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Interview with Tairrie B (My Ruin)

‘You can either walk on stage and demand respect or you can command it,’ declared Tairrie B during an interview with MTV as part of their 1996 ‘Women in Rock’ special.

For almost twenty years, Tairrie B has been a prominent force in the metal scene, first as the singer of Manhole and Tura Satana in the mid-1990s, before forming My Ruin soon afterwards. The core of the group would come together with the arrival of Mick Murphy, who would provide the missing piece. For over a decade, My Ruin have remained an unpredictable and creative force in the world of metal. While the focus of the band is often on its charismatic and outspoken singer, Murphy’s role is just as integral.

Tairrie B discusses the creation of My Ruin’s latest offering, The Sacred Mood.

The bio for your new album states that The Sacred Mood is ‘a subtle reinvention for My Ruin.’ Can you elaborate on this?

I believe that with every album you create, you grow and learn more about yourself as an artist and there is always a reinvention in one way or another. While some artists choose a blatant and more obvious overhaul on their sound, style and image with each new release, we have always preferred to take a more subtle approach, staying true to the essence of who we are and our roots as musicians. We make the music we do for the love of the art and each album is a visceral reflection of what we are feeling at that particular time in our lives. The Sacred Mood was written in a very different state of mind than many of our previous recordings, especially the last one, which was what I consider to be our angriest album.

This time around, Mick and I were in a much calmer head-space during the songwriting process and the atmosphere in the studio was also very different, being that we recorded in the heat of the south during a humid summer in August, as opposed to the dead of winter in December like we did with A Southern Revelation. While the new album is both musically heavy as well as lyrically in regards to the subject matter, it is not a confrontational in-your-face album. It’s a bit more laid back. We allowed ourselves to explore a darker side of lush territories and natural tones, mixed with the heaviosity of Mick’s riffage. For me, I have always been drawn to Biblical scripture as an influence when it comes to the anti-pious poetical aspect of my screaming and spoken word, which never make for easy listening but seemed to make for a more abstract and vulnerable recording this time.

Would you say that the message in your music is the same as fifteen years ago or are you a different person now with a new outlook on life?

Fifteen years ago I was in Tura Satana and living a different life. I have definitely matured a great deal since that time and experienced many things in and around the music industry which have opened my eyes to human behaviour, including my own. Being in a band is a life lesson in itself, from the business aspect to personal relationships. Trust, loyalty, perseverance, passion and dedication have always been at the heart of what I do as an artist but not always in the heart of those who have done it with me. I’m blessed to have found my musical soul mate in Mick. Looking back on my body of work, I find many of the lyrics I wrote years ago are still very much relevant today and quite poignant to certain things still going on in the world around me. Although I am no longer the hardcore activist I used to be, I still stand by the songs I have written and subject matters I have broached within, because I strongly believe in the idea of standing in the truth of who you are. I also think it’s important to be honest with your fans. A lot of bands pretend to be something they are not. We are who we are, and while I have changed bands I have never changed the core of who I am as an artist or as a woman.

Your last album A Southern Revelation was released as a free download, did you consider that approach with The Sacred Mood and were you not concerned that people often have less appreciation for music they do not pay for?

Let’s be honest, in this day and age most albums are available for free on the internet, including ours. You just have to look for them or get sent a Google alert! I was sent eighteen last week alone that let me know our new album has been stolen. Torrent sites are everywhere and the people who steal your music couldn’t care less about the time you have spent creating it, not to mention the love you have poured into it. It’s just another record to them. For us, it is our baby and we’re very protective of it. When you release it to the world it’s like giving birth to something you have laboured over for months. If you are signed to a label (major or indie) you are intrusting them to take care of it, nurture and promote it in the same way you would.

