WORDS

How #Keepitreal founder Ruth Royall is putting her stamp on the D&B scene

We all know the drum and bass scene can be special. At its best, it has the ability to lure our interest infectiously and capture our hearts and imagination like no other artform. We know this. You know this. Ruth Royall knows this.

Songwriter, vocalist, vlogger, activist: Ruth Royall is a name that has shot onto the radar in D&B recently. In more ways than one. Alongside laying down seriously powerful vocals in the past year, she is also the mind behind the momentous #Keepitreal campaign – a movement aimed at promoting body image positivity by challenging negative social media expectations.

It’s through the welcoming attitude of the D&B community that she has been able to find her voice and build a platform where she can excel as an artist known for spreading such positivity. Whether it’s through the lyrics she writes, the artists she collaborates with, or the initiatives she pushes.

But it hasn’t always been this way. Starting her career at the age of 14, Ruth has had to work tirelessly to go from a name in the background to one in the spotlight. From spending years grinding away as a neo soul artist in London, to being offered the opportunity to sign as a jazz artist with a major record label, Ruth has taken a long time to realise that drum and bass is the place she can really call home. A scene she can put her stamp on.

UKF caught up with Ruth to learn more about the ways she has been putting her stamp on the D&B scene.

As far as lockdown goes, it seems like you’ve been more productive than ever…

It has been crazy! I think part of it is timing because everyone has been locked at home wanting to finish tracks. I had been working on tracks for like a year beforehand, and then they all started coming out at once. Now I’m backlogged into the middle of next year… It has been a really productive time, which is quite weird.

It’s crazy to think it’s only really in the last year your name has come onto the radar in D&B.

I think so too. It’s because I came out of a different scene. I was part of the neo soul, London scene for a while and was doing a lot of session work. It was a different world. I had always been a writer who listened to drum and bass, and had always wanted to combine soul with electronic music. Then when I moved back to Bristol and became a part of Fred V & Grafix’s live show, that was the beginning of me putting out D&B collabs. It felt really organic.

Your voice fits the music perfectly.

It feels natural. A lot of the time with session work you’re just singing what you’re paid to sing. You’re doing a lot of corporate stuff and it feels like a job. But with D&B I’m actually putting my words out. I love how loyal the D&B community are too. People regularly follow what I do and personally message me after I release music. It’s like a family. I feel very at home.

The D&B scene is infectious! Everyone is so supportive.

That’s exactly it. I had always been on the other side of it growing up – attending raves and listening to D&B. I’ve been working in music since I was 14-years-old and have had a lot of experience in the industry, but not in drum and bass. So to come back to the genre and drop back in the other side as an artist is lovely.

You’ve had a pretty intense career before moving into D&B then?

Since 14-years-old I haven’t stopped. My first session job was as one of the voices on the X Factor video game… When I was a teenager I joined a label called Silver Buddha and that led to me recording my first album in Abbey Road. It was nuts! I must have only been 19-years-old at the time, but I thought I was a superstar. I was walking into Abbey Road with tourists taking pictures of me like I was famous.

That’s crazy…

Just a bit. After touring the album in Germany I decided I wanted to go to London because I wasn’t sure about the jazz direction I was heading. I was so young. After moving there, I was performing at an open mic and the A&R for Decca Records came up to me asking if I could visit the office. I had literally just moved to London and I was sat in Decca’s office with all these crazy records on the walls. They wanted to sign me… But I said I didn’t know if I wanted to be a jazz artist. I needed to spend more time figuring myself out. He told me I was nuts as people usually chew their arm off over such an offer.

That was a brave decision for you to take at such a young age.

Brave or stupid, I don’t know which… I always wonder what could have happened if I’d said yes, because I feel like I would‘ve ended up as a blonde Amy Winehouse. But it wouldn’t have been me. After that experience, I went through the whole session musician life, learning my craft. Now I’m working on the music I love, so everything has turned out great.

You’ve really been making your mark on D&B since. How did the Fred V & Grafix link up come about?

My manager at the time came to me for singing lessons as he wanted to learn to sing with his daughter. It was the sweetest thing. After our lessons he got in touch to say that an audition had come up for Fred V & Grafix’s live show. I had no idea who they were… I didn’t look them up, I just started practicing from the files I’d been sent. When I was rehearsing my boyfriend came in and asked what I was rehearsing for, and when I told him I had an audition for Fred V & Grafix he was in shock. He said he was their biggest fan.

What a wicked coincidence!

Apparently he had listened to them throughout uni… When I finally looked them up I was feeling nervous. But I did the audition and both Fred and Josh were very happy with it, so I went on tour with them. It was amazing. Josh and myself got on particularly well. When him and Fred split he asked me if we could write together. Whereas with the live shows I felt like a session musician, when I started writing with Josh it became much more about me as an artist. In a world that I was new to, it was nice to have his support.

So was working with Grafix a major turning point for you?

Absolutely. It was the first time I was able to put out content I care about. Words that represent me. Working with Josh was the trigger for me becoming known as a D&B vocalist, as it was then that I contacted Pola & Bryson. I was obsessed with one of their songs at the time, and put it on at a party with Josh. He said he could connect me with the guys, so I got in touch with them and fangirled hard. That led to working on Running in The Dark, which was the track where I started to get noticed by everyone.

