“Somebody Else” is the follow-up single to the critically acclaimed debut “Sink Or Swim.” Ruth Patterson is once again pushing the boundaries of her exceptional musicianship and songwriting acumen while unveiling her skills as a visual artist. On first listening, “Somebody Else” with its mournful piano introduction appears to be a song in the blues tradition about love followed by betrayal and loss, but more complex layers of meaning become increasingly evident. Patterson’s mastery of surrealistic imagery is reminiscent of early Dylan, her lyrical reflections evocative of Joni Mitchell’s reworking of folklore.
In one sense the song could be about a breaking relationship but on a personal level, as someone happily married, it became more about my identity as a performer. My relationship with art and audience can feel like a stormy love affair. Touring with my band, Holy Moly & The Crackers was a real whirlwind. It was great! But sometimes it felt like I was losing a sense of who I was and what I wanted to say. My identity as a performer was consuming my sense of individuality. I think it’s why a lot of artists struggle with mental health. It can eat you up until there’s nothing left. I guess that’s what the chorus line “we flew so high that the fire went out” means to me.
From the first verse, the sumptuous ascending acoustic strings of the Harborough Collective quartet complement Ruth’s introspective, almost trembling vocals as she sings, “Like a ghost after death climbing out of his skin/ Is a soul in flight such a terrible thing?” highlighting an intriguing song that questions more than it answers. After these introductory diaphanous tones, the mood changes in the soaring, heart-breaking chorus, Patterson’s determination, acceptance and strength reflected in her incredible vocal range and versatility. A clever stylistic device is breaking the barrier between herself and the listener by addressing her audience directly and revealing the truth in her inimitable, highly personal way.
I love what I do with the band, and as a solo artist and that’s why the last line of the chorus and of the song is what it is: “I WILL sing for you … even if I have to be somebody else.” I guess writing this song was a subconscious form of therapy – it’s accepting who I am as an artist, and that metamorphosis is a fundamental part of creating.
The accompanying music video directed by Ruth indeed portrays a metamorphosing artist showing both her vulnerability and self-assurance, at ease with where she is and confident enough to convey her emotions with complete honesty and integrity. A strong symbiosis exists between the visual and lyrical imagery which reinforces the meaning.
The water and fluid movement is to reflect the sense of removing layers, to cleanse away a previous self to uncover a new one to fit into another person’s life. I wanted to use colour to represent different emotions as the song is discussing such a complex set of feelings and I intended the layers to come over the top adding depth and texture.
Can you talk us through the meaning of, and stimulus for, “Somebody Else”?
In all honesty, “Somebody Else” is a song that wrote itself, and I had to find the meaning afterwards. Most of the time I have to drag my songs kicking and screaming into life but I had to keep up with this one. It’s nice when that happens. My bedroom window looks over a line of trees and during the spring and summer months the dawn chorus wakes me up every morning. The line “You’ve got to feed the birds if you want them to sing” fell into my lap one day and I just followed the words.
In one sense this could be a song about love and betrayal and a breaking relationship and if that’s how a listener connects with it, or understands it, then great. So many of the songs we listen to, the books we read, and the art we look at are about love and failed love. It’s universal.
But on a personal level, as someone happily married, it became more about my identity as a performer. My relationship with art and audience can feel like a stormy love affair. Between 2018/19 I was touring a lot with my band, Holy Moly & The Crackers. Those 18 months were a real whirlwind. It was great! But sometimes it felt like I was losing a sense of who I was and what I wanted to say. My identity as a performer was consuming my sense of individuality. And that’s the catch-22 of being an artist. You work like a dog to get to a point where you have a fan-base and can spend your time doing what you love, but then you realise you’ve lost the fire and imagination that set you out on the road in the first place. I think it’s why a lot of artists struggle with mental health. It can eat you up until there’s nothing left. I guess that’s what the line “we flew so high that the fire went out” means to me. But like I say, it will mean something totally different to someone else. And I love that! I love that a song can mean different things to different people.
