Ruth was interviewed by journalist Jon Wilde in November 2016.
Jon Wilde: What were your earliest musical influences?
Ruth Augilera: I was really into pop when I was younger so I used to be given the Now compilations as presents. But even earlier than that I got into Tracy Chapman's 1988 debut album. I would play that continuously. I knew every note of that album by heart and immersed myself in the meaning of the songs. Those songs connected with me very powerfully. Tracy Chapman would have been one of my earliest role models, along with Diana Ross, Whitney Houston, Annie Lennox, Eva Cassidy and Stevie Nicks who I absolutely adored, and still do to this day.
Growing up I was lucky to have parents with great record collections. They both loved Motown. My dad loved Whitney Houston and Luther Vandross. My mum adored The Beatles, Ian Dury and The Blockheads, The Pogues, The Eagles, Eurythmics, glam punk...I grew up being very open-minded about music. From the glam era I love bands like T. Rex.
From the punk era, I loved the raw energy of bands like The Undertones, The Jam and The Clash.
I've always veered towards the unconventional in my musical taste and have never been too bothered whether an artist is considered cool or not. If I find them interesting or exciting, that's all that matters.
Mostly I was drawn to female musicians who had their own voice. Strong, independent women who stood out from the crowd and weren't afraid to develop their own style. Patti Smith was another big influence. I loved the way she married poetry to rock'n'roll. She was a total original.
In more recent years. I admire Pink who started out as a fairly straight R&B artist, maybe to get her foot in the door, then began doing her own thing to the extent that every album she's brought out has been different from the last one. I like artists who are able to reinvent themselves in that way.
JW: When did you first become interested in singing?
RA: That would have been when I was still in junior school. I loved watching Stars In Their Eyes on TV and desperately wanted to go on the show as Diana Ross but I was far too young. I had a karaoke machine that my parents bought me. I'd record myself singing You Can't Hurry Love and If We Hold On Together over and over. I've still got the tapes at home. I was also singing in choirs and pantomimes in junior school. I was always fairly comfortable being on a stage but not entirely comfortable being the main focus of attention.
In the second year of secondary school I did some singing and dancing. But it wasn't until year nine that I got the confidence to enter a talent show as a singer. There were three of us, the other two doing backing vocals for me. We performed Finally Found by The Honeyz. It was nerve-racking but it gave me the confidence to keep on. I kept on doing the talent shows along with musicals like Guys And Dolls and a millennium show called I Wished On The Moon in which I sang the title song, made famous by Billie Holiday. My uncle's jazz collection was endless and he'd recommend artists for me to listen to as well as artists whose songs he thought might suit my voice. I was listening to a lot of Billie Holiday around this time, along with Ella Fitzgerald, Sarah Vaughan and Nina Simone. From that time I realised there was no point in trying to copy the great singers. I needed to bring my own thing to it. I needed to develop my own style, sing from my own experience and nobody else's. When I sing my favourite songs, like Every Time I Say Goodbye, I want to take the audience on my own journey with the song, rather than try to emulate Ella, Ray Charles and Julie London who have all done great versions of it.
JW: When did you start writing your own songs?
RA: I started when I was a teenager. I've still got the notebooks containing those early ideas for songs. Looking back, they were fairly typical teenage songs about personal angst and anger with the state of the world.
JW: As your school years came to a close, what kind of intentions did you have with regards to a career in music?
RA: I was still entering competitions which was often a frustrating experience as I would see the same people winning every year and it didn't seem to have a lot to do with talent. Just before leaving sixth form I entered a national competition. I went through all these different heats, made it through to the grand final and won. The prize was £1000. That was a big boost.
But I had issues with my weight as a teenager. I'd audition for certain things and be told I wasn't the right size, that I was too heavy. It happened one time when I went for a meeting with a record label. Those experiences really knocked me back. I felt that my size shouldn't be an issue. It should be about my voice. But I could see that I was getting knocked back while singers with less talent than me were getting by on their looks. So I was learning about the importance of image.
JW: After leaving school you enrolled at the London School of Musical Theatre. Was that a positive experience?
RA: Definitely. I spent a year there, doing an intensive course with 40 others. Originally I wanted to do a drama course. It was my mum who encouraged me down the road of musical theatre, pointing out that it was a way of combining singing and acting - two things I absolutely loved. I discovered a real love for musical theatre while I was there, though the seed for that had been planted a few years before when I saw the stage production of Rent with my secondary school. After that I wanted to be Mimi in Rent. That's all I spoke about for a while. I was determined to be a singer. From the age of fifteen that's all I wanted to be. I just didn't know the route I would take to get there. The musical theatre course was extremely useful in terms of giving my singing career a direction.
