by Ruth McKenna
I first found Naomi Ruth when I was 14. I’d built up the courage to take what my grandmother had taught me about guitar chords and fuse it with the inspiration of pop-divas and bluesy women, blended together with the help of my teenage brain to produce an emotive mess. Out of it all emerged a sound that was bluesy but somehow country, angsty but emotional, and despite the lo-fi quality and cringey lyrics, I somehow liked it a lot.
Listen to the album while reading the text.
The following years saw me writing hundreds of songs from the comfort of my bedroom. I would never share them, but having them there to hum to or strum when no one else was around was a huge comfort to me throughout all the growing pains of my teens.
Enter ‘Parachute,’ a Christian music festival which at that time was still going strong in the heart of Hamilton. Every year, thousands of mildly and full-on Christian kids would descend on the park, populating it with their crushes and wild alcohol-free fun. I can’t remember how it came about, but somehow me, a very uncomfortable catholic, ended up standing at the front of the crowd before the folk music stage. Listening to the performers’ songs and seeing their ease with their instruments, crowd and selves flicked a switch. I remember clearly thinking about how I could do that too. I just had no idea where to start.
No One’s Listening
I didn’t want to use my own name, Ruth, in releasing the music. That was far too scary and personal. And I didn’t want to release my own music just yet. I started playing around with Audacity and the terrible quality microphones pre-loaded onto my laptop and phone. Cover after cover appeared on my haphazardly put together YouTube channel that no one listened to, but I was doing something, and I was proud of it. It was a start.
Eventually, I found the courage to put together an EP of my own songs. ‘Play’ hit my very small but deeply appreciated Facebook following around and about the winter of 2013. It was my voice, my guitar. and my emotions, bared in their rawest form across five tracks. It was also the scariest thing I’ve ever done.
I did a few gigs and performances but was discouraged by the lack of interest. In retrospect, I couldn’t really blame people. It was a relatively low quality, non-catchy EP thrown together by me, who transformed into a big wobbling ball of nerves every time it came up as a topic of conversation. Go figure it wasn’t popular, and the Naomi Ruth drive dried up.
I switched to opera training and kept growing my musical ability, grounding myself in music theory and the finite technique of the voice. My love of music never faded, but I ran from my own music like it was a toxic substance.
Finding My Sound
Cut to three years later. After the horrendous break up of a long-term relationship and a hell of a lot of personal growth, my emotions came back a-knocking again and after a lengthy period of consideration ‘Maturity Bites’ hit Bandcamp. I’d learnt a lot from my last EP and switched to a more electric sound. I loved it, but on playback in the following months I could hear something was still missing.
I kept tinkering away and eventually found my sound as it is now, a little bluesy, a little country, a whole lot folksy and grounded in universal emotions and experiences. My last two EP’s have played around with this sound; ‘Gotta Lotta Feelings’ and the recently released ‘Black Magic.’ Yet, each has their own unique take on the feelings or ideas they’re talking about. It’s so amazing as an artist to watch your work transform over time and be able to playback all the little learning points and ideas that have shaped your music.
‘Black Magic’ is the culmination of all this growing. Listening back, I can hear in it the confidence I now have as an adult with a lot more surety in my craft and ability compared to that wobbly, anxious fourteen-year-old. Thank God. I can also hear the greater understanding of love and all that other stuff, where yes it’s lovely and yes it can be painful, but at the end of the day, you as a person are going to be okay, whether love sticks around or you tell it to get packing.
Naomi Ruth is the scariest friend I have, but the concept it also the greatest drive in my life. The experiences and ideas which working on my own songs gave me has led to the establishment of my own vocal studio, May and June. We’re a vocal tuition and event entertainment service based in Auckland. I still love a good cover and regularly performing personalised acoustic playlists for our clients at weddings and events is such a rewarding experience.
The vocal tuition side of things is also incredibly rewarding. I love teaching, having become a teacher as my day-job. Using the skills taught to me by my own singing teachers and vocal coaches, together with my music theory knowledge and experience across opera, classical singing, pop and jazz is a high point of each and every teaching day. The real thrill of it all is watching my students’ confidence in their ability and technique grow across the terms. In a strange way, it’s almost like retrospectively teaching fourteen-year-old Ruth, who could have done with a massive confidence injection and believing in herself, even just a little bit.
What Is Ahead
I don’t know what the future holds for Naomi Ruth or for the singing studio. The opportunities that are presented to me all the time constantly surprise and overwhelm me with gratitude. At times, I’m almost frustrated that I didn’t get started earlier and trust my technique and craft. But, if life has taught me anything, it’s that things happen when they’re meant to and when we’re ready for them.
For now, I’ll just keep singing and sharing my heck of a lot of feelings with whoever’s at the other end of the speaker.
Naomi Ruth, Category: Artist, Albums: Gotta Lotta Feelings, Singles: Black Magic, Lonely Ghoul, Top Tracks: Black Magic, Silver Love Songs, Comic Relief, King Tide, The Stories, Monthly Listeners: 17, Where People Listen: Auckland, Napier City, Denpasar, Bekasi, Frauenfeld