Last year Ruel found himself in Paris at the end of a huge world tour for his smash hit single ‘Painkiller’ that saw him attending Fashion Week and filming a music video. But in-between the inevitable crazy back to back schedule, he found himself writing songs for his debut album with industry heavyweights Sarah Aarons and M-Phazes. These sessions moved quickly and saw the birth of five songs that genuinely felt like a progression in his maturity as a young man and as an artist.
With the global shutdown implemented because of COVID, Ruel’s big year of creative plans and touring were cut short. After being sent home from Los Angeles with an album not ready to be unveiled, he realised that cohesively the five tracks he wrote in Paris felt like the right next step to share with listeners. So ‘Bright Lights, Red Eyes’ (out now) is a perfect embodiment of where he’s at mentally, physically and sonically as a songwriter and artist.
From the opening smoothness of lead single ‘as long as you care’, he doesn’t overcomplicate anything and keeps it very tight and heartfelt. While the closing track ‘up to something’ then adds an experimental layer to the table with a sound that is really built to come to life in his future live shows.
I recently chatted to Ruel about the impact writing ‘Bright Lights, Red Eyes’ in Paris had on the sonical direction and vision of the EP, as well as dived into the creative process behind songs like ‘courage’ and ‘distance’. Check it out BELOW;
THOMAS BLEACH: ’Bright Lights, Red Eyes’ is a collection of tracks that you wrote in Paris last year with Sarah Aarons and M-Phazes. Were these all songs that quickly came together, or was there a bit of a process with them?
RUEL: In terms of doing the bulk of the song with the melodies, lyrics and chords; each song took under an hour to write. Some were even under 30 minutes. So we wrote every song from the EP in about three days, which was very very quick. But it wasn’t a quick trip in general though as I was there for 2 weeks for Fashion Week, and I was also shooting a music video for ‘Face To Face’ from my last EP. It was also like a heatwave at the time there, so it was stressful week. But once I got back from doing whatever I had to do that day I was able to keep writing with Sarah Aarons and M-Phazes.
It was really just a magical time as we were always just having brie, crackers, wine and writing songs. It was so nice *laughs*. Every song felt like they flowed into each other so naturally while we were writing them. And I’m really glad that they got their own chance to shine on this EP, as the plan was to keep all these songs for the album and then finish it off in LA, but after I got sent home at the start of the pandemic I was like “okay, I’m not going to be able finish this record in time before when I wanted to release music. So let’s put out these songs I wrote last year in Paris”. So here we are!
TB: Would you say that the location where these songs were conceived had any impact over the sonic or feeling they now inhabit?
R: I think it probably helped with inspiration and the urge to write. When you’re in a really beautiful place you naturally want to be artistic and express. So I think just seeing beautiful things every day just made me want to write about it. And a lot of the visuals and stuff throughout the EP that I talk about are stuff that I saw and felt in those two weeks. Prior to being in Paris I had just come off a 3 month world tour for ‘Painkiller’, so it was the last stretch before I came home and I had a lot to write about.
TB: ’courage’ is a song that immediately stood out to me with its gospel influence harmonies and naturally soulful delivery. Can you explain how this song creatively came together?
R: This song was another one where we came up with these chords and I just ran in some sketch melodies where I sing gibberish to find out the right structure for melodies. Then once I pick my favourite ones, you can kinda hear certain words in the gibberish, and then you connect the pieces together and come up with the first verse.
The first verse we wrote was very visual but I didn’t feel like it had a strong concept yet, and it really could’ve gone anywhere from there. So I did the same thing with the chorus and just found these words that It sounded like I was singing. We then wrote the chorus and we were like “I still don’t know what this means, but lets figure it out”. And then I realised that I was basically writing a song about how if I could do my life over then I wouldn’t do the same because I’d runaway as I’m too scared to embark on what is ahead of me.
This hectic dark concept kinda just happened without knowing, so it all just went from there. I was like if I’m too scared to keep going then I don’t have enough courage to continue on this path, so I wish I could go back and do it differently.
TB: ’distance’ is one of the EP’s more stripped back moments with just a guitar, hand claps and harmonies giving it quite a moody aesthetic. It explores the breakdown of a relationship and trying to move on. When I read the lyrics; “I’ve been keeping my distance, I just wanna know what you’re thinking”, what does this take you back to feelings and thinking in the studio?