JW: What happened after you finished the course?
RA: I did a few shows while I was at the school. Then, after graduating in 2004, it took me a year to get my first job, touring the UK and Ireland with This Is Elvis for almost twelve months. I was one of the Sweet Inspirations, Elvis's group of backing singers. Being away from home for the first time was an adventure. I learned to be self-sufficient, though I was sustained by weekly parcels from my grandmother.
I did a few gigs around this time, doing mostly covers of Motown and 60’s girl group songs. I enjoyed doing songs like Be My Baby but in my own way. No way was I going to attempt to imitate Ronnie Spector. I'd find my own way into classics like that. Around the same time I recorded a couple of songs that I'd co-written.
In the summer of 2007 I finally landed a part in Rent. I started off as part of the ensemble, understudying some of the main parts, then I got the part of Mimi in its final run.
Having achieved that ambition, I was unsure what I wanted to do next. I volunteered at Wildlife Heritage Foundation in Kent and worked with Big Cats! It still is one of the most amazing experiences that I’ve ever had. I learned so much whilst I was there and I still visit from time to time to visit my big furry friends.
At one time I seriously considered joining the police. Along with ambitions to be a singer from an early age, I'd always had this thing about being a detective. So I went through the recruitment process and would have been accepted into the force but I fell ill so couldn't take up the job. When my health picked up I started working in a vets as a care assistant and that job lasted three years. That was a brilliant job. You never knew what was going to happen next and as challenging as it was at times I loved every moment of it.
JW: What happened to music around this time?
RA: I was still listening to a lot of music, mainly bands like The Stereophonics, Razorlight, The Kooks,Amy Winehouse Arctic Monkeys...but also Jimi Hendrix and Alanis Morissette.
As for my own music, that was pretty much on hold. From 2009 to 2013 I wasn't doing much musically. After the death of my grandmother, things got on top of me and I needed a break for a while. I needed to go off and do something completely different. The monotony of auditioning for musical theatre had got to me. I knew I could return to the singing any time I liked.
In 2012 I joined a six-piece Essex-based covers band called Red Apple Jam but unfortunately there were a few commitment issues and the band folded in 2013.
I left the vets in May 2013 and moved to Kent. I was still unfocused in terms of the singing. I wasn't sure how to go about it. I didn't know whether I wanted another agent. I'd done a few charity gigs but I hadn't performed on a stage in any sustained way for a long time.
In January 2014, I started performing solo again, working off backing tracks. Often, it's difficult to find the right tracks. But that's getting to be less of a problem as the technology improves. In Kent, I joined an ethereal metal band called Beyond The Skylight that did their own songs. I was very comfortable with that style of music and contributed to a few of their lyrics though this band split up in late 2014. Meanwhile I was continuing to do my own thing in pubs, clubs and restaurants, using backing tracks. My repertoire would veer from I've Got Rhythm and Johnny B. Goode to Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow and I Feel The Earth Move. I tend to cover far fewer songs from the eighties onwards and very few songs from recent years. Sadly, there are not too many artists who inspire me these days. Sia, Pink, Alicia Keys and Green Day are notable exceptions.
JW: Since January 2016 you've been singing with Brighton-based band Dubious Roots. How would you describe that music?
RA: A melting pot of rock, funk, ska, dub and reggae, basically. We do our own stuff with a few covers thrown in - stuff like The Specials and Dub Pistols. We are a solid six piece and it feels like we are going places. Gradually I'm getting the confidence to contribute my own ideas and that side of things is shaping up nicely.
JW: How do you see the future shaping up?
RA: I'm hoping that Dubious Roots will start building a decent following. I'd like the band to be my main thing. Living near Brighton is fab and Dubious Roots have played at Concorde 2 supporting Reggae artist Dennis Bovell and The Hope and Ruin supporting Backbeat Soundsystem.
I have a new acting/music agent now so I'm hoping to edge into straight acting and also develop my solo music career. I'm working on my own songs right now and hope to get some music released by Bristol's Strictly Rockers label in the next few months. Most of those will be on the reggae tip but not as dark or heavy as my work with Dubious Roots.
For a long time I lacked direction. But that's changed now. Things have flipped around. My sense of ambition has never been sharper. I'm more focused than ever.
