Coming Up: Ruby and the Rogues

Ruby and the Rogues are a three-piece acoustic New Orleans-based trio. Led by Ruby Rendrag, the band has an eclectic sound and instrumentation which draws inspiration from a range of musical genres. The band has opened for stars such as rock legends Heart, international pop star Zucchero, and Tim Reynolds (from the Dave Matthews Band).

On their upcoming tour, the band will play material from their next album Tuscan Yellow, to be released in 2018. The band has appeared on several TV commercials in New Orleans and is popular material for college and independent radio stations across the States. Ruby Rendrag is the lead singer and also plays percussive guitar. Rendrag has a diverse background, with a Houma Indian mother and a banjo-playing West Virginian father. Michael Ennis provides bells and whistles percussion with shakers strapped to his shoes, which he does with the power of a rock drummer while sitting on a cajon box. Last, and not least, Suki Kuehn plays a cello he found in a barn outside Paris, providing soaring melodies for the small acoustic trio.

Oliver Simpson from Magic City Bands talked with this dynamic threesome about their sound, their style and their upcoming performance:

Oliver: What inspired the band’s sound? Was it your eclectic upbringing, Ruby, or just what the band loves?

Ruby Rendrag: Our sound is a combination of several things. First is the writing. We play mostly originals, mostly written by myself. Musically I was exposed at an early age to my banjo-playing father and his bluegrass style of music (the whole family would accompany him to festivals and such). There were also jam sessions in our New Orleans home – guitars, banjo, mandolin, etc. playing bluegrass and Cajun music. I was always present for those. These sessions often lasted long hours, with my mother making mountains of food through the night and into the morning. In parallel, my five brothers listened to all sorts of “newer” music that was around in the 70s and 80s. Led Zeppelin and Kate Bush come to mind. I have also fronted or been a member of various rock/pop bands over the years.

Michael Ennis: To this foundation, Suki and I added our musical tendencies to the band’s arrangements; I’m a “rocker” at heart with a love for and experience playing Latin percussion. You can hear this in the driving nature of our songs and the rhythmic energy in my playing.

Suki Kuehn: I conversely am a classically trained cellist, raised on “romantic” notions of melody. Long ago I “gave up the dots” on paper to focus on developing my own style, not least influenced by the prog rock of the 70’s. Whether it’s an original song or an obscure cover, we all support each other’s different points of view and musical roots in creating our sound.

OS: Are you all originally from New Orleans? I notice that Ruby was born to a West Virginian father. Is that where you’re from?

Ruby: I was born and bred in New Orleans. Mike hails mostly from Texas but has been here for about 25 years. Suki – having lived all over the place – finally settled in New Orleans about 27 years ago.

OS: Tell us about some of the new music you will be playing on the tour.

Ruby: Where to start!? We’re very excited by the new album (to be released in 2018). It will be a step up from our first album Powder Blue; we feel the songwriting and arrangements are stronger, and the album itself will have more production (ear candy), though we feel that won’t be missed in live performances. The songs themselves range from “Baked” – a manic instrumental reflecting certain events after Hurricane Katrina to “Ms. Jones” – a ballad about a woman trapped emotionally by her own success, and the friend who can’t break through. Another song, “Superman,” is a sort of swamp-thing that turns into something else. That song – like all songs – is about a relationship, in this case with myself. We’ll also feature a song written by Mike (“Skewed” – his thoughts while recovering from yet more broken bones!) and our first group-written piece “Strange Love.” I could go on but suffice to say the audience will hear hints of rock, bluegrass, folk, pop and classical throughout.

OS: Have you been to Birmingham before?

Michael: Sadly, no. We are very excited though to be playing Birmingham, and it looks like a groovy town!

OS: I notice, Suki, that you use an old French cello found in a barn outside Paris. Tell us about that!

Suki: Built about 100 years ago in France, and recently discovered in a barn south of Paris, he was brought to the US and restored over the last year (having been covered in a dark mildew for who knows how long). There are two discolorations of unknown origin on the top and front – to us they whisper “rock n’ roll.” The sound is big, bordering on arrogant. This cello requires a firm hand to play – and that’s what makes it fun. We had a Facebook campaign to name him resulting in the nom de guerre Hubertus Rogueusu Marcello.

I have a second cello on tour with us as backup – a 100-plus-year-old German cello bought many years ago from a small lady in a dark alley in the French Quarter. But that’s another story.

OS: In addition, please tell more about your private pilot license and being an ex-mariner!

Suki: In my youth, I was a submariner. I served for about eight years, first on the USS Louisville, SSN 724 (fast attack), then as pilot of a deep submergence rescue vehicle – a battery powered boat used to rescue the crew from a sunken submarine. Although underwater, I always wanted to fly (having sat in front of the small black-and-white TV as Neil Armstrong walked on the moon). This urge re-awoke a few years back and I earned my private pilot’s certification (single engine).

OS: Is there anything else you would like the audience to know?

Michael: We think they’ll enjoy the show – we cover a lot of musical ground with our trio, and our onstage energy seems to really resonate with folks. One of our favorite quotes from a fan sums up what we have to offer: “Honest, original, bold and beautiful writing and performing. Yours is like coming over the top of a hill and suddenly seeing a view you never thought existed. Fresh pure brain candy.”

Ruby and the Rogues will perform at The Oasis on October 4 at 8 p.m. The Oasis is located at 2807 7th Ave South, Birmingham, AL 35233.