Developing A Transcendent Plane: A Conversation With Ruby The Hatchet

Talking through one of this month's most mystifying records, 'Fear Is A Cruel Master'.

ruby the hatchet
Photograph by Don Vincent Ortega

Words by Luis (@heaviestofart):


It's release day for Fear Is A Cruel Master — the thrilling new album from the hard-hitting Ruby The Hatchet that comes by way of the consistent Magnetic Eye Records. From the entrancing Welder Wings cover to the multi-layered compositions just waiting to unfold, Fear Is A Cruel Master captivates from the opening notes and guides listeners through a maelstrom of psychedelic, doom, and heavy metal that exists as a byproduct of the band's respectable work ethic.


Much comes invested in the creative development of efforts this expansive, and we're thrilled to welcome frontwoman Jillian Taylor, guitarist Johnny Scarps Jr., and keyboardist/organist Sean Kahn Hur to a conversation detailing the makings of Fear Is A Cruel Master:

 

You completed a tour with Elder and a memorable performance at Psycho Las Vegas and now, we're here at the arrival of your fantastic new full-length, ‘Fear Is A Cruel Master’ - a byproduct of your admirable work ethic. Looking at your origins in retrospect, would you say that this new outing serves as a culmination of your growth?


Jillian Taylor: Well, thank you for the kind words. I would say 'Fear Is a Cruel Master' is the product of touring, writing, and playing together for as long as we have now, and also a stop on the ride as we continue on. In some ways, it has to be that because that is just where we are, but we also pursue music in ways outside of Ruby that have added to the years of growth as writers and musicians. In turn, Ruby reaps the benefits of all of that collective motivation and dedication.


I agree, and it's quite evident in how well this new record comes together. From ‘Valley of the Snake’ (2015) to the latest reissue of ‘Ouroboros’ (2022), Adam Burke was responsible for the band’s full-length cover illustrations. Looking back at ‘Valley of the Snake’, what sparked your interest in Adam’s work & what kept it going for the next couple of releases?


Taylor: When you look at Adam's work, it is immediately eye-catching. Our first foray with him was in 2014 for our self-released 'Eliminator' (2014) EP.

Cover Artwork by Adam Burke

Our music was taking a darker turn at that time; I had just lost a close friend to suicide and she was very much in my dreams and music writing. It was all so intertwined that I wrote to Adam about the history of our friendship, my dreams, and our lyrics for the EP. He came back with the cover art and it took my breath away...it was a representation of the lyrics and a poignant experience I had that was either other-wordly or a hallucination.

Cover Artwork by Adam Burke

At any rate, that piece was very special to me, perfect for the EP, and solidified to the band that Adam was our guy for many years to come.


Adam has a way of capturing heart and emotion so well. Now, ‘Fear Is A Cruel Master’ sees a new transition to Welder Wings, another talented artist that truly excelled on the visual end. What drew you to Welder Wings’ work for this project, and particularly the ‘Penumbra’ artwork that was used for the cover?


Taylor: Welder Wings' pieces are especially evocative, like they want to tell a story. The main difference at first was our timeline; we needed an existing piece versus something commissioned as we would do with Adam since we had a tight deadline from vinyl delays. We all thought it would be nearly impossible to find something existing that was not only fitting, but on par with our previous artwork. We were all very happy to be wrong, and what we used were actually two different pieces we thought fit together nicely for the front and back covers and alluded to a story of their own.



You struck gold here. Where do you feel that the painting and ‘Fear Is A Cruel Master’ intersect? I’ll argue that it fits quite nicely with the album’s overall tone and attention to atmosphere despite the art and music being created at different points in time.


Taylor: Yes, like I said above, we were all so surprised how that artwork already existed and fit so perfectly. Life is strange and serendipitous like that. For me, the intersection is the psychological and suggestive nature. The artwork and the songs are like their own mystery-thriller stories. We felt that was very fitting for this record and wanted something special for our first departure from previous album artwork.


It truly is fitting and expands upon the mysterious, ethereal tone that you all develop throughout. Like the cover artwork, ‘Fear Is A Cruel Master’ is certainly an ambiguous work with many layers waiting to unfold with each passing listen. Though there are moments where the message is made clear through your lyricism, is the goal here to give listeners only a piece of the pie and go down a timeless rabbit hole where they’re encouraged to find commonality on their own terms?


