Music fans have watched Ruby Jane Smith grow up over the years. Now, the 17-year-old Austin-based singer, songwriter and musician is a high school graduate, releasing a new CD and launching a nationwide tour. The fiddling sensation, who has garnered national attention since she was a little girl (at 10 she was the youngest artist ever invited to play the Grand Ole Opry), is optimistic about the future and ready to hit the road on her next big adventure.
“It’s so funny because my goal has been to graduate high school and to finish the album and now those things are done and I’m like, ‘oh’.”
Ruby Jane was homeschooled, taking classes online to accommodate her music career. She recently attended her graduation in Pennsylvania and as Salutatorian, she had to do something she’s not really comfortable with — give a speech.
“I’m used to playing music I’m not used to actually speaking and I’m not a great speaker….the first maybe 30 seconds were awful. I was shaking and then my vision got blurry,” she says with a smirk. “I was just trying to keep it together and then after about a minute it was ok. I just relaxed and it was good.”
"Celebrity and the song XXVII are both about the image of celebrity in our society and how it’s not always about just the glamorized version that we see. There’s a lot of sadness going on and it’s about those people that are in the public eye and lose sight of themselves.”
She says she plans to eventually pursue a degree, but will take the next year off to tour her new record with her band, write more songs and make contacts in LA, Nashville and New York. The mature 17-year-old wrote or co-wrote every song but one on the CD, titled Celebrity (Empire of Emptiness). It comes out June 19.
“I think the CD came at a perfect time because it’s really a turning point for me and my music. It is very much about a turning point and an awakening and growing and developing. That’s really the main theme of the album.”
It’s an album Ruby Jane realizes she was lucky to be able to make. Back in December, she and her mother JoBelle were carjacked after a gig in Houston. The thief got away with more than $40,000 worth of instruments and equipment, but the Smiths weren’t physically harmed. She says it took some time to process what happened to them and how fortunate they were to live to tell about the ordeal.
“It feels like a blessing now because it helped me to really understand, first of all how fast life can just be over. I mean if that had been a different gang member or something we might not be here…It also made me realize how important friends and family are.”
Among the items stolen was Ruby Jane’s pride and joy — a custom-made violin she nicknamed Danny Pipkin. The only stolen items recovered were Ruby Jane’s guitar and her mother’s SUV.
Friends, family and fans rallied around Ruby Jane and JoBelle after the carjacking, helping organize benefits to raise money to replace the stolen instruments and equipment. Folks also contributed to the costs of recording the new CD through a fan-based funding program called Kickstarter. Recently, a donor offered to pay $5,000 to have Ruby Jane’s custom made violin replaced. The violin maker is putting up the other $5,000. Ruby Jane says it is the overwhelming support that’s helped get her and her mom through it.
“It was never really difficult for me, probably because we were shown so much love and support that surpassed the fear and the emotions,” she explains. "I think if there wasn’t so much support coming in, if there weren’t so many people around us, it probably would have been really, really difficult."
Besides the outpouring of support, Ruby Jane also got a song out of the carjacking that was added to the new CD at the last minute. She says “The Innocents” is about injustice. Two other songs on the CD, one inspired by the death of Amy Winehouse, are about the trappings of fame.
"Celebrity and the song XXVII are both about the image of celebrity in our society and how it’s not always about just the glamorized version that we see. There’s a lot of sadness going on and it’s about those people that are in the public eye and lose sight of themselves.” She explains. “For me I obviously have big dreams of being very successful but I want to be successful for a purpose and I don’t want to lose sight of myself.”
The recent high school graduate says she depends on her friends, her family and her faith to make sure she stays true to herself and stays on her intended path. She says though she hopes to be really successful as an artist, she will never forget the reason she makes music.
“It’s important for me to remember what music is really about. It’s not just to make you popular or famous. Music in itself is just such a beautiful emotional powerful thing. I try to remember that when I write and create, and not think about writing a song that people will like but writing a song that’s really beautiful as music.”
For Ruby Jane, the end of high school is the start of the next leg of her musical journey — the journey of an already seasoned traveller.
Ruby Jane Smith is looking forward to sharing her latest musical creation she describes as “indie/singer/songwriter/eclectic pop with the fiddle” with audiences starting with a Waterloo Records in-store performance on June 19 at 5:00 p.m. The CD release party, featuring a seven-piece band, will shake-up Stubb’s on June 21. Doors open at 8p.m.