Interview: The Sleepy Rubies On Playing LouFest 2016
From the time that Emily Wallace and Ali Ruby were teenagers, they knew what they wanted to—or “had to” do, as they put it. “We’ve tried doing anything, everything else,” Wallace says. “It’s been a real up and down relationship.” Together or apart, the song slaying sisters spent many years playing around the St. Louis area.
The duo has come a long way since the early days—their first show escorted by their parents during a snowstorm, on a school night, so that they could play Sally T’s in St. Peters for an audience of three people. “We wrote out a setlist,” Wallace says with a laugh.“A four-song set list on a sticky note.” From there, the girls caught the bug and didn’t look back. “This band asked us to open for them on main street—Baha Rock Club. We sang the same four songs, on the same posted note,” Ruby recalls.
“We connected competing in talent shows—all Mariah Carey songs,” says Wallace. Their friendship and love for music only got tighter as the years went on. “We were really good friends, and I later got adopted,” Wallace says.
Although they aren’t blood, the ladies have a natural component when harmonizing. Wallace says harmonies came easier to her singing with Ruby than when her biological mother, a singer, was teaching her growing up. During the interview, their connection was apparent as they bounce off each others’ jokes and finish each others’ sentences.
“There were years that we played six nights a week. We played a ton of covers that we absolutely hated. We still had jobs though; we didn’t have a day off, we worked and we were miserable, but in the back of our minds, we thought surely someone’s going to stumble on some type of gig and say, “Oh, we want you girls,” so we took every opportunity,” says Wallace.
“It was like, ‘Hey, my kid likes Tuesdays and we’re going to have a BBQ, and maybe I’ll invite my brother, probably not though, you guys want to play it?’… And we’d be like ‘YEP’,” recalls Ruby. “It was that for a long time, and we did it, as miserable as it was, I’m glad we did because it kind of prepped us for where we are now,” says Wallace.
After nearly 10 years of playing together—from St. Peters to South City, from “Brown Eyed Girl” to original tunes—the girls took a break and went their separate ways to finish schooling. Wallace to Florida and Ruby to California. It wasn’t until the two reunited in St. Louis just this past year that they sat down to write together for a spawn of an idea—The Sleepy Rubies.
The name The Sleepy Rubies comes from the girls’ inclination to play slower, ballad-like songs—whether the lyrics speak otherwise—combined with their family name, Ruby. Their first album, “Great Big Love,” features songs they wrote over the course of four nights, pouring it out on the floor of Ruby’s apartment. “We got together and I am like ‘how are we going to pull this off? I’m going to have to bump these [studio] dates,’ and it just came out,” Wallace said.
“I had a voice memo on my phone [she hums it] and I would hum it in my head all the time. I was like ‘I dunno man what about this,’ and I put guitar chords to it. Within 20 minutes we had written verses, a bridge, had the whole song figured out and were laughing hysterically in my bathroom,” Ruby says.
Of the songs on the new album, a song called “South City,” an ode to the place where you can find great food, friends, music and booze, has taken off as their most recognized song. “For me, personally, it’s about embracing where you’re at,” Wallace says.
All of the songs in some way pertain to comfortability, love and understanding yourself. “We’re both in this really awesome place,” Wallace explains.“It’s not like we’re walking around on rainbows, but being in our 30s we’ve found ourselves in a way. We were there all along but going through the motions of what other people expected of us. It’s been really nice to do what we want to do.”
Since the start of The Sleepy Rubies in March 2016, the girls have opened for Ingrid Michaelson and the Black Lillies, among other notable STL shows. Now, landing a spot on this year’s LouFest lineup, they joke the most exciting thing about it is “being on the LouFest lineup.” LouFest is the biggest music event put on by the city, hosting more than 30 national acts in Forest Park (for those of you who might not know). They are looking forward to seeing Band of Horses, Lauryn Hill and, of course, Buddy Guy.
As far as the future of The Sleepy Rubies, the gals will continue to put out great tunes. “Whatever happens, happens. I love what we made and I am excited about having things we’re proud of,” says Ruby. “Sixteen years of playing music together and then just in this last year having this much success and it’s because we’re playing what we want to play and the [stuff] that we wrote speaks volumes,” says Wallace.
Wallace and Ruby are not only strong, creative women, they are workers and they deserve to be where they are. “Over half of our lives this has been our life,” says Wallace. They’ve put in their time, been discouraged by the cover song game, and are finally coming out on top. Be sure to make it early for their opening spot at LouFest, 11:30am. You can expect a few songs as a duo and some with their backing band, whom they are incredibly grateful for, including Tony Barbata, Jim Peters, Shawn Hart and Mark Hochberg.