Hey Ruth, Just wanted to say that you absolutely "made" the evening with your fantastic choice of varied songs and incredible singing voice..... Can't begin to say how many of the 90 or so people that attended raved about you...although I'm certain loads of them "raved" to you directly.... Our next Soirée you will be first one on the invite list!!! I've already been requested to pass on your contact details to several of the partygoers who may be planning a"do" soon...hope that's ok with you??? Thanks again for making our party such an incredible success.... Hope all goes well for you in the future.
We asked Ruth to come to Devon to sing at our wedding, it was in the garden and a very laid back party - she was fantastic. An amazing voice and everybody loved her, a long way to come but thank you so much Ruth, you really made the night!
Richard & Aisling
“Ruth was an absolute delight and has an incredible voice. She has an amazing repertoire that appeals to all ages and fills the dance floor from the moment she starts singing. Ruth's energy and stunning vocals made our event a great success. We can't thank Ruth highly enough. Can't wait to see Ruth perform again.”
"Ruth has an amazing soulful voice.
She made our wedding night, learning our first dance song and playing a mix of sets which had us and the guests dancing all night long! Ruth was incredibly flexible on the day as we started the evening's entertainment later than planned and ran our iPhone playlists seamlessly inbetween. We had really great comments from guests and would recommend her to anyone. Thank you again Ruth for singing at our wedding, you have an incredible talent! I had friends who are normally quite reserved, who didn't leave the floor they loved the music so much!" "
The newly married Mr & Mrs Simpson
"We were really struggling to find a singer/band to play at our wedding even though we had listened to quite a few but nothing stood out about them. This was until I went to the mayoress's charity event in Brighton with a friend and we heard Ruth sing. We immediately were blown away by her, not only by her beautiful voice, but her ability to sing a wide variety of songs of different eras and genres. I just knew that she had to play at our wedding! After my husband to be had heard her and was impressed too, I got in contact with Ruth and she was very efficient and accommodated all our needs. At the wedding, she was just as amazing and put her own slant on the music. Everyone really enjoyed themselves and remarked how wonderful she was. Friends and family that wouldn't normally dance got up as she was very entertaining and had a great aura and stage presence. Would highly recommend her and my family and friends are looking forward to seeing her at gigs in the local area as cannot wait to hear her sing again and she gives you a real buzz!"
“Brill, brill, brill, amazing voice and by god you can sing, you deserve to be a star.”
“Ruth you were the best, you really made our party, we all fell in love with you, unbelievable singer, such a lovely person, and really up for a great great time, we can't thank you enough, everyone was texting me yesterday telling me how amazing you were, fingers xxx for your future you really deserve to be a star, and we can say you sang in our garden!!! Xxxx.”
“Ruth you were awesome on Saturday night thank you so much for not calling time on us and hearing our 'more, more' plea's!!!!! Good luck for your future!!!! Xx.”
“You were amazing Ruth, in fact, FABULOUS xxx”
“Ruth, amazing voice and thank you for keeping going, it made the party, although seeing my drunken dancing on Facebook yesterday maybe you should have stopped earlier!!!! You have a promising career ahead xx”
"I would certainly book Ruth again for any future events without hesitation. Pleasure to work with. She was very friendly and extremely professional and the performance was fantastic. Ruth was an absolute delight and would certainly recommend her.”
“Ruth was a great addition to Live Music Vault at Vinopolis.
Visitors to the Wine Tasting Experience enjoyed listening to to her
perform upbeat classics throughout the night, a fantastic voice and
we would welcome Ruth back”
“Ruth was fantastic entertainment for my 40th birthday party .
All my guests enjoyed listening & dancing to to her set that she had put together especially for my 1970's themed evening. She has a fantastic voice, great stage presence and we would definitely book Ruth again”
“We honestly cannot recommend Ruth highly enough - not only does she have a fantastic voice and a huge repertoire, she's also a beautiful girl with a very warm and friendly personality. Ruth's pre-gig communication was excellent and she absolutely nailed the song request that we asked for even though it was outside her normal comfort zone. She also put her own spin on a couple of classic songs that brought the whole crowd to their feet! If you're looking for an exceptional solo singer for any event, do yourself a favour - book Ruth now!”
"Having Ruth sing at my birthday was more than I could ever have wanted. It was a fantastic surprise and she sang all of my favourite songs to perfection! Ruth really made my 60th birthday one to remember indeed. Everyone loved her and we will definitely be booking her in the future."