Gem Class Hero: Austin’s red-hot Ruby Jane celebrates new CD at McDavid Studio

Singer/musician Ruby Jane is featured on the cover of this week’s Austin Chronicle. The 17-year-old performer is having a CD release party tonight at McDavid Studio.

She’s shared the stage with Local Natives and Willie Nelson, performed at Lollapalooza, and been the subject of an Austin Chronicle cover story and a Bob Schieffer profile – all before the age of 18.

Meet Ruby Jane, an Austin-based singer/songwriter and fiddle firebird who’ll celebrate the release of her full-length debut CD Friday night at McDavid Studio. Originally from Dallas, Jane grew up in Mississippi, then landed in Austin, where she’s supported and backed everyone from Asleep at the Wheel to members of ZZ Top.

Ruby’s days of playing second fiddle may be over. She recently released her full-length debut album, Celebrity (empire of emptiness), which is already generating positive reviews. “Think of a young Feist,” Michael Corcoran wrote of the record for the Austin American-Statesman.

A quick chat with Ruby:

With Willie Nelson.
Q: When some people see a fiddle, they automatically think bluegrass. That’s not the case with you.
A: No, not at all. I have played bluegrass in the past, but I’ve also played country, swing, jazz, rock – all kinds of genres. But the music that I, as an artist, focus on is a blend of genres. It’s not just about the fiddle but the combination of the fiddle and my voice.

Q: To give people who aren’t familiar with your work an idea of the kind of music you play, who are some of your biggest influences?
A: Tom Waits is a big influence. Thom Yorke from Radiohead and Patty Griffin. And Adele. I really admire her style and boldness. While making this new record, I listened to a lot of My Morning Jacket. But at the same time, I was definitely focused on developing my own voice and my own songs.

At Lollapolooza last year.
Q: Pretty amazing that you played Lollapalooza last year.
A: You know, I got to play it twice – once with my band and then with Christina Perri. I didn’t think many people would show up for my show. It was early in the day, but there were like 2,000 people there, and they all seemed to enjoy it. And then I got to play with Christina, and that was amazing. It’s amazing to have that type of experience, to be around that many people and all these huge artists.

Q: You must come from a musically-inclined family.
A: I’m the only person in my family who plays! I have no idea where it comes from. I saw a violin when I was about 2 and fell in love with it and begged my mom for one. I always knew that’s what I wanted to do. Even back then, I felt such a strong connection with it and knew I had a gift for it, a blessing.

Q: “Celebrity” is you first full-length album. What does this mean for you?
A: It’s important for me because I feel like it’s my real debut. I’ve put out EPs and live cds, but this record is about putting the grown up Ruby Jane out there. Not just the little fiddle prodigy but the artist. I’ve always had big dreams. Ever since I was really young, I’ve wanted to have a big impact on the world through my music. My heroes are artists like Tom Waits and Rolling Stones and Radiohead and those who have created a style of music. I have dreams of doing the same thing. This album, it’s my first step in accomplishing that.

Q: You moved around a lot when you were young.
A: I was born in Dallas and lived there for about two days. My mom was working at the Dallas Morning News, in the fashion section there. But we wanted to be around our family, who are from Mississippi, so we moved there and lived there for about 12 years.

photo by Todd Wolfson
Then one day we got in an RV and just went on the road for about six months. We visited small towns. I played music festivals. I would spend a week or so learning from different fiddle teachers. It was a great experience that gave me a good taste of what life on the road is like.

We decided to stop in Austin, just to spend a few nights and explore the music scene. My first night there, we headed to the Continental Club to see Dale Watson and I had my fiddle with me. I don’t even know how I convinced them to let me in! I wasn’t even 13 yet. And I wound up playing with Dale that night. He was so sweet. The whole city was. That’s why we decided to live there. The city and the artists, they’re just so supportive.

Ruby Jane performs at 8pm Friday, June 29, at McDavid Studio. Purchase tickets here.

– Malcolm Mayhew

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