When Ruby Phillips, lead singer of Australian indie rock outfit Ruby Fields, wrote “I Want” four years ago, she never thought her teen crisis would become an anthem for the summer. But that’s exactly what happened with triple j Unearthed drove the track from obscurity to national airwaves all in a day’s work.
“I was literally asleep on the couch for a nap the day triple j picked up the song. When I woke, it blew up on the radio changing my life forever,” says Phillips.
The success of “I Want” was the proverbial kick that Phillips needed. She finally took a leap of faith to pursue music after her parents nagged her to make a decision – music or higher education. She moved out of home and found her way.
The 22-year-old who grew up in Sydney has since traded songs about puberty blues and personality crises for a broader story line – but there’s still an ever-present nihilism that fuels her creative fire. She’s steeped in punk roots, indie reflection and smears her campaign with a DIY ethos that’s ever-relevant this side of the ’90s.
The band was due to release their debut album this year, but COVID-19 put the brakes on touring and plans have now changed.
They luckily made it to New Zealand in March before lockdown to record the album at Revolver Studio, followed by a session at Music Farm Studios in Byron Bay working with producer Chris Collins.
Their new single “Pretty Grim” rises and falls to a symphony of punk riffs and lyrically it cuts deep. Ruby free-falls into her self-effacing realism that will make you cringe with empathy; but that’s not her intention. From depression to booze and cigarette butts aplenty; she’s painting her picture but doesn’t exactly want to hang there.
Phillips says there’s less dissing of her parents this time; and turned her black sheep of the family attitude (she’s the youngest of three daughters) around to embrace those close. While she’s reluctant to own her happy place, she’s certainly in a better spot than she was in her teenage years.
A toxic relationship with an older guy when she was 15 is partly to blame for her self-loathing and confidence killer. Her ex didn’t want her to pursue a life in music and with the help of family and friends she broke free a few years later.
It’s taken her more than five years to confront those demons and finally let go of the angst and able to talk about it publicly – but more than that – she’s owing her identity in rock ’n’ roll and unafraid to voice her opinion on and off the stage.
“I was made to wear dresses and be super girly in that relationship,” says Phillips.
“Having two older sisters who are quite feminine obviously had some impact too. But it was around the age of 15 I started to experience a toxic relationship with femininity because I associated it with so much negativity in my life. By 17, I thought, ‘Fuck this I am leaving this guy,’” she says.
“The minute I got out of that relationship I found myself again. I cut my hair, threw on some jeans and started drinking beers and started my band.”
In a gigantic farmhouse on the NSW south coast town of Stanwell Park is where you’ll find Phillips these days – surrounded by her band mates in a share house on a 70-acre property. She’s no longer with the session players who recorded “I Want”, but she’s rounded up musicians close to her age and thirsty for the same success.
They’ve built a studio at the farm and practice most nights – spending a few hours on the porch afterwards drinking beers. A donkey called Plonkey roams around too.
Her band is Adam Newling on lead guitar, Tas Wilson on bass guitar, and Patrick Rogers on drums.
“We’re like one big happy family,” says Phillips. “We complement each other really well and bring something different to the band. I feel pretty lucky to have these guys with me.”
Ruby Fields last toured in March this year, supporting Dune Rats, and to prevent any cabin fever feels, Phillips has scored herself a job at a local lawn bowls centre for the upcoming spring/summer season.
She might have made a name for herself as a heroine for teen angst, but Phillips is aware her songwriting won’t always be so down and out on the world – ever mindful not to alienate those who jumped on her bandwagon of youth rebellion.
“I am not the same person I was when I wrote songs in 2016; experiences change us and I am just doing what feels right,” says Phillips.
“I don’t hate my parents anymore and this new album will see some songs that are ballads, others more of a tip to our punk origins. It’s random and who we are.”
On stage, Philips was just getting used to the spotlight in a way she’s never embraced it before – and taking cues from a hero Amy Taylor from Melbourne pub rock band Amyl and The Sniffers. Now thanks to COVID restrictions, she’ll have to wait to unleash her inner beast.
“I am still battling with my femininity,” says Phillips. “But seeing Amy from Amyl and the Sniffers wearing clothes that show off the female form while still being the sickest person on stage and be so influential is thrilling.
“She manages to look and behave like a woman and a man at the same time and it really made me feel better about playing guitar, wearing a skirt, swearing and drinking beer,” she adds.
“Music helped me to become a better version of myself and I am finally comfortable with who I am.”
Ruby Fields’ “Pretty Grim” is out now.