Ruarri Joseph + Lily & Meg
Originally born and raised in Edinburgh, Ruarri Joseph found his songwriting roots in the southwestern Pacific. A move to New Zealand followed his parents’ divorce, and an 11-year-old Joseph found himself coming of age in Dannevirke (population 6,000), an isolated, rural farming community. Dannevirke was picturesque but remote, dotted with wooden shacks and hand-painted signs – not the most engaging environment for a young, would-be musician. “Relocating to New Zealand was an amazing experience, and moving away to start a new life was a romantic idea at first, but when you’re a teenager you tend to feel disenfranchised wherever you are, however beautiful the surroundings might be.”
Joseph pined for the Joan Baez and Joni Mitchell records his father had played back in Edinburgh, and began to seek out music of his own, eventually finding his way to that decade’s best: grunge, and the fuzzed-out, thrashy riffs of bands like Nirvana, Mudhoney and Pearl Jam, taking in a little Britpop along the way. With those sounds filling his days, Ruarri spent his early teens busking around the local area, dabbling in punk and knocking around in a handful of short-lived outfits. With very few live music venues around, strict age restrictions operating at the local bars and a lack of any real music scene, Joseph and his friends learnt to improvise, putting together mini tours of the local schools, turning up in time to knock out improvised sets for the lunchtime crowd. These shoestring musical adventures were enough to convince Joseph that bigger things awaited.
The first song to emerge, Till The Luck Runs Dry, turned out as an ode to optimism. “It’s about just getting on with it. Every day, it’s pure luck that we’re here.” The boot-heels-readied, gently determined stance of that song is a motif continued throughout Brother, being not so much a wallowing exercise in grieving and loss, but rather a reflective, onwards-looking meditation on “the stuff that happens once the grief subsides,” the friendships forged and the love and memories that carry you through the heartache. There’s a light, bluesy Americana at work on No More Sins, with tambourines and plucky banjos embellishing songs such as Mad World Waiting and the slow waltz of The April Spin, songs that sing of closure, hope and the healthy ache that comes with healing. It’s a journey that reaches its cathartic peak on the uplifting bridge of Anyway, in a crescendo of fluttering cymbals, soaring strings and life-affirming lyrics, before dipping gracefully into the album’s thoughtful, piano-driven eponymous endsong. “Brother isn’t an elegy,” says Ruarri with a smile. “It’s a celebration.”