket especially to see you and follow all of your stuff. I was so glad when you came to the Netherlands”. I was able to spend some time with him and chat to him, take photos and stuff and it just felt so nice. I really appreciate people messaging me online and things like that.
We’re running a few secret shows through this year which are me performing acoustically at secret locations around the country. We did one at the end of last year and it was amazing because it was loads of people that supported through the year or people we’ve worked with or other artists who came along and it was just like a massive love in. It was so nice and nice to perform my songs and be able to talk about them because you can’t do that when you’re DJing.
An Audience With Ruth Royall kind of vibe…
Yeah, exactly. It’s kind of just a bit different and I think, as a songwriter, I’ve got that other side of what I do. So it’s quite cool to showcase it in a different format.
Do fans get to come along to those?
We’re doing this thing where you can apply to come but we’re not telling you where the venue is, or like all that thing. It’s a great fan interaction thing because they’re all free tickets, all in different venues.. The one that we did in Bristol was in a tattoo shop/hairdresser/plant shop. We took it over and they had loads of UV lights everywhere and hanging plants. It was so DIY and we ran our own bar. I said to my best mate “Right..so you’re gonna be on the door doing the passes, you’re gonna be running the bar. You’re also going to be doing the merch stand. She was like “I’m on it babe. I’ve got it”. I was basically hosted by me and my mates
It makes it even more personal. I feel like your fans would probably really appreciate that because they’re getting to know you, the people around you and what makes you you as an artist.
Yeah, and because that one was smaller, and because we were still coming up with the concept, we specifically invited some super fans we didn’t do that apply for a ticket thing. So the people that did come have been literally fans, right from the beginning. They were raving about the event, when this release came out, one of them posted “I was able to hear this acoustically for the first time.. before it came out!” It just gives that other element of like interaction with your fans, just inviting them into your space because I’m so about that as a songwriter. I want to express myself so much through my songs and my stories and to be able to do that in that way and invite fans in with me. I love that.
So you’re from Bristol and there’s a huge scene there, talk to us about the beginnings of you and drum & bass, I imagine Bristol’s a huge part of the reason you’re into it.
I’ve been raving since I was a kid, since I was too young to be allowed in Lakota. I grew up in Stroud, just outside of Bristol. When I was 15 or something we used to call the party line, and everyone would jump in the cars to drive over to Bristol or over the bridge to these free parties. And that was my first experience of drum and bass, really. I remember the Pendulum album came out, ‘Tarantula’ and like all of that stuff was always part of my friendship group and part of what I was around. It was weird because I’ve worked in music since I was 14 but it wasn’t ever in dance music. I was always a session singer, I actually ended up doing a lot of jazz stuff like r&b. So I separated the two. When I’m working I sing jazz and r&b, but when I’m listening to music it’s dance music.I don’t know why I didn’t make the connection.
It was weird actually because Dom, who co-produced my second solo single ‘Apple Tree’, was in Submotion Orchestra. It was when I first listened to Submotion Orchestra that I was like “Oh my God, live music, that’s electronic or like jazz music that’s electronic!” And then I started crossing over, putting the two together and I started just experimenting really with electronic sounds. And Submotion Orchestra are actually on the label that I’m now releasing on. So it’s all full circle.
You recently started DJing and producing…
I always used to arrange stuff when I wrote it. So I was used to playing with production. I’ve done that for quite a long time. I never really considered myself a producer. I was just making noises and I’d have an iPad with GarageBand on it, it had really good strings synths and stuff. I’d make all these tunes on my iPad. But then I started properly producing when I did my first EP, which was a collab EP on Soulvent.
It was before then that I wanted to really start making my own tunes. I would make the tune it’d sound awful and then I’d send them to someone and be like, can we make this together? They would say “ Yes. I’ll fix all of those s*** drums.” HaHa.
I really just focused, really got my head into it and I was lucky that the people that I’ve co-produced with, like Dom and like Axel Boy, have been teaching me as I go. They’ve never said “Oh, I’ll have that.And I’ll make that.” Often they said “you do as much as you can and the bits that you want to change I can show you how to improve them.” It’s been a pretty amazing process. I think I’ve been really lucky with the people that I’ve worked with, they’ve just taught me so much and now I’m at a more competent stage
With DJing I wanted to do my own show. I didn’t want to always be doing live PAs on other DJ sets because you get given two songs and then when you’re out there you’ve got no say over the kind of set. For example I like soulful jungle but I always get booked on liquid sets because that’s the features that I’ve done. It didn’t really correlate with who I was as an artist. So I thought well I’d better learn to DJ and here we are.
Do you think there’s a ceiling for vocalists in drum & bass?
I think that there was. It’s starting to shift, but mind you, the vocalists that are touring do tend to still DJ like Ellipse in New Zealand. She’s touring and she is DJing as well, but she’s very much a vocalist. A Little Sound has definitely gone down the DJing route, she’s a respected DJ now and as much as she is a vocalist. I think there is a level that you can get to. I don’t know what the answer is but I feel like it’s changing because there’s so many vocal artists that are basically saying “No, I want to do my own thing” and then just doing it.
