I had the chance to chat with Ruston Kelly after his set at the Shed Stage Saturday afternoon at Sloss Festival. It was cool to see the excitement he has for music and the start of his journey. Get to know a little bit about Ruston Kelly from our interview!
[Festival Squad]: Hey my name is Danny Smith with Festival Squad here at Sloss Festival in Birmingham, Alabama. I am appreciative to be here with Ruston Kelly. Ruston Kelly is new to the music scene as an album producing artist. Rolling Stone recently placed him on the “10 New Country Artists You Need To Know” list. He has already contributed to tracks with Kenny Chesney, Josh Abbott Band, and Tim McGraw. Ruston Kelly has performed at festivals in the past including Stagecoach, Bonnaroo, and Wakarusa. Earlier this year he released his debut album Halloween which included his hit single “Black Magic” and other tracks like “Hurricane in My Head” and “1000 Graves.” Without further ado, Ruston Kelly.
[Ruston Kelly]: Hey!
[FS]: Congratulations on your engagement. Thank you for taking the time to interview with us.
[Ruston]: Thanks man. Yea thanks for having me.
[FS]: We’ll start with the Rolling Stone recognition. Artists can have decades long careers and never be mentioned by such a credible source. Being somewhat new to the scene, how is that for an accolade in your opinion?
[Ruston]: It’s pretty bad ass. I mean I don’t even like consider myself even really in the country scene, but it seems that like cause I live in Nashville, I write for other artists, I’m engaged to a country singer (Kacey Musgraves). Ya know I’m like ya know I’m influenced by that shit. I mean I grew up listening to it. And I love it. It’s got a great tradition to it. So my answer is I’m honored.
[FS]: Awesome awesome. (Both laugh) I say somewhat new because of your songwriter background. (Ruston: Yeah) What other genres have you explored or would like to explore?
[Ruston]: Before I was writing songs in Nashville I was in a Jazz Fusion band. (FS: Ah that sounds cool.) Yeah it’s a little weird. It was cool, it was weird. Like I had the sickest drummer. It was so fun. We toured like the festival circuit ya know like the jam band circuit, lived in a van, and traveled the country. Similar to what we’re doing now but just different circuits. Style of music I’d like to do… In the future I would like to, I don’t know, incorporate more electronic elements with Folk elements. Like I’m really influenced by Sufjan Stevens who’s done a little bit of that, but I kinda wanna take it to the next level. I don’t know, just get fucking weird. Ya know?
[FS]: Heard get fucking weird. (Both laugh)
[Ruston]: Yeah dude that’s the point!
[FS]: Heard that. Well you may be familiar with Garth Brooks’ alter ego Chris Gaines. What would your alter ego name be and what type of music would you perform?
[Ruston]: Oh man. I had my friend call me one time and said if I was ever a DJ my DJ name would be DJ Ruston Peace.
[FS]: DJ Ruston Peace? I like it, I like it.
[Ruston]: Yeah, it’s pretty tight actually. I mean when I was a little kid. Like when I was 14 I guess the first style of music that I ever like, fucked around with was I really thought that like my calling was to write choruses for Hip Hop groups.
[FS]: Fair enough. (Ruston: Ya know?) You might can find a niche there.
[Ruston]: Maybe so. I don’t know, I was just like really inspired by it.
[FS]: Cool. The Johnny Cash album.
[FS]: It must be flattering to sing one of the country legends pieces of art especially with someone you love. What goes through your mind when you are performing Mr. Cash’s words (Ruston: Woo!) giving them life?
[Ruston]: Man. A whole lot and nothing at the same time. It’s the craziest thing. Man like I was 17 and I had just discovered Johnny Cash. And I was going through this Johnny Cash book and I found this poem that he wrote for his wife. And I put music to it when I was 17 and I kinda forgot about it. Fast forward, became friends with his son. And we wrote some songs together, went out to his cabin where Johnny Cash recorded all his last records. (FS: That’s pretty cool.) I got to like hang around there. And then like you know when I got engaged to Kacey. Um I was like “You know what, maybe you should like…” that song it just kinda popped into my head. It’s like you know that’s my woman. And so John Carter is doing this project with his dad’s poems and I was like hey what do you think of me and Kacey singing his poem? And he just like, he heard it he got tears in his eyes. It was one of the most special.. Dude I literally, I played Johnny Cash’s guitar on the recording
[FS]: That’s pretty dope dude.
