Rising local artpop star Ruby Frost talks about her dramatic first album to Lydia Jenkin.
Though she doesn't often wear diamantes on her face on a normal weekday, young Auckland songstress Ruby Frost looks every bit the popstar as she sits having coffee on a Friday morning.
She's been dying her hair in crazy colours for a couple of years. She enjoys dressing up even when not on stage, though she's not as flamboyant now as she used to be.
"I've toned it back a bit this year, because I've turned 25, and I feel like I've got a bit of that out of my system now. I still love glittery things and sequins and so on, but I don't feel quite the same need to dress up as a character."
There is a connection between her image and music though, as the songs on debut album Volition show. They have a dramatic, theatrical quality, some use circus-like sounds, and the lyrics - like Smoke and Mirrors - often come with references to magic. And Volition, is something of concept album, though it didn't start out that way.
"Because the oldest song of the album was written five years ago, I was finding it hard to put all the songs together in a cohesive way, so I thought 'why don't I just turn it into a story?"'
That narrative follows her own journey and the album's lyric sheet comes with an abstract short story connecting the lyrics of the songs.
"It's hard to explain, but it was just about finding my voice and finding the confidence to tell my stories again, and feeling proud to be a storyteller, and being creative and vulnerable."
Born Jane de Jong, she's the daughter of Mark de Jong who runs Parachute Music, the Christian music label and festival.
Frost has been writing songs since she was a teenager. She says she is inspired by everybody from the vintage likes of Fleetwood Mac, David Bowie, Bob Dylan and Joan Baez to Joanna Newsom, Sufjan Stevens and Bjork. Having honed her live performance with small gigs around Auckland, in 2009 she won the inaugural MTV talent competition 42Unheard as a promising upcoming artist, which gave her a release deal with Universal NZ.
That set her writing her debut album alone and with co-writers, two of whom, Dan Hume from Evermore, and Justyn Pilbrow from Elemeno P, are credited on the album.
"Both of them have really strong pop sensibilities, and they were just really easy to work with. With Dan Hume we wrote two of my favourite songs on my first day with him. He just works really fast."
Frost spent two weeks in New York last year recording the album with producer Chris Zane (known for his work with Passion Pit and The Walkmen).
Like many a female pop star, she was initially inspired by relationship woes, though as you might guess from the album title, it has turned out to be more about herself then anyone else.
"When I started the album I was coming out of a pretty nasty break-up, and I'd just lost heaps of confidence, and was trying to process it all. If someone makes promises to you, and then they just really let you down, you feel like you've been thrown around - I call myself a ragdoll in one song."
But the process of writing the album was a form of catharsis and self-discovery, and she found herself in a very different headspace by the time she was writing the final songs, such as Volition.
"It was very liberating to write because it was me putting everything together, and realising, actually, my happiness doesn't depend on anybody else. It's amazing when you understand that for yourself."
Who: Auckland songstress Ruby Frost
What: Debut album Volition, out June 8
Where and when: Touring the North Island with shows at Major Toms in Mt Maunganui on June 13, Flow Bar in Hamilton on June 14, Mighty Mighty in Wellington on June 16, and Pony Club in Auckland on June 21.