Moving to Nashville was a bigger decision for Bex Chilcott than it is for most musicians. For Chilcott, who performs under the name Ruby Boots, heading to Music City meant more than simply leaving home. It meant leaving her native Australia and starting a new life more than 11,000 miles away.
“It’s the land of opportunity, my friend,” Chilcott says with a peal of laughter, but not a trace of irony. “I definitely didn’t have stars in my eyes, thinking I was going to move here and make it. What really enamored me was to see there were working musicians here. It was like, ‘Holy shit, there are people here living my dream – getting in a van, touring the country, playing shows, writing all time and recording.”
Two years on from her relocation, Chilcott is living that dream as she prepares to release Don’t Talk About It, her second Ruby Boots LP and the first since she left Australia. Arriving on February 9th via Bloodshot Records, the 10-song album – a mix of Americana, roots music, and even touches of punk rock and doo-wop – feels right at home half a world away from where its singer got her start.
This isn’t the first time that Chilcott has gone her own way. Having grown up in Perth – “The most isolated city in the world,” she says – she left home when she was 16 years old and ended up working on pearl farms off the coast of Western Australia. “It was so important to me to get out of Perth and find some kind of alternate life to the one I’d lived up to that point. I needed something so dramatic and drastic,” she says.
It was during the three years that Chilcott spent on the pearl farms, at sea for weeks on end, that she first learned to play guitar. “I got a friend a job out there and he played guitar. I was singing songs with him on deck one day and he said, ‘You can really sing,'” she recalls. “I picked up a guitar and was driving everyone mental for months because it’s a fucking house boat and the walls are paper thin.” Within a matter of months, she was writing her own songs.
Drawn to grunge music at a young age, Chilcott’s real musical inspiration was to come from American folk singers and songwriters like Bob Dylan and Joan Baez. Though she enjoyed some success in her home country, releasing her 2015 debut Solitude through Universal Australia’s Lost Highway imprint, opportunities were sparse for Americana singers in her home country. “I had a long way to go in Australia, but at the same time anything that has a twang in Australia has a small market,” she says. “There are limited options to be played on radio, limited venues to play as an Americana artist.”
Nashville, however, was already on her radar. Working as an artist liaison at an EDM festival in Australia in 2012, Chilcott met Skrillex’s tour manager, who recommended she visit. Her first visit to the United States was that same summer, when she flew to Tennessee for the Bonnaroo festival and was quickly hooked. “This city had everything I wanted, but it still had a small town vibe,” she says.
Chilcott was still in for a culture shock when she made the move in early 2016, shortly after wrapping up a Stateside tour with the Waifs. “It’s so cliche, but I’d had my whole life to write that first record and all of a sudden it’s like, ‘Oh shit, I gotta write a new record now. What am I gonna say?'” she says. “The city saved me in that respect, because I was lucky enough to collaborate with some incredible artists. It pulled me out of this hole where I felt couldn’t even write a song.”
That summer, thanks to her friend Nikki Lane and bassist Chase McGillis, Chilcott met Beau Bedford of studio and touring collective the Texas Gentlemen. Chilcott played Bedford a demo of her song “Infatuation,” and he invited her to come record at the band’s home base, Modern Electric Sound Recorders in Dallas. “At that point, that was my best song of the pile. That was when I really started to hit my stride,” she says.
Recorded in 2017 under Bedford’s supervision, Don’t Talk About It is a boisterous, rollicking set of songs, from the crunchy blast of opener “It’s So Cruel” to the woozy sway of the title track to the bared-soul plea of “Break My Heart Twice.” Too rocking to be straight country, it’s all outlaw in spirit, a swaggering summation of the different sides that make up Ruby Boots, equal parts tough and vulnerable.
“This time around I was thinking about the whole album,” Chilcott says. “That’s what I think was missing from the first record compared to the second. Not just what do I want from this album, but also from the next couple years of my life as a musician. All of a sudden I understood that as a whole – that I’m going to be on stage and I’m the one that has to get up there and play with conviction.”
For all of the freewheeling energy on Don’t Talk About It, one of its most striking tracks is also its most understated – the a capella “I Am a Woman,” which Chilcott wrote with the Waifs’ Vikki Thorn during the 2016 presidential election. “I was quite conscious at the moment that there’s this huge us-and-them mentality,” she says. “I wanted to write a song that shone a light on women and the magnificent side of everything we encompass. [It was important that] it wasn’t exclusionary and didn’t dehumanize, but just laid it out in a very loving, direct way.”
In the 18 months since the song was written, reports of sexual assault, harassment, and misconduct have become a widespread topic of conversation, including in Chilcott’s adopted home of Nashville. Even so, she’s not exactly the type to let anyone or anything impede her progress – not when she’s already come this far.
“Coming from a place of being out of home very early and having to keep my head above water, I’ve got this attitude where I’m blind to things. I’m just like, ‘Get the fuck out of my way,'” Chilcott says, matter of factly. There’s another cackling laugh as she pauses to consider her words. “I’m gonna do it one way or another. Do you think you’re gonna stop me?”