ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED IN THE GEORGIA STRAIGHT, APRIL 4, 1996
If you’re a musician, working a day job at a record shop certainly has its perks. First off, you get to listen to music all day. Then maybe you get a discount on CDs. For New York City pop-punks Ruth Ruth, guitarist Mike Lustig’s record-store employment paid off when he intercepted a couple of thousand blank tapes that were marked for disposal. The group recorded some home-studio demos on them, then started giving them away.
The Big Apple rock fans lapped it up; they’re not used to getting stuff for free.
“We didn’t even want to deal with people buyin’ it,” explains bassist-vocalist-songwriter Chris Kennedy, on the line from an Ohio hotel. “We knew that if we had five people in the club they were not gonna buy anything, so we would hand it out for free, and then the tape would get around. We would play in the middle of the week, but on the weekend we would go into Manhattan and walk around the Village and hand out the tape to anybody that looked like they might not throw it in the garbage. All in all we probably handed out 2,500 copies of that tape.”
Ruth Ruth’s free demo included a couple of tunes that would turn up on the band’s Laughing Gallery debut, as well as a couple that Kennedy says may show up on a future release. In 1993 and ’94, its formative years, the group combined its oddball marketing strategy with steady gigs at a grungy, nondescript New York club called the Continental.
“You’d walk by it and you wouldn’t know it,” says Kennedy of the band’s woodshedding venue, “but we loved to play in there. In New York you can hardly get a gig—there are too many people trying to play—so we went in and we told them we wanted to try and build a following, and how about lettin’ us play for free an hour before they officially opened. They were like, ‘All right, we’ll try it for a month,’ and then a month turned into a year and a half. We got lucky.”
Ruth Ruth—which is named after the evil Dr. Ruth Ruth character in the Lily Tomlin movie The Incredible Shrinking Woman—continued its lucky streak when it got signed by American Recordings, the smallish but star-studded label headed by famed producer Rick Rubin.
“American was really cool,” says Kennedy, whose band opens for Spacehog at the Town Pump on Monday (April 8). “Right from the top they came in with the plan that we could record the album how we wanted to, and my whole life I’ve wanted to be able to do that. And they really came through. I mean, hell, we’ve been workin’ Laughing Gallery now for over half a year, and they’re not giving up on it, they’re pushin’ it. We’ve been able to reach a lot of people, so I feel like we’re building a career.”
At 28, Kennedy isn’t the youngest person ever to set out on a recording career, but he’s not quite ready for the Old Rockers’ Home, either.
“I watched Everclear when we were out with them, and I think Art [singer-guitarist Art Alexakis] might be 33 or 32. They blow every band I ever watched off the stage, so I feel comfortable that I’ve got a few more years in me.”