Being on a label is like following a religion to some degree, as they are both faith-based. With that in mind, let me explain why A Southern Revelation was a free download by providing a bit of back-story. We signed to Tiefdruck Musik in 2010 and trusted the label owner, Daniel Heerdmann, to release our album Ghosts and Good Stories in good faith. He made many promises which he broke and lied to us to the point of disbelief. I have never understood why a label would take the time to get to know and sign a band, pretend to stand behind them and then turn around and completely fuck them over without blinking an eye. He killed our album and he got away with murder and he also killed our plans for a big tour, which tickets had already been sold for.

The sad thing is, we were not the only band he did this to. After we came out and spoke publicly about what went down, we were contacted by numerous other bands all over the world that had similar experiences with the man and his label. It was shocking to see just how many bands he had conned into believing his bullshit, including us. Unfortunately, he never planned to promote our album the way he promised to and after we delivered it to the label we soon learned we were in trouble. We made the decision to take things into our own hands very quickly and thankfully we had a great team around us which had our backs and helped us do everything he refused to at the time. We worked tirelessly promoting it. What went down in the aftermath of the release of G&GS inspired us to write A Southern Revelation, which was more than just a gift to our fans; it was a middle finger to the man himself and our slaying of the soulless beast. It was our reckoning.

We chose to release it as a free download because we were still under contract at the time and selling it was not an option, and we were not about to remain silent while we waited out our contract. We came back swinging and we swung hard. The album was critically acclaimed and got a great response by the press and our fans who, knowing what we had gone through, suggested we set up a donation page, which we did and they showed their support and appreciation immensely by donating. Some people donated $5, while others donated $100. We made more than we probably would have from the label and it was amazing to feel that kind of love from everyone. Last we heard, Tiefdruck Musik had packed up their office, took down their website and thankfully went out of business. We’ve self-released our new album via Tunecore. It’s available on iTunes, Amazon and all the usual sites. So far it’s been really well received by the press and fans and we’re grateful to all who have taken the time to actually purchase it rather than steal it. We have a few things we plan to give away free in the future and it’s nice to know that people support us when we do sell our music.

It could be said that each album an artist releases captures that moment in their life and could be interpreted as a page from their diary. Would you say that each My Ruin album reflects who you were at the time, and if so then how does The Sacred Mood echo your current mental and emotional state?

I actually mentioned this earlier in the interview. I have always believed that sentiment to be true, especially with our recordings. I used to keep journals years ago, but over time the albums I have recorded have become my diaries. They have documented my life and relationships in and around the bands I have been in for as long as I can remember. The Sacred Mood reflects just that, a mood that is sacred. It is what it is at this moment and it is what it was at the time that we wrote it. I don’t play it often because I like to revisit it with and open mind, but when I do I listen to it differently every time.

Do you feel that through your work with Manhole, Tura Satana and My Ruin you have played a role in women having a stronger presence in the metal community?

I would like to hope I have within heavy music in general, not just ‘metal’. That is in no way meant to sound arrogant or egotistical. I am well aware that for some, just the mention of my name sometimes causes very polarising opinions, but the fact is I’ve been making music for many years and I believe very much that I opened the door for more than a few women to follow in my footsteps, just as certain woman opened it for me. I’ve never wanted to change the world, just serve my purpose and leave my mark in whatever way that may be. I hope the music I have made will remain relevant and people will continue to discover it long after I am gone.

I started out as a rap artist signed to Eazy E’s Comptown Records label through MCA Records and released my first solo album The Power of a Woman in 1990. I formed my first band Manhole in 1993 and released my first rap metal/rock album All Is Not Well on Noise Records in 1996. Manhole later morphed into Tura Satana (due to our being forced to change our name) and we released our second record, Relief Through Release, on Noise Records in 1997. I disbanded Tura Satana and went on to form My Ruin in 1999 as a solo project when I recorded Speak and Destroy, which I released on Snapper Music that same year. I met Mick Murphy (my guitarist and now husband) in 2000 and we decided to make My Ruin our band. The Sacred Mood is My Ruin’s eighth full-length studio album.