Don’t get me wrong, though. I love what I do with the band, and as a solo artist. And that’s why the last line of the chorus and of the song is what it is: “I WILL sing for you … even if I have to be somebody else.” I guess writing this song was a subconscious form of therapy – it’s accepting who I am as an artist, and that metamorphosis is a fundamental part of creating.
You directed the video accompanying the song. Can you tell us about the creative and technical processes involved?
So it has been a weird time with lockdown and changing the way things usually work I think it has caused all creatives to adapt and be more versatile. I storyboarded the shoot and directed the imagery, design, makeup etc; my husband Conrad filmed the video. It took a lot of patience as neither of us had ever done anything like it before but I think the limitations made us more creative in a way.
The water and fluid movement is to reflect the sense of removing layers, to cleanse away a previous self to uncover a new one to fit into another person’s life. It’s about getting wrapped up in who you are expected or encouraged to be and ending up pretending, detached from reality, lost. I wanted to use colour to represent different emotions as the song is discussing such a complex set of feelings and I intended the layers to come over the top adding depth and texture.
Tell us about your early musical influences. Are you from a musical family?
Neither of my parents are musical but they’ve always had an amazing record collection which I always love to delve into with the likes of Velvet Underground, Toots & The Maytals, Roxy Music, Joan Baez, Kate Bush and Nina Simone. When I was little my great aunt lived with us so some of my earliest and happiest memories are sitting on her knee at the piano and I’d sit and pretend it was me making this incredible sound. I thought she had magic powers, how the keys just seemed to play themselves underneath her fingers. We used to spend hours at the piano when I was growing up playing all sorts: Eric Satie, Mozart, Bach, Beethoven, Hungarian polkas and Stereophonics.
Have you always known that being a musician was your chosen path?
To be honest, yes! I was 5 years old when the county music scheme came through my little primary school and I got to borrow a violin to take home and practice on. I must have sounded absolutely horrendous, but I just loved it. My mum is Scottish and I have always felt a strong connection to the Celtic music of the Highlands and me and my little brother as kids we’d head to Ceilidhs in Oban. I was also a big lover of classic music.
I was lucky enough to be able to play a few instruments when I was young – clarinet, piano, violin, drums, cello. My dad has a knack for finding old instruments at car boot sales which was great as I had the freedom to try lots of different things out and experiment. I went through all the usual grades and learned about music theory and began composing really early on. I went through many stages I wanted to be a classic violinist like Nigel Kennedy, then I wanted to be a composer for film, then I wanted to be in a fiddle orchestra, a jazz clarinetist, a drummer and I continuously had some big idea that was always changing but what stayed constant what that I knew I wanted to play music.
Your career as lead singer and instrumentalist with Holy Moly & The Crackers is well documented. But at what point did you decide to have a parallel solo career, and why? Are there challenges associated with pursuing the two roles simultaneously?
I love being with the band and all our many different influences and collective ideas. Getting the crowd dancing and the great community and adventure that comes with that is one of my favorite parts about performing/touring but I just wanted a change of direction. I have a lot of influences, songs and interests that aren’t really right for that particular band and so I have been keen branch out and really experiment outside of those parameters.
Back in autumn 2018, I did a residency with Nadine Shah and that was really the week which catapulted my mind into wanting to give this a real shot and some serious focus. In some ways there’s a lot more work to do and it can sometimes get confusing straddling the two operations and keeping my head in both musical projects but under the circumstances with Covid, having the two projects is a blessing as I have more work to focus on, more time to freely explore my sound and experiment before it is safe to tour again!
How significant was your time as Sage Gateshead Artist In Residence in preparing you as a solo artist?
The residency gave me the opportunity and some space to focus on my solo sound, time to write and compose music in a way I’ve always wanted to do. It has been a shame that it’s been cut short by coronavirus as there hasn’t been any opportunity to go to Sage and work there but we did manage to do a live stream which I really enjoyed and I got the opportunity to have a master class on my scores with the composer Fiona Brice, who I greatly admire and that was really the highlight of the residency.
How did you feel about your debut live-streamed solo performance and the acclaim which it received?
