In this interview our Head of Music Mariella Bevan sits down with Australian singer/songwriter Ruel in Leeds to talk about his current tour, meeting his idol and much more.
Sitting down in the tour van — which is humble in comparison to Mabel, the headline act on tour — it would be easy to assume that 16-year-old Ruel has only just begun his career. But even at such a young age, Ruel is already making an impression on people with his music across the world. The Australian singer/songwriter made his first serious attempt at writing music at the even younger age of 12, collaborating with producers to create ‘Don’t Tell Me’ which gained him high praise as well as famous fans such as Elton John, leading to a sold-out New Zealand tour alongside fellow teen sensation Khalid.
In June of this year, he released his new EP ‘Ready’ and has since won Breakout Artist at this year’s ARIAs. With a voice soulful beyond his years and showing no signs of slowing down in his success, Ruel took some time to speak to URY about his EP, his current tour, and what he wants to do as the new year rolls around.
First question, how are you finding the UK? How are you finding tour?
I love it. I was born here and I’m very familiar with it. I come here all the time but it’s my first time touring it properly. I did a show like a month ago on my birthday, it was my ever show in London, I played at the Omeara. That was really amazing and to be back here and touring is pretty crazy.
Crazy to do it on your birthday as well.
Yeah! My sixteenth.
Is there anything different about touring in the UK or touring in general that you didn’t really expect?
I haven’t toured the UK properly, I’ve done like two shows here now, but I love it. [The people] are here for the music which I think is different to a lot of other countries. I feel like I’m playing to a crowd that actually want to listen to the music which I know is weird to think but it’s actually quite rare.
I did a tour around Europe, and European and Australian crowds are extremely different. I love playing for both for different reasons though. In Australia they’re extremely energetic and insanely loud. I feel like in Europe they’re a little more subdued which I think is kind of cool because I feel like I can sing the songs better and can properly feel it; soak it in a little bit more.
I guess there are different pros and cons to the different crowds. We all express emotions in different ways, what is it that made you turn to songwriting, especially at such a young age?
I’ve written songs since I was like eight or nine, and that was purely out of boredom because I just loved music. Then when I was twelve and I really started to write, I just didn’t know how to write good songs and I wanted to because I was really getting into music and I had a manager that was interested in me and I knew M-Phazes, an Australian producer who wanted to work with me, so I had the starting ground I just didn’t have any songs. They wanted me to write my own so they put me in writing sessions with this guy called Thief who is like my main collaborator who I love so much.
So yeah, I guess I just got put in writing sessions and I really loved it and I’ve just been doing them ever since. I’ve definitely got a bigger taste for it, like I’m going to LA and writing there and I’m starting to write by myself a little bit.
As you said, Don’t Tell Me is the first song you wrote when you were twelve, how do you think your writing style has developed and changed since then?
I just feel like I’ve taken way more control. In all these writing sessions I’ve been doing in the past month in LA, I feel like I’ve been taking way more creative direction. I know what I want, and I’ve been asking the writers and producers in there with me, like, ‘this is what I’m doing, I want to do this today’ and then we will which is really satisfying. Some of the sessions I’ve had in the past like ‘Don’t Tell Me’ or the other songs off the EP, I really liked what I was doing but I guess I wasn’t going in there strong minded. I would go in there and let other people lead the sessions and write the songs based off what other people thought [which I do less now].
I noticed that ‘Ready’, the EP you released in June, wasn’t named after any of the songs. Why did you name it that?
It’s funny I haven’t been asked that question in all the media I’ve done it’s crazy [laughs]. My singing teacher Chelsea actually came up with it when we were on the Gold Coast when we were about to play the Commonwealth Games in the opening ceremony, it was like a month before and we needed a name. It does nod to ‘Don’t Tell Me’ because the punchline of the song is “don’t tell me when I’m ready” and I had just been working so long on that EP, like three years in the making, which is a long time for a fourteen year old or however old I was at the time [laughs]. But yeah, it was a very very long process and I always wanted to hold back — that was the play from when I started. We wanted to wait until I was ready to release music, we couldn’t just make a song and release it straight away. ‘Don’t Tell Me’ was written when I was twelve and was released when I was fourteen for example.
It’s always just about being ready, and I feel like what better name to call it when you’re ready to release it than ‘Ready’.