It’s interesting because as a vocalist living in Bristol you’re probably more established in the Bristol scene as a jazz name than a D&B one.

Yeah exactly. That was the hangover from London as jazz is what I did. At the time I was always trying to crossover with electronic music, but it didn’t feel right as an artist. Now everything feels like it has fallen into place with D&B. I think it’s because I come from that soul/jazz sound and my voice works so well with the music.

Magic, with Mitekiss, is a great example of that. You can really hear the jazz twang in your voice.

You can! That whole EP was basically a jazz one, it was super soulful. I feel like that’s my niche in drum and bass. I’m actually working on a solo project with Spearhead where I’m going to be flipping tracks and taking them to the producers I like. It’s a proper soulful EP.

Magic is very different to your most recent track Paper Birds, with Ekko & Sidetrack. That’s had such a strong reaction.

Definitely. I feel like Paper Birds is much more of a songwriter approach, but Magic is more about the vocal and the soul feel to it. It’s got that jazz twinge with the trumpet solo, whereas Paper Birds wasn’t so much about the vocals, it was about telling a story. For me it was talking about finding strength through letting go. Paper Birds has probably been my favourite song to release because working with Ekko & Sidetrack was amazing and the track has really resonated with people. We’ve had people reaching out to us with stories about how it has helped them through grief. I’ve never experienced that before. For me, it’s all about putting out a positive message with your music.

I feel like that deeper connection stems from you taking the time to really think about why you write songs.

Absolutely! That’s the thing I put the most energy into developing – getting into a song so much that it’s not about how you’re singing it, it’s why you’re singing it. I’m currently writing for so many people, and every time I have to get behind the song. I’ve been lucky enough to work with some great songwriters who share that same mentality. Writing with the Paper Dragon collective has been particularly amazing as it has allowed me to flex my writing muscles through exploring different styles. We have our next single out on September 2 and an EP later this year.

Speaking of songwriters, you’ve worked with some pretty established ones…

Especially the neo soul people in London. I worked with singers including Imaani from Incognito and Vula from Basement Jaxx, who are two of the most elite vocalists in the UK. I was always around people who were better than me, which was a good thing as I was constantly striving to better myself. For most of my career I’ve been the person in the background, but this is the first time my name is in the spotlight.

I’m also much stronger now in that I know who I am and what I want to portray. I definitely went down that road of being a ‘thing’ for a while, where I was made to look pretty, told to stand on a stage, and that was my job. Now I don’t do that because it’s all about what I’m saying. It’s about my voice, not my tits.

That attitude is reflected by the Keep it Real campaign you’re currently running.

The Keep it Real campaign is actually nuts… I started it because I was scrolling on Instagram search and all I could see were ‘perfect’ images of people followed by adverts to lose weight. I was like – what the hell is this? So I put a Facebook post up to tell everyone I was stopping using beauty filters on Instagram because I don’t want to put out the message that looking fake is normal. I then had this massive influx of messages from people telling me their stories…

Are there any stories that have stood out to you in particular?

One girl contacted me saying she wished she had never found beauty filters as now she is scared to meet people in real life because she doesn’t look like her image. She said she edits every photo she posts and now it makes her feel like she can’t show her real self. That really resonated with me. Stories like that encouraged me to set up the Keep it Real Facebook Group. We actually had about 100 people ask to join in one day…

The campaign has some serious momentum!

There has been some decent publicity. I’ve been on BBC Radio Bristol talking about the initiative and I’m partnering up with various D&B ladies to raise awareness. On August 22 we’re doing an Instagram takeover where everyone paints #Keepitreal on their bodies and takes a picture. We want to have a huge thread of D&B ladies filling the search. This campaign is not telling people they shouldn’t use filters though. They can do whatever they want to do, as long as they feel good doing it.

I saw the picture you uploaded and thought it was a very powerful statement.

That gave me hope for social media because the real images I’ve posted recently have got much more interaction than the pictures I used to post with filters making me look ‘correct’. I used to use filters all the time. I was even holding the phone at an angle so that it looked like I had abs. It’s ridiculous! I’m not underweight, I’m not overweight, I’m just a normal woman. That’s fine. I want to be talking about what I do, not what I look like. That’s the message I want to give young people. I’m nearly 30, I’m a pretty confident woman, and I freak out about it, so what’s a 14-year-old girl going to think? It’s dangerous.

That’s where your role as a music artist is so important. You have the ability to positively influence others.

That’s what I’m trying to do as this is definitely something that needs talking about. It’s a good fit because my songs tend to have that positivity in them anyway because I like to write tracks with a good message. I want people to know that it’s okay to be them, it’s okay to be different, just be you. There are loads of people talking about this issue already, but I think it’s very cool coming from the D&B scene. It’s such a strong community and I’m so happy to be a part of it. I feel like I’ve found my home in drum and bass.

#KeepItReal on August 22

Follow Ruth: Instagram / Facebook / Soundcloud