Female Friday: Ruthie Collins

"I think that all the answers that we need are deep down inside of our hearts and it's just getting quiet enough to hear..."

Female Friday: Ruthie Collins
Ruthie Collins; Photo credit: Cal + Aly

Singer-songwriter Ruthie Collins went through a transformation while writing and recording her new album Cold Comfort, one that brought her back to her artistic roots. Raised on a grape farm in upstate New York that’s been in her family for two centuries, Collins was instilled with a love of music from her mother who was a piano teacher and church organist. Though she’s long harbored a passion for music, Collins’ confidence in the craft has been a slow burn. She recently reclaimed her sound by recording Cold Comfort without permission from her label home of Curb Records, a decision that symbolized artistic liberation.

Read on to learn more about Collins’ journey, what it was like to record an album in secret and the power of authenticity.

What inspired you to come to Nashville?

I went to Berklee College of Music for three and a half years. It was my semester before my last semester and I got this job opportunity and I moved to Texas to work as a contemporary vocal director of the biggest Lutheran church in the country. Once I got there, it just wasn’t right. I wasn’t writing, it didn’t feel aligned with what I was supposed to be doing. I honestly didn’t know what else to do, but I knew that I loved writing songs more than anything in the world, so it seemed like Nashville was the place to be. I moved to Nashville and started waiting tables and writing with anyone who could write with me. I found myself in this friendship with this girl named Victoria [Gibson] who also was writing songs and brand new to town and we started a little duo project.

The next thing I knew, we were on one of those Nashville reality shows called Can You Duet way back in the day. All of a sudden, I was competing on a national television show for a record deal and that was the first time in my life I was like ‘I might be good enough to have a record deal. Someone might value what I do enough to let me do it.’ After that, everything changed because I was like ‘I should start believing in myself, really give this thing a shot because this is what I want to do.’ But it never seemed available to me, it seemed like way too big of a dream. That’s all I ever wanted was to make a living doing what I loved, so to think bigger than that, it’s almost like asking too much.

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Somebody pinch me it’s finally release day! I am so so proud to release my sophomore record “Cold Comfort” today. 😍 I hope that these songs might give permission and the freedom to feel your emotions no matter how scary or ugly or overwhelming they may be. There’s so much joy on the other side. I promise. Huge thank you to my producer @wesharllee. I could have never made this record without you and I never would have wanted to. Thank you to my entire beautiful team @curbrecords for sticking with me on this one. I love you guys and am the luckiest gal to have a home that encourages their artists to flex and grow and mature. Thank you to @oliviamgmt, you are a gift and the wheel that keeps the whole thing spinning! Thank you to @craigrandallwhite , and @1100fps for your amazing studio skills, and @rjreeland for those magical mixes. Thank you to all the musicians and singers and songwriters who put their hands in the clay with me. I love you all. 💜 And to the people of the world who might need this record just like that strange and wise man told me you would, this is for you. This is to say thank you for your support. I’m so very very grateful.

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How do you feel like your sound has evolved over the years?

I think about it almost like a full circle, like I’ve come back to what I always wanted to do. I moved to Nashville and I wrote all day long, it was always about the songwriting for me. I loved that Americana sound I fell in love with in college, but I grew up listening to pop radio. Once I got a record deal, people gravitated towards the more commercial stuff at the record label. I definitely am a people pleaser and I wanted to be successful and I felt like I was so lucky that these people were investing in my career. I wanted to really do good for them, make everyone their money back and have success and do the right thing, so I let that go in that direction for a long time. And then the whole Nashville, female country singer thing happened and I really got stuck in that wheel for a long time. I got really sad and bitter and dark about that and really blamed country radio and Nashville for not signing more women and fighting the fight. In the midst of this, I did all this spiritual journey work because I was so unhappy that I was like ‘I need to figure out a way to make myself happy.’ I did all this soul searching and realized that if I was never being my true, authentic self musically, it was never going to work no matter who was playing what or wasn’t playing what.

What was it like recording your album Cold Comfort in secret?

I booked the studio time and I didn’t ask anyone. I asked myself ‘what songs would I record if I was just doing it for me and what I felt like was my real story, what I had been going through and not what I thought some 45-year-old program director in Arkansas would make me want to play.’ So I recorded with my guitar player, we co-produced this record of 11 songs and about halfway through the week, my record label caught wind of what was going on [and was] pretty upset and concerned – and then they ended up falling in love with the music.

I feel like the whole world unfolded as soon as I took that step to be who I always was in the first place that maybe was just too scared to not be like everyone else or think that’s what’s working – that’s what I needed to mold myself into. It’s been a long process, but I think I’m finally coming back around to actually trying to be yourself, not in a way that is what other people want you to be the best version of yourself that you can squeeze into their box. I can tell my kids one day I did what I was supposed to do, I made the music that was in my heart and I did it for the other people that I knew were like me that were going through what I’ve been through and not for what I thought was the next step in my career.

What is the most compelling song on the record?

“Joshua Tree” because the song has changed my life more than any song I’ve ever been a part of. I wrote it about Gram Parsons and Emmy Lou Harris and their rumored love affair that we’ll never know what the real story there was. I read this article online that said she was about to tell Gram that she was actually in love with him, but she didn’t want to do it over the phone. They were about to go back on the road and then he tragically died in 1973, before she got the chance, in Joshua Tree. I thought that was so sad for someone whose music I loved so much. I was such a big fan of her art, her life, I adore her as a woman. It honestly devastated me to think that maybe that’s something she went through when she was my age and that she had lost this potential love of her life and maybe never got to tell him how she felt.

I was dealing with similar situations, so I think I resonated with it so much that I wrote the song. I’d never been to Joshua Tree when I wrote it and then I went and I was like ‘this place is so special’ and now I can’t stay away. We recorded the music video where Gram Parsons died in Joshua Tree. It’s changed my life in the bizarrest ways, it’s like life imitating art imitating life. It’s become very special to me; it’s like a lucky charm in a way.

How do you feel like this album is authentically you?

It’s the deepest depths of the saddest and most overwhelming emotional experiences that I’ve ever been through as an adult. It’s the journey of learning to feel your emotions, not have shame over what you’re feeling. There’s a big theme of addiction in this record and it’s a different viewpoint because I was in a relationship with someone struggling with addiction. It’s one of those things where you felt guilty feeling the pain of that situation because you’re with someone who’s going through something terrible, but it’s still affecting everyone around that person. It’s a record of a journey of trying to learn that the only way through the darkness is to feel it and let go and surrender to that and then to move through it, to not be shutting down these emotions anymore and to accept it for where you are so that you can get to the hope on the other side. I’m definitely finding myself today in the hope on the other side.

What do you hope people take from your decision to step into your artistic freedom?

To be your authentic self at any cost, to not let the bureaucracy of whatever industry you find yourself in dictate the art that you create because we’re all creators. I think that you’re always going to win when you stop doing it for success or ego, but try to do it for the joy. That would be my encouragement, to go inward and to ask yourself instead of asking others, because I think that all the answers that we need are deep down inside of our hearts and it’s just getting quiet enough to hear, which is really hard, but so beautiful when you do it. I think we all have these inner selves that are our best friend. We spend our whole lives with ourselves, so we’re the ones that we should be listening to and paying attention to because ultimately if you’re listening to your heart, that’s your best bet for being of your truest service to the world. I think that’s the best way that you can share your love with the world is by going deep in and claiming your gifts. It’s been a journey, and I would encourage others to go on that journey, to look inward and to follow their heart above all because I don’t think your heart ever will let you down.