You’ve said that ‘Say’ is one of the more emotional songs, why does that resonate with you so much and the fans as well?
It definitely resonates with me because it’s the closest song to me, it’s definitely the most personal song to me conceptually because of how every single lyric came from something that I had experienced, you know? It’s a sad experience, it’s about an inevitable breakup. When I’m singing it to a crowd they’re singing it to me and they’ve got their phone lights on and just so much emotion goes into my brain. I think it resonates with my audience because it is quite a universally relatable topic, having to breakup with someone for, well, any reason really, it’s just sad. Performing that onstage it just… it gets to me.
You’ve collaborated with Tobias Jesso Jr. before on your song ‘Not Thinking ’Bout You’. Is there anything you learnt from that collaboration that you want to carry forward to your music in the future?
That session was quite funny actually, we quadruple booked it. We wanted to get just me and this producer S1 and then we said why don’t we get a writer so my manager and A&R both booked a writer without telling each other. So it was Tobias and this other guy Romans who I’ve worked with before, so we just brought them all in. S1 had also brought a piano player so we were all in this packed room — Tobias is like 6ft 8" as well so it was really crowded — but it was just really fun and I wrote my favourite song off the whole EP during that session because we just all got on really well. It was a perfect match. But yeah, [Tobias] is the best, I wrote a song with him which is one of my favourites, it hasn’t come out yet or may never come out who knows but I love it so much so we’ll just see what happens with that. But I definitely want to work with him more.
I imagine it is interesting because you write so many songs that you can’t use, how hard is it to get rid of the songs you don’t use and what kinds of things do you think about when choosing the ones that go in the final project?
It’s extremely hard. I wrote thirty five songs for the EP and we picked five.
Which is a lot.
Yeah it is a lot, but some artists write more though it’s crazy. I think Ed Sheeran is someone who writes a thousand songs from an album. It’s crazy the amount of songs that go into it and how many you pick. The way we did it was just to make sure there was a bit of everything and just make sure there wasn’t a whole EP full of ballads, or pop songs, or R&B songs. We wrote such a variety in the years we were making it. We wanted to get one ballad, one punchy one, one R&B song and I feel like that’s what we got. It also gave me a good starting ground for the next project or the next single.
Speaking of collaborations, is there any dream collaborations you might want to do in the future?
My main dream collaboration, which I’m sure is impossible, is Frank Ocean, he’s like my favourite artist of all time. Him, Tyler, the Creator, Rex Orange County…
Didn’t you meet Tyler, The Creator?
Yeah! That was incredible. So I actually played his festival Camp Flog Gnaw a few weeks back and that was amazing to even be on that or to think that he knew who I was. A week before that I was in LA just writing and I walked into Whole Foods just to get some groceries and he was sitting outside. I freaked out, he’s one of my idols. I was with my manager and I said “I’m really scared I don’t know what to do” and he goes “you’re playing his festival, go say hi”. So I went over and it was really cool, he was really nice and he knew who I was. He was just really genuine, and very funny — just normal. So yeah, it was very very cool.
I imagine it’s interesting to meet your idols especially when they’re in the same industry.
Yeah, stuff that ‘don’t ever meet you heroes’, I had a great experience.
It can definitely go either way.
[laughs] yeah it can.
What is a place that you’d really want to perform at that you haven’t yet?
Ooo… Korea. I went to South Korea I had the best time ever. I didn’t even play a show I just went there and met fans, did some promo and radio things here and there but it just looked so cool. The clothing over there is amazing, the streets, the food — everything’s incredible. When I got off the plane in the airport, I’d never been to Korea before and there were like 200–300 fans waiting at the airport.
That must have been a bit surreal.
It was insane. Like, so weird to me. Going out to a completely foreign country and just seeing all these people who came to see me with gifts and everything. It was incredible, that was an amazing experience, so yeah I really want to perform there.
Final question, it’s coming the end of 2018, what do you want to do for the next year? Any plans we should know about?
Yeah we’ll be releasing another project, another EP. I will be releasing a lot more singles in between and will just generally be releasing a lot more music. I want to tour Asia so I’m sure that will be happening. Japan, China, Indonesia. I want to write, and… yeah, just the normal things a musician should do. That’s what I want to do I guess.
Well, Merry Christmas and thanks for talking to me!
Thank you so much.
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