R: With this song I was actually writing a lot from Sarah’s perspective. I don’t really want to dox her relationship problems but it was an exploration of that department of a relationship where distance is healthy for that certain situation.
When I wrote that track I always knew it was going to be a really stripped back song with just a guitar, hand claps and maybe some ambient stuff in the background. We had a go of adding some drums and proper production to the song, but it didn’t feel right. It just felt forced and as if I was trying to make a “pop hit”.
When you start producing things up that don’t need it you can just tell. It just feels fake. So I was happy that we kept it really similar to how it was when I first wrote it, which is so different to the others song as they are so different to their original versions.
TB: Do you think songwriting throughout your “coming of age” years has helped you process these emotions more fluidly, mature quicker and understand the complexities of life better?
R: Definitely! I think songwriting for me is just a therapy session. It’s so therapeutic, it makes me really understand every problem I’m going through if I put it to paper and dissect. I like to also come at it from different perspectives. Sometimes I get bored from writing from my own perspective so I put myself into someone else shoes as if I’m talking about me from someone else. There are so many different ways you can do it. But yeah, I feel like songwriting has definitely helped me understand myself.
TB: The EP’s title ‘Bright Lights, Red Eyes’ is a lyric taken from the lead single ‘as long as you care’. Why did this lyric feel like this perfect embodiment to what this project feels and means to you?
R: At the time when I wrote these songs it was after three months of touring ‘Painkiller’, and ‘Bright Lights, Red Eyes’ was just a really cool way of summing up touring and tour life. Like, when you have the shows, and are driving and walking through the different cities you have a lot of “bright lights” constantly in your face, and then the “red eyes” is a contrast of being on a flight by yourself and being just tired all the time and being by yourself a lot. The adrenaline goes from 1000 percent to zero so quickly. So I feel like that was the best way to explain touring.
TB: I feel like you would have to quickly learn how to manage the high high’s and the low low’s, as there really is no in-between for any of the things you’re doing.
R: Touring is very much like that. The first couple of times I went on tour I was getting really sad for no particular reason, and it was because I was going from receiving an insane amount of love and adrenaline to being shut off in a hotel room by myself. But I feel like once I got onto tour buses overseas it really helped as someone is always awake at any given time, so you don’t ever really feel alone, and you can always talk to or hang out with someone if you want.
TB: You’ve done a lot of touring over the past year, and your live show is genuinely really impressive and polished. Did you find yourself actively thinking about how a song would feel and sound in your live show, because ‘up to something’ does feel very ready for a live setting?
R: Definitely! I am so so excited to perform ‘up to something’. As soon as the production was finished on it I was immediately so excited to add it to the live show. But honestly, I am so excited to perform all of these songs like. Even when I write ballads I’m thinking about how I’m going to perform them live, and how the create will react, and I do think it’s a really interesting thing to think about while writing.
TB: To coincide with this EP you launched your own online TV station called RuelVision. This is such an innovative platform, and I honestly found myself stuck in a rabbit hole in watching all of these different and cool concepts. So what would you say was the weirdest or funniest thing you did for this project?
R: I feel like everything was super weird and strange that we did *laughs*. But it was always so funny. I have never done anything like that before, and I’ve never done comedy or acting properly, but it was an absolute ball.
The funniest show to film was ‘Face To Face’ as I was able to just sit down with people from my team and try to roast them. The night before filming I would just stay up writing questions and things that I thought would really offend them. I also liked doing the Rob Boss painting where I sat there for 45 minutes to just paint this average self portrait and then pretend I knew what I was talking about with my awful fake accent.
TB: The interviews you did with your team were hilarious and reminded me of Tom Gleeson’s show Hard Quiz. So what is one of the worst or most uncomfortable questions you’ve ever received in an interview?
R: There have been some shockers out there as I have had some pretty awful interviews. The one that immediately comes to mind wasn’t typically shocking or bad, but it just took me back a bit and I didn’t know how to answer it. But someone asked me “how do you feel about your face?”. And I was like “um, I don’t know”. And they were like “no, answer it, just try”, and I was like “umm, yeah I like it I guess. I’m happy with it. Is that what you want to hear?” and they were like “yeah, but maybe elaborate more”, and it just kept going like that for ages. It was so weird.
‘Bright Lights, Red Eyes’ is out now!
Watch RuelVision HERE