A matter of weeks ago, I took a short trip to London, during which I was serendipitous enough to catch an Amber Rubarth gig. Although that may be less down to serendipity, and more to the fact that I flew over specifically for it. She was also gracious enough to allow me to pester her with questions and bad jokes for half an hour or so. Now, following some internal complications and day-job-related lethargy and skull-imploding fury, I’m presenting a series of articles based on that pleasant Thursday evening. First up: the interview.
The first thing that strikes you about Amber Rubarth’s is the good humour and honesty that underlines it – even when she’s singing about broken hearts, she’s incredibly excited that she gets to sing about broken hearts. So how wonderful it was to find that the first thing to strike you about Amber Rubarth in person is her good humour and honesty.
“I’ve been having one of those days where you wake up late, and everything seems later than it really is,” she admits as we walk down London’s Denmark Street, home of the historical 12 Bar Club, where her and Jim Bianco are ending their European tour tonight.
How has the tour been? “It’s been fantastic!” she enthusiastically replies as we sit on a weirdly rigid sofa in a small bar following a surprisingly lengthy search around the uncooperatively café-less area. “We played a bar in Norway, and the crowd was amazing. They’re like the Japanese, I think – they seem kinda straight-laced most of the time, but when they go crazy, they go really crazy. Americans are up and down all the time.” As opposed to us Irish, who just sort of coast along constantly drunk? She gives a semi-awkward laugh, and I give a darting thought to the three rum and cokes I may or may not have had before the interview.
Best experiences of the tour? “We got to play on a cruise ship! From Norway to Germany. And played in France, in a place called Bar de Luc, in this, like, gazebo. It was like doing theatre or something. It was so perfect – I looked up at one point, and there was a golden butterfly floating past. It was like being in a cartoon. And Berlin was fantastic too – it reminded me of home in Williamsburg back in Brooklyn, a very hip scene to be in. Very international.”
And the worst? “Um. Well, we played these house concerts,” (A series of concerts held in people’s living room across England), “and… We played two and a half.” Two and a half? There’s a story there, surely. “Well…” She shifts in her seat. “They’re great, I love doing them. We played one in Primrose Hill, and I stayed there overnight, and it’s such a great experience. When you’re on a stage, there’s a disconnect with the crowd, but not at a house concert.”
Which is great, but is the opposite of answering the question. “I’m not sure I should say,” she says tactfully. Luckily, tour mate Bianco shares no such discretion, as he later tells the story in full on-stage. It involves a house concert in Bristol, a man who lives aboves a paid parking garage, and some ferrets. That sounds like I’m joking, but I’m not.)
Some background on Amber: she left the weird world of chainsaw sculpture to take up music, wrote a song with Adam Levy called ‘Washing Day’, and won the International Song Contest, as judged by Tom Waits, Brian Wilson and Robert Smith. So that’s pretty huge, huh? “That was so amazing! I always thought entering song contests was sorta lame – who’s judging these things, y’know? But Adam told me we had to enter this one, just because Tom Waits was judging it. We’re such huge fans of his. I mean, Tom Waits heard our song. And liked it.”
So, with her solo work (including the superlative-defying Good Mystery) leaning towards the intimate singer-songwriter style, and her work with Alex Wong in the Paper Raincoat being of a similar low key, does she have any aspirations of being in a full band? “Absolutely, yeah. I’ve worked with full bands up till now, but they’ve sorta been “found musicians”, friends that I knew could play on a song or two. But I’d love to have a band that I could say, yeah, this music is of this band.” I insist that whatever band she gets, they should do what I do when I’m playing at home: add a Slash-in-November-Rain guitar solo to her song ‘Show Your Weakness’. “Ha, yeah, totally. I’m gonna be doing some stuff with a band in Los Angeles this summer, I think. You should join!”
There’s that good humour again.