Deputy Editor Kat Smith chats with Ruel, a young pop artist who doesn’t allow his age define his public perception or music
You may have not heard of Ruel, but you certainly will soon. This year alone, the Australian-raised Ruel van Dijk won the ARIA award for Best Breakthrough Artist, toured the US with Khalid and played the opening ceremony at the Commonwealth Games. I can’t say I had done the same by the time I was 16.
Praised by Elton John and making waves all over the world, Ruel’s age is not the key to his success (although undoubtedly impressive). His soulful music accompanied by a hypnotizing voice demonstrates why he’s been taking the music industry by storm. I had the pleasure of sitting down with Ruel ahead of his gig supporting Mabel at Birmingham’s O2 Institute.
Firstly, how are you?
I’m great thank you! I’m excited for tonight. I’ve done a few shows on this tour and it’s all been a good vibe every show so yeah, I’m excited.
So you’ve had an amazing year – you’ve just won the Breakthrough Artist Award at the ARIA’s, congratulations…
…looking back now, what springs to mind as your highlight of 2018?
This year has been so fast for me and so much has happened so I don’t know. I feel like, probably, my second Sydney show I sold out the Enmore, which is quite a big room in Sydney, and I was just freaking out that I got to play that. So, I played that show, and it was just an insanely special moment because I’d just never seen that many people in one room that were just there for me, and also like in the encore my manager came out on stage and stopped the song and he brought out the plaque of my song ‘Younger’, how it went gold the day before and I had no idea. I got a surprise on stage and it was very emotional, but it was very cool.
You’ve said that song writing is exaggerating, how much to you write from experience?
Pretty much all of my songs really. I reckon there’s like one song that isn’t mine because, I don’t know, I was too tired to come up with anything. Every song I get from something small that’s just happened, or something huge that’s happened in my life, and just exaggerate it and make it into something universal and relatable. I feel like, if a song doesn’t come from me, I don’t really feel like I can emote to it or sing it as well as I could.
I guess you’ve answered this in part but I just wanted to know. Because you’re still quite young, your lyrics are very mature and emotive. They’re so relatable, and I wanted to know how you manage that?
When I’m with another producer or writer in a session, I kind of just put my ideas on the table and say ‘I want to do this’ and ‘I want to make this kind of song’ or ‘this concept’… ‘can you guys help me?’ and I’ve just been very lucky to have worked with some amazing writers who have helped me reach my vision and um, I mean it’s a hard question to answer! I just really enjoy it, so I just keep doing it. I find songwriting extremely therapeutic, so I can put my ideas and problems down on paper and it helps me understand them. And in the future, when I sing them, I see them from a different perspective, so yeah, it just helps me I guess.
So you’ve said for the Ready EP that you wrote about 35-40 songs for it. If you write ‘excess’ songs, do you find it quite hard to give them to other people or as a songwriter is that something you want to do?
Um, well I haven’t actually thought about that really! Yeah so I wrote 35-40 songs, and they’re just kind of in the bank right now and some of them I don’t even think are good enough to give to anyone else, just because it’s kind of embarrassing, you know what I’m saying?
Anyway! I feel like it’s kind of nice having a bunch of songs that people haven’t listened to. Maybe I could release them in the future if I want to because there are still a bunch of a songs that I haven’t released that I really, really love.
Have you found that people have misconceptions of you because of your age, or has it been okay?
In terms of the music industry, it’s been pretty good so far. I’ve got a great team and an amazing label who have been so great for me. I feel like when people put my age and my image first it kind of makes me feel like a brand, it doesn’t make me feel very human. I like it when people talk about the music, or when they focus on that first and that’s what I’ve tried to do from the start: make it about the music and not about me ‘cause I don’t want to be put in a pigeonhole of a gimmicky teen pop star.
A little more of a light-hearted one I guess now – where is the best place you’ve played? Other than the Sydney Enmore…
That’s a hard one. There’s three. New York, Amsterdam and Japan – those three were my favourite shows ever. Last year in March was the first time I’d played in Japan, and I played in Tokyo and that was incredible. Then I got to play in Amsterdam – because I’m half Dutch, I have heaps of second cousins and second aunties and uncles over there that I’d never met before. All of them came and there was like 40 of them in there, it was really cool.
In New York it was insane, I guess because it was the second ever show of my world tour so it was crazy to think that I had fans on the other side of world to Australia, and it was just such a crazy crowd. I don’t know what to pick out of those three.
Top three is good! Last one: what is next for Ruel? What are your plans for 2019?
Well I mean for next year, I definitely want to release another EP and just more music I guess. I wanna tour Asia, which I think is gonna happen. I’m gonna play some festivals here and there. I just wanna keep releasing music ‘cause that’s my favourite thing about it; I like putting what I’ve created out into the world and see what people think of it. I like having other people relate to it and hearing that a song touched them is the best feeling in the world, so I guess I want more of that.
‘Ready’ is available now vi RCA Records.