Music is part of who I am and has had a heavy presence in my life for as long as I can remember. Women like Patti Smith, Joan Jett, Chrissy Hynde, Tina Turner, Exene Cervenka, Billie Holiday, Stevie Nicks, Diana Ross, Janis Joplin, Teena Marie, Suzi Quatro, Minnie Ripperton, Pat Benetar, Aretha Franklin, Nancy and Ann Wilson from Heart and Madonna were all female forces who inspired me to want to pick up a microphone, while male vocalists such as Nick Cave, Henry Rollins, Phil Anselmo and even rappers such as Ice Cube and WC inspired what I did when it was in my hand.

I believe women are starting to have a stronger presence in the metal community these days and bands like Kylesa, Electric Wizard, Royal Thunder, Purson, Blood Ceremony, Alunah, Jex Thoth, Jucifer and Ides of Gemini are bringing something unique and interesting to heavy music. These are a few bands with enigmatic and entrancing women who seem to have something real and interesting to offer, rather than having to resort to just showing their tits and asses, leaving them to look more like strippers than rock chicks in my opinion. Unfortunately, I’m not a fan of many female fronted-bands these days, simply because so many seem desperate for attention with their sad attempts at being shocking. It’s the lowest common denominator and is not empowering in the least. It’s just boring.

In a 1990 interview with Hip Hop Connection you said, “Bitch means Being In Total Control of Herself – that’s how I spell out bitch.” Do you think your stance on feminism and female empowerment has changed over the years or has it mostly remained the same?

Wow, you dug deep for that quote of mine from back in the day. It may be old school but I still own it. I was actually the first woman in rap to refer to herself a bitch on record and it didn’t sit well with a few people, including certain feminist organisations in the UK, who were upset over my street posters which read ‘This Bitch Raps’. I remember arriving in London for the first time on a promo tour and being told by various press people that my posters were being defaced all over the city by guerilla feminists who were apparently upset at my use of the word Bitch on the adverts for my single Murder She Wrote. At the time, it was a tradition at Ruthless Records that every artist had a ‘last song’ or ‘grand finale’ on their album and Eazy E (my label president) had this crazy idea to have all the members of his group N.W.A. call me a bitch on the last track of my debut album (The Power of a Woman), to which I would then respond by dissing them all in the final verse. He wanted Ice Cube to write it (this was before he left the label later that year) because he had also written a track for N.W.A. called A Bitch Iz a Bitch and it was going to be called I Ain’t Yo Bitch.

I didn’t like the idea, so instead I flipped the script and wrote the song myself and called it Ruthless Bitch. I did this as a way to take the negative power back from the word and at the same time empower myself with it in the same way they called themselves Niggaz Wit Attitude. It was an epic eight-minute tirade that called out a few people in and around my life at the time and it created quite a lot of drama. It’s probably the song that set me on what would be a long path of writing about my various relationships over the years. Thankfully, I have grown as a lyricist and wordslinger but my stance on being a strong woman has always remained the same. You empower yourself by educating yourself and it is just as important for women to speak their minds and be opinionated as it is for men to.

Sexual assault, harassment and acts of domestic violence happen daily worldwide, but as we all know there are many countries around the world where women have no voice and live in fear for just being a woman. I have worked at domestic violence shelters, rape treatment centres and fought to keep a woman’s right to have an abortion safe and legal. I will always champion causes I believe in, respect and admire feminist advocates worldwide who continue to fight to establish equal opportunities and basic human rights. I applaud these women for their courage and dedication to the movement, whether underground or above.

My Ruin

My Ruin

For this album you returned to Soundtrack Black Studio in Knoxville, Tennessee to work with Joel Stooksbury once again. How integral is his influence over the sound of My Ruin, and does Mick Murphy prefer to produce by himself or with a collaborator?

Mick is the sole music writer for the band and being that he has written all of our albums and co-produced all but the first one, he knows exactly what we want the band to sound like. Joel doesn’t really come in and try to influence our sound, he simply helps us to achieve the best sound we can. Joel has a great ear and is very easy to work with in the studio because he is a fan of our music and at the same time really understands us on a personal level, being that he is a musician himself.

