Home Music album An interview with Ruby Gill on the new album ‘I’m Gonna Die With This Frown On My Face’

An interview with Ruby Gill on the new album ‘I’m Gonna Die With This Frown On My Face’

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Until recently, Ruby Gill lived with two pianos. One was a traditional upright piano, in which she had felt felt sewn against the strings to dampen the noise, and the other was a Japanese electric piano found at an op store. But there wasn’t enough room for the two, and in the end she parted from the upright.

“Nobody deserves two pianos in a flat in Melbourne,” she says with a dry laugh.

Gill used this electric piano to write most of his long-gestating debut album, “I’m Gonna Die With That Frown On My Face.” An intimate showcase of songs written over a decade – including two dating back to the age of 19 – the record showcases Gill’s idiosyncratic wit and bare, personal lyrics. She sings of her failure to meet societal norms (“I forgot to be deep today”), the ‘bureaucratic nonsense’ needed to keep her in Australia half a decade after moving from South Africa (“Borderlines”) and the lingering memory of experiencing seismic stress (“Public Panic Attacks”).

Credit: Al Parkinson

Capturing his expressive, laid-back vocals in a single take – and against a backdrop of sparse folk-pop instrumentation recorded live – these twelve songs are peppered with quiet moments unfolding in real time. This is because Gill wanted to let the songs “play and be completely honest and raw”, without too much finishing or afterthought.

“A big part of this album is about coming to terms with myself,” she explains. “I really allow myself, for the first time, to be completely present and me inside. Doing it live was the best reflection of that, because that’s how I write and act. And it was quite soothing: I didn’t know how important it would be to listen to these very live vocal takes and be in tune with what was going on in the room.

“I try to pay attention to what’s going on…It’s being incredibly aware of where I am and where I’m standing, the land I’m on and the birds and trees there”

Despite stepping out of her tiny apartment and into a real studio for the album, Gill still looks like she’s trying not to bother the neighbors. Working with bassist William O’Connell, drummer Winter McQuinn (Sunfruits) and co-producers Tim Harvey and Marcell Borrack, she crafted the record with an emphasis on softness and calm. As someone who walked into every studio session of her life and immediately asked to remove the cymbals – “I have quite a dislike for loud noises”, she admits – Gill was determined to capture the fragile brutality of every moment.

“I actively try to be present,” she says. “I try to pay attention to what is happening. And that extends to everything: it’s not just about immersing myself in the depths of a feeling. It’s being incredibly aware of where and where I am, the land I’m on and the birds and trees on it.

Gill describes arriving in Melbourne six years ago and standing on street corners, observing her surroundings 360 degrees until she memorized every detail around her. “I can’t tell you what it did for me,” she recalled, “other than put me in the space I was in. I do this all the time, and I really try to practice my life this way.”

If that sounds like the recipe for an album steeped in serene mindfulness, Gill’s debut is anything but. His words are sharp and unforgiving, with an equally penetrating reach into his past and present. Two songs date back to when she left her bucolic childhood home in the small town of Pietermaritzburg to attend college in the much denser city of Johannesburg. “Cinnamon” is about facing privilege and ignorance in a city where the gaps between wealth and class are so stark.

Meanwhile, “Stockings for Skating” sees her yearning for the safety of her childhood – slipping in her socks down a hallway – while feeling so far from home. It’s still his favorite song to perform live, despite the fact that Gill is now in his thirties and a world away from that initial sensation. “Something about it brings me back to that same feeling every time,” she says.

Many of her songs thus bring her back to specific feelings. Even “Public Panic Attacks” brings her back to that titular state of distress, but Gill would much rather revisit something she experienced than repress it. “I like to go to the end of the feeling”, she says. “I guess I’m a bit of a masochist. It’s not always pleasant to go through this, but it goes after the fact. I let the panic out of this song and I feel it.

“I had a little fun being vulnerable in a more positive way. Which is terrifying, but truly beautiful”

The album has been in Dropbox since early 2020, just before the pandemic hit. Gill sees it as an honest portrayal of this decade-long chapter of her life, and for that reason she resisted adding her 2021 single “You Should Do This For a Living”, despite it being a turning point in his career. A brutal three-minute dismantling of the male-dominated music industry, its choir includes Angie McMahon, Maple Gilder, Mimi Gilbert, Hannah Cameron and Hannah Blackburn. Gill considers this acclaimed indie single just as much its own thing as the album.

“I love doing little projects like this,” she recalls. “They don’t feel like they came out of a longer labor. They feel like they happen very singularly. Then it’ll float in the ether on its own, probably, for all eternity.

gill ruby
Credit: Al Parkinson

This song was released shortly after it was written, and Gill dealt with lockdown by “constantly writing” – in addition to working full-time as a writer at a creative agency in Melbourne. She describes her new songs as even sweeter than those on the album, with nylon-string guitar and vocal harmonies she recorded with herself in the bathtub. Gill also picked up old journal entries and sang the contents without reading them first, just to see what came out of them.

“I had a little fun being vulnerable in a more positive way,” she says. “Which is terrifying, but truly beautiful.”

After sharing what she calls some of her “immigration tension” on “Borderlines,” Gill was finally able to visit family in South Africa earlier this year. This journey, however, was not without complications. “I expected it to be grounded and welcoming,” she reveals. “I missed this space so much. But it was incredibly confronting. Just the levels of what people have been through during the pandemic and what that has done economically. »

Even more confronting, Gill and his father were caught in a powerful cyclone as they drove across the country to visit his grandparents. The extreme weather event killed hundreds and brought her face to face not just with mortality, but with the growing reality of the climate crisis. It also brought her closer to her father, who at one point asked her to go to his Spotify account and play all the songs on his funeral playlist.

“It wasn’t a good playlist,” she says, with her typical tongue-in-cheek delivery. “But he sang with everyone like it was the last time he was going to hear them. He was so present and so grateful. I don’t know how, but there was joy in that car.

“I’m Gonna Die With This Frown” by Ruby Gill Is Out Now