Scotland Uncovered #8: Ruby Gaines

Sometimes, you might feel like everything’s been done.

“It’s a better way to feel, don’t be real, be post-modern”, Idlewild once sang. People, from paid commentators on music, to your average idiot (someone like me), might use awful terms like “guitar music” in the context of something dreary and offbase like “guitar music… it’s out of fashion, isn’t it?”. You cretin.

If that’s the case, I don’t blame you entirely, but it means you’re not trying hard enough. But should you have to? Great Scottish “guitar bands” (I honestly cringe with each muscle every time) used to be 20 a penny, you might think, it’s not my job to find them, they’re just there. Franz Ferdinand happened! The Fratellis happened! And so on, and so on. But you wouldn’t say those things if you heard Ruby Gaines. Not around me, I’d hope.

From the first notes of the exquisite ‘Cardamom’, there’s crispy, gainy guitars and really open drumming, before Ruby Gaines’ smoky, jazz-flavoured vocals grab your ear. ‘Cardamom’ is smoky, piano bar indie, which isn’t something I knew could happen. “You smell like Cardamom, you left it on my pillow”, Gaines sings, perfectly in tune with the quasi-sleazy, darkroom atmosphere. ‘Without A Gun’, a newer release, fits somewhere in-between The Van T’s intensity and Martha Ffion’s knack for melodic misdirection; perfectly within the Scottish canon, then.

While Gaines isn’t a throwback, there’s some definite doo-wop, 60s influence, and perhaps that’s informed by Gaines’ nomenclature. Combining the names of her Grandmothers, who on a blog post she treats with honest and unabashed admiration, Gaines recognises a tendency to carry the past with her but in a self-deprecating way, but she shouldn’t. Gaines’ USP, I would argue, is that she takes a classic vocal style, with melismatic runs and palpable, relatable lyrical detail, and transplants it to a modern take on indie, with jazz chords and instrumentation that’s sparse and thoughtful. It seems reductionist to describe it thusly, but it’s capital-C cool music.

We’ve heard Ruby Gaines before, though, as Megan Airlie. Airlie was a hotly-tipped singer-songwriter, with appearances at Wide Days festival, as well as coverage from BBC Radio Scotland, Hoxton Radio and others. However, to have switched up a moniker after a promising start is a bold call, and so far, seems like the correct one. Inspired by depression and negative experiences under her original name, Ruby Gaines isn’t just a sonic departure but a spiritual one of sorts; under the name Ruby Gaines, she says, she feels a sense of liberation, and comfort in the fact that nobody has any idea what they’re doing. You can check out a blog post on this exact topic here.

Even though it’s complicated, we’ve got time to start again, Teenage Fanclub once sang. This new arrangement, on the fledgeling and – dare we say – incredibly promising label Iceblink Luck (Cocteau Twins! Nice!), seems like a natural fit for an artist who’s exploring a new musical identity with incredible flair. In a wider way, it makes sense, too: this year, so many of us have had to adapt and reinvent ourselves in some way or another, whether it’s working from home and learning to enjoy your own company or changing industry. One day soon, we’ll emerge from our cocoons and be the social butterflies we once were. The music of Ruby Gaines is a perfect soundtrack for that.

[Euan Davidson]


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