The time we spent working together on our last two albums has been time we’ve really cherished and two of the most enjoyable recording sessions of our career. Joel is one of our dearest friends and someone we really trust. We have worked with several people in the past on previous albums but there is something magical about the recordings we produce together. We really enjoys the collaboration and I also think being that Mick and Joel are both from Tennessee heightens their connection, which I feel as well. I’m an L.A. girl but I consider myself southern by association, since I’ve spent so much time there. I’m a firm believer that atmosphere also helps to influence the sound of an album. If the vibe is there it’s there, and if it’s not it’s just not. And you can sometimes feel that.

Much of the artwork for the album, with its religious imagery and gothic fairy tale feel, looks like it could be adapted into a graphic novel. Have you ever considered transferring My Ruin across to another creative medium?

I am actually in the process of designing our first hard cover art book at the moment, which we plan to release before the holidays. I have been working with an up-and-coming young artist from Manchester, England by the name of Kayleigh Brookes for the past few months. She is a longtime fan of the band and a talented graphic illustrator. Kayleigh is helping me to create some really striking art pieces, which are inspired by songs on the album and certain photographs which were taken of the band after we recorded it. It’s been great working together on the project and a learning experience for both of us. The book will also include lyrics, studio photos, quotes, a few journal pages, vintage prayer cards, never before seen photos and a deeper look into the making of the album. The idea is to create a stylised and iconic keepsake for ourselves and fans of the band that has a personal feel to it. I am a DIY girl at heart from my music to the custom jewellery I design and I really enjoy connecting with the people who connect with our music. I think the book will be a beautiful reflection of the album.

Earlier in the days of My Ruin you posted a statement on your website stating that ‘Major labels are afraid of us and what we do.’ At what point did you decide that you no longer needed the support of a major label and that you would remain independent?

I remember that quote. It was actually taken from a post I had made on our old message board way back in 2002. This is what it said in full: ‘We are not and will probably never be that huge band on a major label. Major labels are afraid of us and what we do because it is not pre-fabricated bullshit written specifically for the sole intention of a radio hit. It is honest and speaks the truth on subjects that some people do not want to talk about. It’s not that we think major labels are the enemy; on the contrary, they could be wonderful if the people who ran them had balls enough to take chances like they did in the past. Today it seems that everyone just wants the same thing someone else just signed and we like to believe we are different. Maybe we are, and maybe we aren’t, but we try to stay as true to ourselves and our music as possible’ – I wrote this in response to some posts being made we had announced we were signing with the independent metal label Century Media Records.

I feel the same way today. We had also done an interview where we were asked our thoughts on major labels and if My Ruin would ever consider signing with one. I remember saying that major labels were afraid of us because this was the impression we got. We had showcased for a few at the time and had some really bizarre experiences with the A&R people we dealt with. The music industry is filled with scumbags and we’ve met our fair share over the years. At the end of the day, we know that we can only count on ourselves and in this day and age; doing it yourself seems to be the way more and more bands are choosing to do it.

Violence and scars are still a common theme in your lyrics, something that you have explored since your days with Manhole and Tura Satana. Are these such an integral part of your life and history and do you feel that you continue to explore these themes in different ways with each album?

I believe everyone has a violent side and various demons we struggle with and battle within ourselves. Religion and relationships are always at the core of a My Ruin album in one form or another. Loyalty, friendship, trust and betrayal are more of the common themes I tend to write about. I just deliver it in a violent way and while I may sometimes choose to write about similar underlying subject matters, my songs are always inspired by new events and people who enter and exit my life for one reason or another from album to album. The scars I have sometimes spoken about in my lyrics have been internal and related to things which affected me mentally, harkening back to my childhood and certain relationships I have experienced throughout my life. They were never actual physical scars until a few years ago when I was in a car accident, which nearly ripped my arm off and left me with a pretty serious scar on the outside. Maybe my talking about scars for so long was a premonition of something to come and my way of being able to handle it when it did. My lyrics have often been very prophetic.

