In our new video series The Breakdown, we shoot artists and producers in the studio showing us the gear and techniques behind some of their best tracks.
Although Bristol-based drum & bass artist Ruth Royall only has a handful of singles to her name, she’s no newcomer to the music world. Since the age of 14, Royall has been working professionally as a vocalist.
She’s previously recorded an album as a jazz musician and she has worked on numerous film and TV projects before eventually making her mark on the drum & bass world.
We caught up with Ruth in her Bristol garden studio to find out more about her journey from session musician to DnB producer, her gospel-inspired vocal chain and how she’s learning her craft through collaboration.
Tell us a little about how you got into music originally?
“I’ve been involved in music-making almost all my life. I started off in jazz, I was a session singer and I started off doing backing vocals and lots of TV work. I still do quite a lot of stuff like that actually, writing for adverts and things. I’d always been into dance music the whole time, at least listening to it. I came back from London a few years ago, as I’d been doing the session circuit up there, singing with all sorts of different people, and when I came back to Bristol I got asked to do the tour with Fred V & Grafix. And that was what got me into the drum & bass world, which is where I now live!”
How did your latest track New Ride come together?
“That was actually an instrumental that was sent to me from a producer called Phonetic. I wasn’t actually going to put it out as my own track, it was quite a while ago that it was sent and I just ended up really getting into it, so I decided I wanted to finish it.
“I wrote the top line and we got the production where we wanted it to be. It felt like quite a good time to put that one out too, as it has quite a lot of funk influence. I quite like to do that kind of funk and soul with heavy DnB production. It seems to work really well. Then the subject matter, which is all about new beginnings and starting a new adventure, it just seemed quite well suited to how everything is at the moment with people starting to come out of lockdown in the UK.”
Will that be part of a larger EP or album, or just a standalone track?
“It’s one of a series of singles that are coming out. It’s not necessarily going to be making up an EP, but I’ve got releases lined up for the rest of the year coming out on various different labels. This is the beginning of a string of solo releases, which is cool. Most of it’s my own production, a few are collaborative productions too.”
Is getting into the production side more of a recent thing?
“It’s something I’ve been doing for a while but I haven’t been putting out tunes with my own production. The next few tunes that I’ve got coming I’ve produced or co-produced. When I first got into drum & bass I was a topline vocalist, so I was always being featured, which is great and I love doing it, but it meant I was always jumping around styles.
“One release would be liquid, the next release would be dancefloor, the next something else. I kind of wanted to be clearer about what my own sound is, which I think is a lot more soulful and maybe a bit heavier than what people know me for. People often associate me with liquid, which I do love, but isn’t really what I wanted to make.
“I do a lot of production, arrangement and writing for the TV work that I do. It’s nice now to be able to feed that into my own solo stuff and put out tracks with my own feel and style.”
Do you feel like coming from a vocal background feeds into your production approach?
“Yeah, I think musicality feeds into it, definitely. I think one of the things I’m strongest at is arrangement. I can play too; I play keys and guitars and some other stuff. I’m writing a lot of the parts and I’m able to put those together quite organically. The beatmaking and the mixing side is where I need to collaborate more at the moment. That’s the side of stuff I’m working on, but the musicality is where I’m strongest.
“I’ve trained as a vocalist and I’ve been a songwriter for around 15 years, so it was a natural progression to make. Drum & bass is such a production-heavy style of music that it’s quite scary to go into that and start calling yourself a producer. Everything gets so scrutinised that you put out, and it can be quite daunting, but that’s a challenge that I really wanted to take on.
“I’m loving it too, the people I’ve been collaborating with for this next set of releases have been so open to what I do. I’ll bring a track that’s nearly finished, or at least has all of the artistic parts that I want, and they’ll be like, ‘ok, this is how we get the bass sounding like this or the snare sounding like this’. It’s been a really great experience because they’re not taking over or taking anything away from my sound or the artistry I want to put into it. They’re seeing what I’m bringing rather than trying to put their own stamp on it, which isn’t an easy thing to do as a producer.”
Have you been mostly in the box with your production so far?
“I do have some synths but I tend to not use them. I was given a Modal and a UDO synth to play with, and it was really cool to have those synths to make wubby sounds on, but then I tended not to use them. I end up just using plugins, things like Serum, which is the main one I use. I work in Logic and I just tend to stay in there. I do have my preamp, which is quite a big part of my vocal chain. It’s got quite a vintage sound, from the mic I’m using and everything in my chain. It’s quite a gospel/soul take on my vocals, which I think translates really well into the modern dance sound. You get that raw element to it. The rest is mostly plugins.”