Elin Ruth

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Elin Ruth looks like she just stepped out of a 1940’s pin-up calendar. Her long blonde hair, red lips and nails, and vintage dresses give her the presence of a World War II beauty queen. Although the tattoos and piercings let you know that she’s a modern woman. “I love everything that has to do with the era between the 1920’s and 1950’s,” she explains. “My style has always been retro, but I’ve slowly narrowed it down. I’m a tall lady; used to being seen in a crowd. Since I can’t really blend in anyway, I don’t even try. My style is often eye catching.”
Ruth says she aims for a mode that is chic but funky, casual, and personal. “I buy almost all my clothes in vintage stores. My interest in expensive brands and designer clothes is, I would say, non-existent. I look the same in my real life as I do onstage; maybe a bit enhanced when I’m performing.”
Although she grew up in Mönsterås, a small town on the Southern edge of the Swedish peninsula, she became fascinated by American music as a teen. “My father is a musician and had his own studio. I would hang out with my dad, singing along and watching him work. He liked Woody Guthrie, Donovan, Leonard Cohen, Joni Mitchell, and especially Dylan. But they didn’t impress me until I was older. When I got a guitar, I learned by playing along with Dylan’s records. Then I started writing my own songs.”
Swedish producer Lars Winnerbäck, also a big Dylan fan, heard Ruth’s music and produced her debut album, Saturday Light Naïve. Almost overnight, she went from open mikes to hit singles and two Swedish Grammy nominations. Three more albums followed and made her a star throughout Europe, but last year she left it all behind to move to New York, hoping to find inspiration for some new songs. In the process, she fell in love and got married. “We had to decide on whether we wanted to live in Sweden or New York,” Ruth says. “We chose New York. The city is full of energy and very inspiring. I like the feeling of being a part of this big melting pot of different cultures and people, but I grew up in a tiny town in Sweden—close to nature and the sea. Sometimes I long for that quiet life.”
Since the new songs she was writing were inspired by New York, Ruth decided to make an album there. She jettisoned her backing band and decided to do everything herself. “Since I was going to produce and play most of the instruments, it left me alone in the studio with only my engineer, Rolf Klint, as company. This can totally make you crazy. I faced a lot of sweat and tears and self-doubt, but also a sense of pride and contentment that I was able to do it. I wanted to make a personal record that was very ‘Elin.’ I aimed for feeling, rather than perfection, when it came to playing.”
The songs on Elin Ruth, her American debut, are a diverse lot, maintaining the retro vibe that inspired her, with arrangements that blend folk, rockabilly, soul, gospel, country, and 60’s AM radio pop. “I’m leaning more towards soul and country and western these days. I like old music, so my albums have been quite eclectic so far, but there’s a folky tone in the foundation. I will always be able to play my songs solo, with only voice and guitar or piano.
“I usually make a demo recording at home right after writing a song. It works as a compass later on in the studio. The first ideas and instincts are almost always the best ones. On this album, I wanted each song to take off in its own direction, not force them into a specific sound.”
Ruth also decided to take charge of other aspects of her career by launching her own indie label, Divers Avenue Music. “I obviously don’t have the same budget and power as a big record label and it adds a lot more work. I’m in charge of everything, but I’ve almost learned how to handle it. It’s the perfect way to burn yourself out, but it’s a price I’m willing to pay in order to be in full control of things. I still feel awkward when I do promotion for myself. I’m not braggy enough, and I’m not the best saleswoman, but I’m learning.
“My biggest challenge is battling the demons inside my head. They’re very hard on me—always telling me I’m not good enough and giving me performance anxiety and stage fright. They’re constantly there, except in the moments when I’m actually on stage performing. That’s when they leave me alone. I always sing my heart out. If at some point in my life I notice that my heart is not with me anymore, and I play a half-assed gig, I’ll stop performing.”

Text by J. Poet

THE OBSESSION ISSUE

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