Everyone seems to have mixed feelings about live streams but I have really enjoyed every single one that I’ve performed and listened to! I guess it is a little bit nerve wracking because I don’t have that much experience of performing solo to an audience and so not having the crowd reaction and the support that gives, can be a little bit daunting but I love performing and I generally just try and relax into it! I also like all the chat that comes with it and being able to tell my stories and then read the comments afterwards and reply to people. In some ways it is a really interactive way of performing and accessing music. I’m hoping to do more of it in the future.
How important has it been to stay connected with your fan base during lockdown?
For me, it has been super important to stay connected with my fan base to keep the ball rolling and the momentum going with the project but also for myself. I found it really supportive and a great way of keeping in touch with the outside world. It’s been nice to have some time to reflect and also show a little bit more of my personality and some of the situations that I face which are unique to me and have people ask questions and share their own personal stories.
I definitely feel plugged into a community online. I firmly believe that sharing is the best way to understand each other and ultimately become more accepting as a society. Of course there have been times where I’ve just switched my social media off for a few days or a week because I think we all, especially now, need that time for self-reflection and to stay out of social media bubble but on the whole I have found it really useful and a great tool to keep positive during this time of not been able to tour.
You write such beautiful songs, do you have a specific writing technique and, in your mind, what would you say makes a good song great?
Writing music is such a tricky thing to pin down, I think. Some days I can write all day and feel really happy and not be too hard on myself, avoid being too judgemental and just enjoy it – seeing what comes out. Some of it might be great some of it could be really terrible but I’ve always learnt something. Other days it’s really laborious and an uphill struggle to come up with anything! I think it very much depends on mood. I find that often if I feel like listening to a lot of music and absorbing sound, those are the times where I really start to want to write, diving headfirst into days and days of songwriting.
I find that during these times it’s quantity over quality actually, trying to get everything out of my head all at once. The lyrical ideas, riffs, melodies, arrangements are often just flowing out spending hours in our home studio or even simply humming into my phone if I’m doing the washing up or having a bath. Then I will edit through to collate at the end of the week and try and look at what those gems could be – like panning for gold in a heap of pebbles.
At the moment I’m just trying to be as experimental as I can, listening to new music and seeing if there are new genres and movements that I can reference to infuse my music. For me a great song has many layers with a beautiful, solid core. You might get a few people to listen all at the same time and they might get a different experience of the song and maybe even a different story/feeling from the song, relating to it in different ways peeling back the layers and if it also retains a good central focus then it’s a banger!
How would you describe your musical style to those not tuned into your music yet?
Really tough question! I think it’s been described as Baroque pop and at the heart it is blues with elements of classical, soulful alt-pop and maybe a smidge of folk.
What are your ambitions, short and long-term, as a solo performer?
My single “Somebody Else’” came out on 25th September accompanied by a lockdown video filmed by my husband/creative partner, Conrad, and we just had a lot of fun so I’m excited to bring it out. Like with anything, the ambition is always to aim for the skies but that is a big leap so I try to have an eye on where I want to head, yet stay mindful to always enjoy every part of the journey there. A bit like touring!
Of course, the shows are amazing and a huge rush but it is massively important to appreciate the weird and wonderful van times and the crazy nature of the touring aspect too as it’s the majority of the time away – you’d go mad otherwise. I am really enjoying writing at the moment as much as it is sometimes traumatic birthing new ideas, never knowing what will work or relate with the audience.
I do enjoy the creative process and I’m very much looking forward to collaborating with a diverse range of new creatives in the next few months writing together, playing together and ultimately recording a new EP which will be released next Spring. I have a show at Sage Gateshead booked in for Feb 2021, and I am hoping to build a short tour around this but we have no idea what will be able to go ahead at this point so it’s just about hoping for the best and planning alternative options and keeping positive in all the chaos – there’s nothing else to do!
Release Date: 25th September 2020
Label: Pink Lane
Ruth Patterson Music
Ruth Patterson Facebook
*Photographs by Darran Moore and Eva Edsjö