Taylor: I am a big fan of finding commonality on your own terms, mainly because I feel that it is truly everywhere. The more you find it, the more you can relate to others, see perspectives outside your own, correct behaviours...it is a key in its own way. Human nature is cyclical. Sometimes I feel I am getting the same little piece of the pie...I have written things that came to mind so naturally for a song that seemed abstract, only to find its true meaning in my own life years later.


Continuing on that same point, is Ruby The Hatchet operating as an insular band or is there a very direct intention behind your lyricism and overall compositional process?


Taylor: The intention becomes direct, but it does not always start that way. We don't sit down and decide to do something a certain way per se, but when we write and play music together, I write in the moment. The boys do the hard work for me because when they start to play I start to feel, see, recall and connect certain sentiments...they take me on a journey and I feel like a storyteller, or a voyeur: watching something unfold, relating to it, wondering if I am writing about myself, or ancient problems and questions.

Photograph by Don Vincent Ortega

Again, the idea of human nature being cyclical tends to remain central for me and my writing, and one day I will be an ancient problem. In the end, I find it is all so similar and there are beautiful ways to represent and explain that through art and writing.


Agreed, and you all excelled at creating a world through the arts. Throughout the last full lengths, you remain unconventional and forward thinking within the psych rock genre, always acting as a maelstrom of sound that serves a byproduct of your wealth of influences. Musically, would you say that you thrive in a boundless creative process, as if to avoid becoming comfortable with your creative output?


Sean Kahn Hur: We’ve been fortunate through the years to be able to come up with some great concepts and feels with our past efforts. Somehow, we always end up finding a few special sounds and vibes, but it’s hard to describe the process ‘cos it feels like Ouija board or tarot. Our band is peculiar because although our tunes might start with a specific riff or idea, they don’t come out from one person who is the songwriter, rather our music is worked through at home or even more on the road, and we all listen to each other’s ideas and music and that tends to come out.


I feel we’re best when we’ve been able to hammer out the really good riffs and feels but also be loose and present enough to catch and let out those “mistakes". Often times, those random cosmic twists of lyric, melody, or phrasing really make the tunes if they’re allowed to happen. We tend to thrive more when there’s a deadline and some discipline at least for a goal, and not repeating ourselves as much as we can. We don’t need boundless options. We do better when we make choices early on where we’re trying to go, but if we try to do something new with every effort, we always get somewhere new. This album feels more like us than any other before.


Interesting. How important was camaraderie in the development of this record?


Johnny Scarps Jr.: Camaraderie has always been natural for us and easily taken for granted. That became apparent trying to write an album while separated during Covid lockdown. We had to find new ways to share ideas and adapt into a writing style that was unlike what we’d done previously. It was a challenge but we managed to come together and walk away with a new record.

Photograph by Don Vincent Ortega

The core theme is of course self-reflection and we spoke of ‘Fear Is A Cruel Master’ being a culmination of this last decade of growth. You also mention this being an album apt for this particular time period where you look back at all the things you did or didn't do. In closing, do you now take anything new from it as you now see the new material fully realized and embraced by live audiences after sitting on it for so long?


Scarps Jr.: There’s always something transformative about taking new songs on the road. A lot of bits will settle with the repetition of it all but sometimes other parts you weren’t expecting will shine. It often sparks a few ideas that we wish we had sooner but they often end up finding their way into the live set.


Kahn Hur: This is the feel of our time. We all had two years of precious life put on pause and so many lives lost and also many endings with relationships, yet now we’re back in the world, which is a great reset, from the top down. When there’s no one really performing, we all got a little rusty and maybe self-conscious, and for us, who are really best as a live band, to get out there again feels lovely and the audiences have been waiting patiently. I think we’ve been surprising ourselves how well the tunes have come across, and how much some of the tunes on the album were babies when we recorded them, and we’re still getting to know them. Others have been pretty much sorted out when we tracked ‘em. The last tour has been amazing, we’ve been able to try new ways of doing things and some of the new sounds we’ve been chasing. We’ve held on somehow and we’ve been patient, I think this album is our best yet, as it should be.

 

Fear Is A Cruel Master is available now via Magnetic Eye Records (Order).

Cover Artwork by Welder Wings