[Ruston]: And I was sitting there with his son. With the love of my life. And then above her was the last portrait of Johnny Cash ever taken as we were recording. So a whole lot goes through my head.
[FS]: So surreal. (Laughing)
[Ruston]: No dude, I mean I could just fucking… Ya know what I mean? (Yeah we both agree.)
[FS]: That’s what’s up, I like that. I found this quote of yours I can totally relate to. “I was raised with good old southern kindness but I was also taught to keep an open mind about things. There are so many different types of cultures and people out there. That’s definitely a theme for me. ” (Ruston: Yes.) Is there a certain culture or type of people you’re intrigued to learn?
[Ruston]: I’ve always been intrigued by African Culture. (FS: Ok.) I’ve always like, one of my best friends growing up. Well I lived in Belgium for a little while. And a really good friend of mine his name is Christian and he’s from Ghana. He was a Tiger Hunter.
[FS]: That sounds interesting. Like Tiger Hunting?
[Ruston]: I mean like tribal tiger hunter. Like a U.S. diplomat found him on the streets of Belgium took him in like got him a good education. He learned English in like six months. I just feel like I’ve always been… Kind of obsessed with African mythology. It’s always like he’s seemed to spark some of that in me. And before I moved to Nashville, like this is the truth, I either was gonna go to Nashville or he invited me to go and tiger hunt with him for a couple of years in Ghana.
[FS]: Ahhh so you didn’t Tiger Hunt. Ohhh. (Ruston: I didn’t. I pussed out.) Laugh out loud.
[Ruston]: Well like he showed me the scars on his fucking leg. (FS: It’s a tiger like…Both laughing at this point) It’s not like we’re hunting quail ya know what I mean.
[FS]: It will bite back. It’s not gonna be good.
[Ruston]: Yeah so I’m like super inspired by… I mean dude Kendrick Lamar is insane. Like just so good. Chance is great. I think like Hip Hop Culture is a direct descendant from African mythology in my opinion, African Folklore. I feel like it is very important. It’s always kind of guided the main streams of music without people really giving it credit. Especially country.
[FS]: Yeah for sure. It’s like I just like I guess I’ve been to a couple Migos concerts and they’re like thanking people for support. It’s like you can’t go anywhere nowadays without hearing a Migos song ya know? So I can understand what influence it has on hip hop culture.
[Ruston]: Well I mean like African instruments like the African gourd is the it’s basically a banjo. [FS: Ok.] When like, let’s see this was in like the 1700’s when European music was like so frilly and really dumb and boring. You know like African music had this life to it. And it always, it’s kind of like the geniuses of every type of music to me. So I always pay respect to that and I feel like in the future I’d like to, I don’t know… Get a little bit more into that.
[FS]: Maybe Tiger Hunt? (Both laugh)
[Ruston]: (Jokingly) Yeah. Maybe hunt some tigers.
[FS]: Lastly besides your wedding what else do you have lined up for 2017.
[Ruston]: Uh, 2017. Phew, let’s see. Touring. I’m touring the rest of the year pretty much.
[FS]: That’s great.
[FS]: Forgot about that.
[Ruston]: I never thought I’d get engaged, or married. My life before this was like, I was like a troll under the bridge. Ya know just like a waste of space. But yeah just hitting the road, and just being focused and being thankful and making sure that, I ya know, don’t care about myself too much.
We spoke briefly before he had to hit the road for another show. I’m glad we spoke, down to earth guy. Not a troll under the bridge at all. He will be busy touring so check out his music. Until next time Ruston Kelly!