15-year-old Ruby Jane picked up the violin 13 years ago and won her first fiddle competition at age 8. Now she’s in Austin playing with the likes of Asleep at the Wheel, Willie Nelson and Lyle Lovett.
Her latest record, Live at Roadhouse Rags, and her busy touring schedule keep the high schooler plenty busy but she was able to take a few minutes to talk with us about balancing being a teenager and musician, her FAO Schwarz violin and which band she’d like to play with next.
Q: How do you juggle school and your music career?
A: I home school of course, I go to this online high school now but I’ve been homeschooling since kindergarten. Not necessarily because we travelled and the music but because we were in Mississippi and the literacy rate was really low and the schools were not that great where we were in this small town and we decided it was a better option anyway.
I’m used to the homeschooling, getting up every morning and do what I need to do as far as school goes and do my practicing. It seems like it would be difficult to balance it all but it’s just what I’ve done, it’s what I’m used to.
Q: You started playing violin at age two, who made that decision?
A: Well, most kids that start music at an early age have family in the music business or play music. There’s a couple people in my family, like cousins or great aunts and uncles that play music as a hobby but I’m really the only person that play music. I first heard the violin when I was 1 1/2 and I saw a video of a classical violist, Itzhak Perlman, and fell in love with the instrument.
I told my mom from that age that I wanted to play the violin, I was very persistent. I would tell her “I want to make fine music,” and so she got me a little FAO Schwarz violin. It didn’t play music, it just looked like a violin. I got it for my second birthday and I carried it around like a baby doll for about six months but I realized that it didn’t actually play so I kept saying, “I want a real violin.” So when I was two and a half my mom got me an eight-size violin, tiny little violin and it could barely play but it could play.
I started taking classical violin lessons then and it was something that I loved. It was never a question of if I wanted to play music or play the violin, it was always what I loved.
Q: When did you start taking the skills you had from classical violin to a more country style of music?
A: I played strictly classical music until I was about 8. I went to this classical violin camp in Santa Fe and that was my first experience with fiddle music. All the violinists took rigorous daily classes but afterwards they’d be gathered around having a good time and they’d start playing fiddle tunes.
Immediately when I heard that music I told my mom that that’s what I wanted to play. I wanted to be able to put my own feeling into music and interpret it my own way. That was really the ticket and I started taking old-time fiddle lessons and playing more bluegrass and swing and experimenting with different genres.
Q: What kind of aspirations did you have as a kid?
A: When I was little I always had a love for music and I always knew that that would be what I would be. But I don’t think at five or six I knew what that meant. I don’t think I knew that I was going to be an entertainer but I wanted to do music whether that was playing in the orchestra or symphony or playing on stage.
I remember telling my mom what I wanted to do on every day of the week, like on Monday I would be an astronaut, on Tuesday I want to play music and on Wednesday I want to do this, Thursday I want to be a soccer player. I had like seven different careers, one for each day of the week.
Q: Do you get nervous before shows or playing with different artists?
It’s different every time. I used to get real nervous at first. I started playing live when I was eight and it was something that was natural. The first time I ever was on stage was for this fiddle contest and it was only six weeks after I had started playing fiddle music and I won first place. It was a huge rush and hearing the audience and I fed on that. I’ve never not wanted to go on stage, I’ve felt like I want to do well but now it’s like second nature. I’ve been doing it for seven years.
But the one time I was really just shaking in my boots was in October of 2009 and I performed with Mark O’Conner. He’s pretty much the god of the fiddle and violin. When he was 16 he won the WORLD contest, he’s done every genre and in the fiddle world he’s it. He’s considered the greatest composer of our time and he’s pretty much the best of every genre. I don’t even know how I got to do a concert with him but somehow I was performing at this thing called PopTech in Maine.
They invited Mark to come and they invited me and he called the people at PopTech and said since we were both coming why don’t we do a concert together. I went up to Maine and did a duet concert, just the two of us. He’s like my hero and I just remember walking out on stage and not being able to believe that I was actually doing a duet concert with Mark O’Conner.
Q: How do you come up with ideas and new songs?
A: I’ve been writing a lot more in the past year or so and my set has come to be a lot more oriented around my own material. It’s hard to describe, it’s my interpretation of what’s going on in my head. I think it has a lot to do with my strong connection to the music and I sit down with a guitar and that melody sparks lyrics and it just comes. I really love poetry and sometimes that meter and rhyme will get in my head and maybe that will inspire me to write a song, but it’s different every time.
Q: What are some of the other instruments you play?
A: I’ve dabbled in many instruments, I’ve played around with ten or eleven. But as far as instruments that I’ll play on stage: fiddle, guitar, mandolin, harmonica and I play keyboard a little. I’ve taken drum lessons before and I’d love to play the drums more but I wouldn’t step on stage and play drums. I’m always trying to learn new things.
Q: If you could sit down for an hour and play with any musician, alive or dead, who would it be?
A: It’s not really random because I love these guys, but if I could play with any band in the world it’d be the Rolling Stones. I really love good, classic rock ‘n’ roll and that would be the most awesome thing ever. I’ve always wanted to cover a Stones song and I need to do that. All their songs are really incredible. I love “You Can’t Always Get What You Want” and “Beast Of Burden.”
Q: Is there anything people listening to your music need to know about you or your show?
A: It’s always an experiment and what people are guaranteed to see when they see a Ruby Jane show is that it’ll be different every time. I have one guy named Richard that comes to every single show we do and he says you can’t be bored because it’s changing all the time. Sometimes the set is more swing oriented and my writing is changing all the time so it’ll be more rock or folk. It’s never the same show twice.
Q: There’s a part of your website devoted to your mom’s recipes, so what’s your favorite dish of hers?
My mom’s a big cook and we used to have this thing called Ruby Jane’s relish and we need to make some more but it was a homemade relish with different vegetables. But I have to say that my very favorite thing is her apple pie. Instead of your traditional apple pie with the dough on top she crumbles some brown sugar on top and it’s amazing, the best apple pie I’ve ever had.
Ruby Jane will be playing at Old Settler’s Music Festival Saturday (04/17) at 3:45 on the Discovery Stage.
Check out TheRubyJaneShow.com for more info, tour dates and to buy a copy of Roadhouse Rags