In 2010 you decided to release online Single White Female, your second and previously unreleased rap album from the early 1990s. Did you have any reservations about introducing metal fans to your old school hip hop roots and have you considered reworking any of those songs with My Ruin?

Not really. I was a rap artist once upon a time and I’ve never felt the need to hide it. I’m not ashamed of my past because it helped shape me into the person I am today. Over the years I’ve had a lot of journalists, friends and fans of my band ask me about my days as a rapper. I think many people find it kind of interesting that I came from that world and made such a serious crossover into the rock world. As far as reworking one of my old rap songs with My Ruin, that’s not really something I would ever be interested in doing musically, however, when it comes to recording a straight up rap album, never say never. You never know.

Why did you decide for The LVRS and Neanderthal to be separate from My Ruin instead of releasing them under the same banner?

Neanderthal is Mick’s instrumental project. He experiments with weird arrangements, odd time signatures, jagged riffs and lots of guitar solos. The music is not really designed for vocals or what we do in My Ruin. The LVRS is our cinematic doom side-project we have been recording since 2003. It is spoken word stories set to musical soundscapes. Although we have always incorporated a bit of spoken word into our music, what we do with The LVRS is also a very different vibe to what we do with My Ruin. We prefer to keep them separate because this is just how we see them. While the lyrics I write for both are very personal, The LVRS is also about writing fictional tales inspired by more explicit, dark and heavy subject matter such as violence, sex and death which I narrate in third person. Not really suited to what we do in our rock band and delivered in a much different voice and mindset.

While your focus over the last decade has been on My Ruin, both yourself and Mick have been involved in various side projects, collaborating with the likes of Taylor Hawkins and Dave Grohl from the Foo Fighters and Corrosion of Conformity‘s Reed Mullin. How have these projects differed from your work with My Ruin and how did these come about?

My Ruin is our baby and our music that we create together. Chevy Metal is Taylor’s band. They play classic covers and perform at special events and benefits. Dave and other well known musicians often sit in with them and surprise the audience. Mick got the opportunity to play with Chevy Metal through our friend John Lousteau, who is the house engineer at Grohl’s Studio 606 and he also does live sound for CM. Mick’s been having a great time jamming with the guys and I’ve been having fun testing out my live photography skills, which I’m getting more into lately. John is also recording the project with Reed Mullin which is called Teenage Time Killers. He suggested Mick play guitar on the project and it all grew from there.

During the session Reed asked Mick to write some stuff, so he came up with some songs on the spot and it exploded. The next thing you know a bunch of vocalists and some guest musicians got involved. The singers who have recorded their tracks so far (as far as we know) are Randy Rlythe, Vic Bondi and myself. It was great to be asked to be a part of it and I had a lot of fun in the studio with the guys. There is a long list of people who plan to still contribute their vocal talents but the guest musicians at this point are Dave Grohl (bass), Woody Weatherman (guitar), Mike Dean (bass), Greg Anderson (guitar), London May (drums), Jim Rota (guitar), John Lousteau (drums) and Adam Bomb (bass). The whole thing has a very spontaneous and organic feel to it.

You once confessed that from your intense performance during the recording of the song Victim back when you were in your first band Manhole, your nose began to bleed. Have you bled for your art since then?

I’ve bled many times, both on stage and off, over the years. I’ve also bruised myself, as well as a few egos along the way.

Tairrie B

Tairrie B

My Ruin has lasted longer than any of your other projects, do you feel that this is something both yourself and Mick will want to continue working with or will a point come where you will want to experiment further?

Mick and I will continue to make music together in and around My Ruin for as long as we continue to feel the passion to do so. I can’t really imagine myself writing or playing live with a guitarist other than Mick at this point, because he’s honestly the best musician I have ever worked with and he understands me like no one else as a vocalist.

Having said that, we are planning to work on something very special together which is sort of a secret project at the moment and a big step away from what we do in My Ruin. It’s not something people might expect me to do at this point in my career, but it’s something I’m very excited about and having been thinking about doing for a while now. I’m sure it’s going to shock and surprise a few people.

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