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Ruby The Hatchet: “All the Songs We Wrote Over the Course of a Year Were With Purpose.”

February 24, 2015

RUBY_123114_RK_005Text and images by Rick Kauffman.

Ruby the Hatchet have very subtly been putting on kick-ass shows in Philadelphia that just recently have culminated in a bloody New Years Eve banger and a Friday the 13th album release show that saw the band perform their sophomore release, Valley of the Snake, in its entirety.

For those who didn’t grab the vinyl early, the album final drops today.

Through six tracks, the quintet, whose members, save for one, all live together on the wrong side of the Ben Franklin Bridge, offer another example of how Philadelphia, far and wide, has talent across all genre.

Women in particular have had a growing platform in this city that offers new and emerging positions in leading roles with new and progressive sounds. Jillian Taylor, leading lady and vocalist for Ruby the Hatchet, found a unique opportunity to help craft an original sound.

“Women have this witchy quality that men can’t really convey,” Taylor said. “With heavy music, too. It cuts more if you have a higher voice … at least in our genre, I think. That’s why you see a lot of women, because it works really well.”

In calling Janis Joplin and Grace Slick influences, as well as hearkening back to early days of church choir and school musicals, Taylor evokes a natural subtleness with her eerie crooning that takes the tracks to peaks and lows that the instrumentation alone could not.

“It all has a theme, and she tries to tell a story,” said guitarist John Scarps.

“We write mostly with just jamming,” said bassist Mike Parise. “We work off of one another. We’ll write the music and Jillian will have a basic structure for the lyrics and we’ll take the lyrics into account when we finalize the song. It all comes together.”

The album is, at times, both mystical and discerning, like a trollop through a meadow that brings you to the edge of a dark forest and as the sun falls the question arises whether to continue onward or retreat home. Standing on the edge, it’s Taylor vocals that beckons you into the mist. And while that sense of adventure is overwhelming, as her crooning both transfixing and at times domineering, the album procures from the listener a desire to follow the journey to the end.

“All of the tracks fit together and it’s all representative of a timeline for the band,” Scarps said. “We didn’t do it all at once, but all the songs we wrote over the course of a year were with purpose.”

Each song brings the reader through a journey that Scarps said was a journey through the afterlife, with each track containing its own life and personality.

“‘Vast Acid’ was written from the perspective of Bruce Campbell’s demon girlfriend in Evil Dead while I was on acid,” said Taylor, who performed in front of a projection of the 1981 movie at the album release show.

The song “Tomorrow Never Comes,” a down-tuned slow jam of a headbanger, rides a slow-rising build to an mid-song, uptempo, jazz-influenced break that stops at measures-end and falls back into the doom metal-style riffs.

“Unholy Behemoth” follows a similar groove-oriented structure with bluesy, rock and roll solos that Taylor, as always, cuts through the soundwaves with her ethereal vocals that build and crash like a wave and retreat into the sound of guitars wailing.

And it all culminates in the brilliant conclusion of the title track, “Valley of the Snake,” that at song’s end leaves the listeners with a moment of finality but a lingering sense of pure, transient nostalgia. The desire to listen again at length and relive moments passed is the only emotion remaining intact.

“Originally, I wanted to do something chill and acoustic and came up with the basic structure for that song and it wrote itself over the course of one practice,” Scarps said. “Jillian wrote the lyrics about traveling through the afterlife with the valley of the snake as the in-between.”

Scarps channels Jimmy Paige with the folky blues guitar that hearken back to “Ramble On,” building to a crescendo that required a stage-full of extra musicians to pull off live.

“There’s some slide guitar, another guitar, and an acoustic guitar,” Scarps said. “It’s a much more orchestral setup for us.”

“It’s a little more pulled back, but also has additional instruments that we wanted on the record to give a full, rounded sound, but it’s nothing we could achieve live without the help of friends,” Taylor said.

Tuesday’s release is the first by the band on label Tee Pee Records that Taylor said has release some of her favorite albums.

“The support of the label has given us a bigger base to project to,” Taylor said. “You can’t do it on your own, you can only do so much.”

The album’s art is a combination of input from both the the musical-side of the band, and the artistic direction of Taylor and Portland-based artist Adam Burke, who has done all the Ruby covers. In this instance, the cover depicts a cobra looming over an impossible stretch of land under sky aflame.

“We write it all together, so all the lyrics that I write are inspired by the music they make,” Taylor said. “I sent [Adam] the songs and the lyrics and some stories about bad drug trips and weird stuff that I had on my mind, and it wasn’t until we got the artwork that we said, Valley of the Snake.”

In support of Valley of the Snake, Ruby will tour down to SXSW where they’ll spend a week playing gigs.

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