Making a splash in the South African music scene, we interview our June Artist of the Month Ruby Gill about her musical influences, her songwriting process and what it’s like to be a part of the South African music industry.

Ruby, or Ruby Mary as she’s affectionately called by her mother, comes from the smoky hollow of Pietermaritzburg and is now based in Johannesburg. Although she’ll be twenty in a few days’ time, she doesn’t feel her age, saying “I think I hit the grandmother years before normal childhood. I cross-stitched a lot”.

Her first memory of wanting to pursue music was sending her step-father in Antarctica a VHS tape of herself singing The Corrs very loudly. She was only 6 years old. She had began learning classical piano when she was 4 and picked up guitar instead of doing cross-country at school. She went on to start her first band when she was 11, covering Avril Lavigne songs. “At some point, music just became everything”, she states simply. After releasing her first album when she was just 14 years old, she went on to work as a session musician, getting experience from some of the best musicians in the country.

Ruby writes all of her own material which has earned her a publishing deal and representation by Breakout Agency. Being an integral part of who she is, she says that songwriting can be better than therapy – sometimes singing loudly into her cellphone until 2am just to process things. “I’ve mostly alienated my whole block of flats,” she jokes. When asked whether she writes music or lyrics first, she says that for her the music is always connected to the lyrics. “I can’t write a melody without a sentence”, she explains.

Happiness – Ruby Gill

Ruby describes her sound as a mix of Daughter, Gabrielle Aplin, Regina Spektor and a little bit of Chvrches, although it changes with every musical experience. “Everytime I listen to a new artist or song something shifts inside me. But something has also settled and I’m loving it.” When asked what songs she wishes she’d written she says she could write a whole page of songs but cites Romeo & Juliet by Dire Straits, the intro to Youth by Daughter and the lyrics to Dear … by Maria Mena as being at the top of the list. “I also wish I was Joni Mitchell, Vusi Mahlasela and Tracy Chapman in general.”

Ruby performing at the Oppikoppi Festival in 2014

Over the past year she has been performing more often, and even though it has taken her a while to enjoy performing – “I’ve always been super awkward and I fall over cables on stage more than any self-respecting human should” – she loves the magic of having people listening to her sing. Last year she opened for Jeremy Loops and played at the annual Oppikoppi Festival, which she says she’ll be “braving the dust” once again to perform at.

One year ago Ruby released the video for the first single Three Sixty Five from her album To Risk Our Hearts. Within 24 hours the video was trending on YouTube garnering attention from the media and making Ruby one of South Africa’s best new artists to keep an eye on.

Three Sixty Five – Ruby Gill

Having started at such an early age Ruby says it’s great to know that she has time to do everything she wants to do, but notes “it’s also tough to earn respect when people look at your age first.” As for being a part of the South African music industry, she shares nothing but optimism.

“South Africa is magic. It has its ups and downs, but the people, the talent and the passion here are off the charts. There’s a vibrancy and a multitude of musical colour here that I haven’t seen in other parts of this big world. There are so many opportunities for creation here – and so much inspiration.”

Ruby has a lot of exciting projects in the works – she has a video series coming out soon and says another album is also on the cards at some point. In the meantime you can listen to her latest releases on SoundCloud and procrastinate with her on social media to keep up to date with all the news that’s on its way.