Earlier this month, I met up with Ruth Radelet out front of a coffee shop in the Silverlake neighborhood of Los Angeles to discuss her new solo EP, “The Other Side”. With her iced americano in hand and my hot black coffee, we began our conversation.
What are you most grateful for at this moment?
I’m grateful to be here in LA. I just moved back, actually. I had been back and forth in Portland and was just there for a whole year, and just landed back in LA last week, so I’m grateful to be back and being able to stop moving for a second. I am also grateful for this new chapter as a songwriter and solo artist and the fact that people actually seem to care, because that’s never guaranteed.
I was wondering, because it seems like certain songs on your EP are very inspired by your time here in LA, do you have any thoughts on the differences and challenges in adjusting to LA from somewhere like Portland?
I just want to be in a big city. Portland’s great, but it’s just too small for me and there’s not a lot happening. I’m trying to think back to when I first moved to LA because I lived here from 2015 to 2020, so at this point it feels like home to me. When I first moved here, it’s definitely not like Portland and you can feel like a bit of a fish out of water at times, but for anyone considering that move, don't give up! Two years in you’ll feel great.
Can you describe your overall process in creating your EP?
It kind of happened in two parts. I had a lot of songs written already after a big writing period in early 2020 when I was kind of going through a creative existential reflection and I had just got done with touring and it was winter and I had time to settle and I wrote I think 4 out of 5 of these songs. I had also bought my first digital piano at that time. I write very differently on piano - I had written a couple things previously on piano, but as someone who has always written on guitar, it was a total switch up and opened a bunch of new doors in my songwriting. I think having the piano in the house made all this possible. And then the pandemic happened and everything got derailed and a lot of other really intense things happened in my life, so I kind of sat on those songs for a while. One of them I did write in 2021 after a bunch of things happened - I lost my dad and went through a period of really heavy change and transition. Then the studio process was really different. I write all of my songs from the ground up and don't want to be with people when I write - it doesn’t work well for me. It works once I have a foundational idea and then I’m happy to dissect it with a producer, but when I write the lyrics and the beat, that’s all me. And then I brought the songs to my friend Filip Nikolic, a really talented producer. I had gotten reconnected with him through my manager. We used to have the same manager so it was kind of a full circle to be working with him and we just sort of hit it off in the studio. We first did the Elliott Smith cover that I released in the winter of 2020. But I really liked working with him and decided to do the whole EP with him and it went really well. And I’m not a producer, so having him there to help me finish an idea was great. I brought him a lot of stuff that had very complete lyrics and melody, but some of it I had less idea of the direction, so it was really wonderful working with him on that and watching the songs come to life. I gave us a really short timeline to get this done, so he’s been a champ and it’s been a really exciting adventure.
Would you say the experience of writing solo was more fulfilling for you than writing more collaboratively with a band like you have in the past?
I think ultimately, because I wasn't a main songwriter in the band, there was a lack of creative freedom for me, even though I’m proud of what we did, I felt like I was more a part of someone else's vision. So it’s very liberating to sort of be the captain of my own ship. It’s also a lot of responsibility, but it’s great to just do whatever I want.
Your song Stranger from the EP, what were some inspirations behind that?
I had written most of that towards the end of my initial 5 years in LA in that existential questioning period and then it kind of bled into the pandemic where I was spending a lot of time alone, so I think there’s a bit of that in there too. It was an attempt to describe this kind of feeling I would get sometimes driving around the city. This kind of beautiful melancholy sort of loneliness. And I realized it was a bit of homesickness so when I returned home to Portland later that year, I was able to finish the song.
The music video for Stranger is really successful in conveying that particular loneliness you described. What was the shooting process like?
I was talking with my manager about doing a video and I think it was the cover art for the EP that inspired us to work with James. He had been working on a music video for another artist that isn’t out yet, but I had a chance to see the unfinished version and was like, “yes, this is great” and it had a sort of similar feeling. I met with James and talked about what I wanted to do and I felt like we were really on the same page. I was really committed to shooting the whole thing entirely on film even though it’s more expensive and time consuming. I just really love film and I take photographs myself on a Canon AE-1 so I’m passionate about that. It was a small budget, skeleton crew, we did it in two days and it was 11-12 hour days. It was wild. Really fun. And I got to drive that ‘67 Impala which is not something I’d done before. It was a holiday weekend in Hollywood and that thing was pretty sweet.
What were some inspirations for the music video?
We were going for a sort of French New Wave feel and I’ve also always been into the ‘60s and that aesthetic. We wanted to do something that was a nod to that, but wasn’t totally on the nose and period specific, so it has a more contemporary vibe in there too and I’m really happy with how it turned out.
A lot of this album came out of processing a lot of really heavy life changes. Having processed it all and moving on, where do you see yourself finding inspiration going forward in your solo career?
I guess that remains to be seen! In a way, this record wraps up this chapter in my life and now it’s sort of a clean slate. I’ll probably dig into the loss of my father more with whatever I do next because it’s been a little too difficult to touch that, but it’s been a year and a half and I might be able to go there a bit, but there’s still some processing to do there and I haven’t really written about it yet. And hopefully some happy subjects as well.
Crimes was another track that seemed like it was heavily inspired by LA, can you talk more about that?
I think the theme is one that a lot of people in LA can relate to, just being in the music business, or any business where they’re trying to get ahead and it can be easy to sort of lose who you are and kind of trample people in the process. And you can easily end up on either end of that with. One of the main lines is that it’s “easy to start over” and I mean that’s obviously about my life because it’s been a lot of starting over. And it’s also about how some people can kind of reinvent themselves in not so good ways and people with many faces and then there’s starting over in a more authentic way which is what I am trying to do.
Be Careful and Youth both seem like ruminations on mortality in a way and I was wondering if you could touch on some of your experiences that led you to writing those in particular.
Youth is a reflection on getting older and trying to recapture something that you’ve lost. And it’s also really a love song because I was falling for someone who was significantly younger. There was a sadness to it, because it sort of felt like something I couldn’t reach or get back, but it was just a moment that was perfect. And then Be Careful is a lot more about mortality. It was actually the one song that I wrote after my father passed away and it was a few months later and I was feeling out of my mind and very vulnerable and desperate for that love and affection and it was terrifying. I was just thinking about death constantly. I remember looking at this person as they were sleeping and just thinking, “he’s going to die some day”. It’s very morbid. But that was just the space I was in. But death and loss makes me feel like I want to live a fuller life. I think it can make some people want to give up and just say well fuck the whole thing, but I kind of went the other way and realized that I really have to seize the day and make it worth it because things are so transient.
What are you most proud of in regards to the album and just in general?
I’m really proud that we did it and didn’t cut any corners. And it’s fully me. It sounds cliche, but I’m on a journey towards becoming my authentic self and this is sort of my first tangible manifestation of that, so that really means a lot to me. I’ve spent a lot of time having these daydreams about the future and thinking maybe I’ll put out a solo record someday. So having done that, I mean I sort of still can’t believe it. It’s pretty cool! I’m also just really proud of myself for making it through because the last few years have been so tough and I’ll write that story some day, but the fact that I’m still standing and still consider myself a hopeful person, I’m really proud of that.
How do you hope “The Other Side” makes listeners feel?
I wouldn't ask anything specific, I guess I would just hope that it touches people in a way that they can relate to it and can feel something that I feel and understand that. So really I just hope people connect to it. It’s a very emotional record with my heart on my sleeve and I hope that comes across.
Any live shows coming up?
Nothing set in stone just yet, but we are working on putting together a live set and that’s the next order of business and I’m looking forward to playing live again.
Interview by Ben Billand
Illustration by Janset Yasar