Real Talk With RUUNE
I recently had the opportunity to exchange some words with R.U.U.N.E., a chip-witch (not the ice cream) theatrical noise-empowerpop artist and booker based in western Massachusetts. This raw, honest interview details the struggles and complexities of the underground MOGAI music scene without dressing them up. Some of the topics they broke down for me were self-care as a touring or home based artist, supporting and giving visibility to disadvantaged artists, and building a musical network outside of the heteronormative bubble.
Sarita Farnelli: What were your early days in music like? Were there moments when you noticed a lot of discrimination or just very little diversity among the people who had access to the shows and venues you saw?
RUUNE: When I first started playing music I definitely don’t think I was awake enough about critical thinking to notice any of this big picture stuff. I was fifteen (and this was fifteen years ago, “safe spaces” wasn’t a topic even discussed in private among folks who needed them, not to mention in the mainstream) and kind of just wanted to get my band shows. As I grew up a little bit though, I realized there were obvious downfalls to just sort of “going out and getting whatever shows you could”, and who ended up getting those shows. Usually the bands with the most money got the shows, the bands with the best college education (in a world where people quite school to tour how did this even matter?) or the bands with the whitest, most passing as straight hetero cis dudes.
SF: What were some of the biggest challenges you had to face while making music and touring?
R: As I sort of started to grow up and realized stuff was dangerous and/or fucked up, I also realized I was legit the only out gay guy that played music that I knew. I am certainly not implying that queer and or gay music scenes did not exist, but in most of my travels, an LGBT music scene actually usually just meant really badass macho lesbians who played guitar and still sang about girls. I def do not want to trivialize that importance of that identity for folks who were empowered by those music scenes. But still, even among gay scenes I did not find other musicians like me. Being on tour was hard a lot because I could never really know who I could be myself around, who I could keep hidden from, etc etc etc. I also had a lot of internalized homophobia that I was dealing with, and traveling sort of traumatized that to a point. Also just the obvious touring hardships of being broke on the road, not having a place to sleep, not knowing anyone: I mean the internet wasn’t as geared for touring as it is now, I was mostly just catching busses places and hoping to catch and opening slot on a show where another band dropped.
SF: Do you find it better for your music and your experience of being a musician to be more local and close to home?
R: I don’t know if better or worse is a quantifier that I can use for this experience for everyone. At the time that I was touring constantly, I was very unhealthy, very unstable, and very unhappy. But I really did not have any other choice: the job market was bad, there was nowhere to work, there was nowhere to live. It was either be a big burden on my friends and families couches, or be a little burden to people who wanted me around because I played nice music for a night or two. I was so wrapped up in it, that I didn’t even know how unhappy I was: it was just how I was surviving. Nowadays, I greatly enjoy being at home, being stable, after a decade of touring I was finally able to land a job, got married, have a garden: I play music and write poetry because its fun, and just for me. I play shows when I want to and not because I need to. Learning to make that transition has been extremely rocky though. There is a bit of trauma that comes from being on the road for so long.
SF: At what point did you decide you wanted to focus on making shows and audiences available to more marginalized artists?
R: I don’t know exactly when it was, but its been a long time. I think I was doing this before I was conscious that it was an intentional thing I was trying to do. Really, I just wanted to book shows that my friends who never were able to get booked could play. Nobody would book me, nobody would book them, so it made sense for us all to stick together. I will let you guess what kinds of backgrounds and identities those bands come from.
SF: What seems to be the best balance of booking shows and creating your own music?
R: Right now, I am trying to only play 1–2 shows a month, because it is just so exhausting. Not even playing the show in specific but just the build up to the show and the anxiety of hoping it is “good”. I guess I have some entitlement and issues regarding how long I have been doing this and what my rewards for all that hard work should be, hah! It has gotten a bit better since I sort of destroyed a lot of access to my earlier work and started with a new name (which also is wrapped up in a lot of gender stuff, but I am not looking to get into that here). I mainly just want to spend more time at home, being spiritual and being married. I am still working on what the perfect balance for creating art is: I will have to get back to you on that.
SF: Is there a difference in atmosphere and the general attitudes of artists in more underground circles and the artists who have larger followings and more resources?
R: I do not 100% understand this question but I am gonna take a stab at it: I actually have always had big issues trusting bands who have any amount of success whatsoever. Because we live in a sort of dog eat dog capitalist world (and the music industry/music scene is no different) I am somewhat under the impression that it is impossible to “make it” without stepping on someone else to get there. So whenever I see a large band or work with one, even if they are nice, a part of me is like: “how did you get here? Where do you come from?” Lately I have been doing a lot of research on bands I find out about, mainly to see what their college education is like. I am def not one of those folks that thinks that if you come from money you aren’t “punk” or whatever, but it is telling that I can never find a single band that has hype or is getting steam that didn’t go to some fancy, expensive, arts college. Like, don’t get me wrong, those people should get to play and be loved too, just like, what about the blue collar bands, or the community college bands, or the bands of people who didn’t ever get access to college or didn’t graduate high school?
On the other hand: lately I have been feeling the same about “indie” circles, most of the bands who do well in the DIY scene do well because they come from privilege, so like, it’s not really any different.
SF: What considerations go into your choice to support an artist or band?
R: Usually if I see them do something cool for someone else, OR if I see they are someone from an underrepresented voice. If I see a band either work to deconstruct their social capital I am 100% likely to give them a show.
SF: Do you hope to continue your role as someone who connects others with resources and skills to bring their art to an audience?
R: I don’t really know right now! I am actually a little tired of being treated like an endless fountain, but I do like to be helpful, so I have not figured out the middle ground. I am also not totally confident that I am the best resource to be giving advice on these things since I consider myself to be pseudo retired right now: whenever anyone asks me how to tour the answer in my head is often: “don’t”!
SF: Is there an amount of commitment or mentorship involved or do you find others are prepared to work on their own after a little help from you?
R: See this is actually a pretty cool question because from my talking it seems logical that I would WANT people to move on (and I do! I don’t want people to be stuck with me forever) but on the other hand sometimes I feel like people come, ask me for a show, and then kind of forget I exist because they found someone who has more social capital. I do wish people were more interested in forming real connections instead of like this fake sort of “music business networking” thing. Friendships with healthy boundaries is always the best option.
SF: What is your vision for the future of your musical community?
R: I currently do not have one, and am excited/immensely afraid of all the options it could turn into.