Massachusetts-based folk quartet Ruby Mack, consisting of Emma Ayres (Vocals/guitar), Abbie Duquette (bass uke), Zoe Young (guitar/vocals) and Abs Kahler (fiddle), are on a mission to redefine the sacred in a way that encapsulates all people and all aspects of life. Their music shines a light on those demonized in religious scripture, particularly women and LGBTQ people, to honor and celebrate their identities. Their latest single, “Jane,” is a beautiful example of this aim, soulfully capturing the love and loss associated with the LGBTQ experience.
“Jane” was written by Ayres in response to the 2016 Pulse nightclub shooting, with a past partner of hers in mind. “It’s just kind of our love song to anyone who feels like they can’t openly exist as their true selves in this world,” says Kahler. “I think the world can sometimes be a pretty inhospitable place to queer folks, people of color, any kind of minority, or anyone that’s treated as other.”
Influences like The Wailin’ Jennys and The Highwomen are evident in the band’s sweet, gentle vocals and minimalistic instrumentals. The slow, mellow single consists of melancholy fiddle, acoustic guitar, a simple rhythmic bass track, and emotive vocal harmonies. “It became a powerful thing for us to all be singing the harmonies together,” says Kahler. “The parts where it’s one voice and then the other voices join kind of echoes that sense of community that we were trying to express.”
The instrumentals start off simple and build as the track picks up, with the vocals getting increasingly loud and passionate toward the end, mirroring the intensity of the emotion in lyrics like “Oh they can keep you from fresh water/You’re the cold rain set me free.” Then, you can hear Ayres’s voice crack with emotion as the song returns to her stripped-down vocals. “The goal is to make people who may not have felt that pain have empathy,” says Duquette.
“When we’re performing that song, I always feel like there’s a lot of space for silence and softness, and it feels very holy,” Kahler adds. “I feel like that was kind of a theme that ran through some of the pieces in this album that we’re releasing — just really holding space for the sacredness of life and of queer life.”
The album they’re referring to is Ruby Mack’s debut LP Devil Told Me (out October 23), which explores feminism and social justice through the lens of religion and mythology as well as modern life and recent events. The soothing folk tune “Machine Man” is an ode to blue-collar workers, and the a cappella “Breadwinner” is “a thank you to all the badass momma figures out there” who support their households, as Kahler puts it, “but also about ourselves as well: We want to be your breadwinner. Let us have that role. We can take care of you. We don’t need men to do that.”
Several songs were written by Ayres, incorporating her interest in oral tradition and storytelling. “For Icarus” retells the Greek myth of the man who flew too close to the sun, commenting on the ways people get carried away with their imaginations, and “Odysseus” is a passionate plea to the mythical hero to return home and avoid the temptation of the sirens.
Overall, the band considers the album a reclamation of the story of Adam and Eve, celebrating female curiosity and knowledge. Accordingly, the album art features a serpent wound around an apple. “Eve ate an apple because she had curiosity, and without curiosity, what is anything?” says Kahler. “We all deserve the things we need and desire, and we shouldn’t be punished for going after those things like Eve does.” This attitude is best summed up in the lyrics to “Milktooth,” an angelically sung track about challenging gender roles learned in childhood: “Holy woman said I deserve what I want.”
Given the album’s overarching themes, it’s appropriate that it was recorded in an old converted church, with the help of Ghost Hit Recording engineer Andrew Oedel. The members, who originally met through the Massachusetts folks scene after each making their own music, consider their friendship a central part of their music and aim to capture their chemistry and authentic emotion in their recordings. Nine of the ten songs on Devil Told Me — with the exception of “Milktooth” — were recorded live to achieve this.
“I feel like that sacredness and that holiness was something that space already held,” Kahler says. “And we are at our most raw and most ourselves when we’re all playing live, and I feel like that definitely translates.”
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