I agree it’s definitely changing. I think what Riya and Collette Warren are doing with their label, for example having vocalists as the main artist rather than features, It’s great.
Yeah, 100%, they are such trailblazers, Riya taught me to mix. I called her and I was like “Holy shitballs! I’ve just been booked on a Shogun Livestream. I don’t know what I’m doing, and it’s in two weeks!”. I had no idea how to DJ. I had a controller. I locked myself in the studio for two weeks, literally because my manager had said “Yes of course she can DJ!” Riya said “Don’t worry babe, we’ve got this!” She was sending me videos and she was so supportive.
So many people talk about female artists and set them against each other, like they’re competition. The men aren’t doing that. They don’t work against each other. They’re all touring and working together and the women are just the same. If not, more so because we’ve got more of a challenge. Everyone’s backing each other. A Little Sound just came back from New Zealand and I was talking to her this morning saying ‘you totally smashed it babe!” And when I had my first show at Rampage last year she did the same for me. She messaged me saying “Good Luck. I’m so proud of you! Everyone’s backing each other and wanting each other to succeed. Because when one of us does well, it makes space for the others. It’s not taking away something, it’s giving something. I think that’s a really important thing to say and be clear about. What goes on behind the scenes is not this like this catty fuck you, you’re taking up my space bollocks because that’s not how it is at all.
As we’re talking about women- you’ve done a lot for the cause. I’d heard your name floating around before, but you really really came onto my radar with the Keep It Real campaign…
Oh God. I have some very exciting news because keep it real is coming back too! It’s coming back in a big way. I thought if I do it again I want to do it justice and I want to do it properly because it’s so important. It resonated and connected with so many people and has become this thing with an important message and it’s almost not mine. It became something that was about a group of people and predominantly women.
I’ve been putting together the most badass team of women and we’re going to launch a podcast, every week, we just chat about something different. We’re gonna expand it from body image, to all of the things that affect women in the music industry. It seems to have focused much more on feminism than it has on Mental health or body image, but I think it’s going to encompass everything.I want to widen the conversation of what ‘Keep It Real’ means. It’s a lot bigger than one subject.
I’ve got an all female production team, I’ve got an old female creative team, all the hosts of women. I’m so excited. I’ve got like, loads of guests lined up. The plan is to launch around International Women’s Day. But every time I do an interview, I get asked about Keep It Real and I still get people reaching out to me, telling me what it’s done for them and I think it does need to come back. Going alongside everything that I’m doing with my own solo releases and productions it feels like the right time to do it. I’m in a really positive strong place in my own confidence as well and kind of putting that message out there is a good thing.
That sounds like fun. Is the plan to carry on the conversation?
Totally. We wanted to talk about things like; imposter syndrome, dressing for gigs (that’s a whole thing), feeling comfortable, mental health, how you look and how you think you should look and all that sort of stuff. But I think equality seems to be the overriding conversation. We’re talking about feminism but the thing that kept coming back up was equality in dance music, making an equal playing field. We talk about why do women always get booked as B2B, why is that thing? Do you have to book females to fill a quota? Why do you have your female artists on the bill if you’re just sticking them together? A lot of my friends get booked on those sets and they face the same restrictions as a vocalist on a live PA? My DJs sound is specific and when you’re in a B2B it’s much more difficult to portray your uniqueness when you work with another person. B2Bs can be really fun, but that shouldn’t be the only way that women get booked.
I think Keep It Real really made people think slightly differently about themselves as well. It certainly made me question the way I was feeling. “I feel like crap posting online, who am I trying to impress”. I think it allowed people to express what they were feeling inwardly…
It made me feel like I was part of something bigger as well. So those internalised feelings of “am I not good enough or why do I feel so shit?” You realise other people are feeling the same thing it’s creating that community and that network and that’s what I want to do
You’ve got this new single and it’s doing really really well. Have we got an album in the works?
I’ve got some, I’ve got some more music coming out this year, I tell you that! Which I’m really excited about. Like really, really excited about the next and next phase of music. I mean this tune has been, as a producer, the thing that I’m the most proud of. To have something out there that has been predominantly made by me and to get this response is really, really nice. But yes, there is more music coming from me. There’s some really exciting shows as well, next year, which I’m absolutely buzzing about so that the calendar has lots of international vibes as well.
What we got coming up with the gig wise, are they all secrets at the moment?
Yeah, I think everything is a secret. I don’t think anything has been announced. That I can say but maybe some big international festivals. So that’s cool. I think March is gonna be a big month, another big single coming out and the podcast coming so I think spring is going to be really exciting.
Is there anything you want to shout about?
Just go stream ‘Walk Through Fire!’ Or go buy it. Oh my God. Yeah. Go buy it!