dialogue with treehouse artists
if you have never beheld the voice behind the collaboration of "o memorie," your ears are missing out on a velvet-coated gauntlet of artistic grace. the latest ep, "o memorie ii," is a beautiful balance of auditory textures drifting from spoken words to rawly executed vocals wonderfully woven with sparkling notes that speak volumes of his musical brilliance.
the man behind this all is joseph ruddleston, who, as we begin, tells me he has nothing prepared. i tell him that’s my favorite, and we jump right in.
first thing i want to know is, who is he, and what makes him that way?
“i would say my name, firstly. my name is joseph ruddleston, i am a storyteller and a songwriter. i may be that way because i have difficulty expressing myself, especially the emotional aspects, through common conversations. i use stories and songs to interpret my deeper expressions, but that’s why i am who i am.”
what songs make him sing and why?
he lists off a series of classic selections before hitting me.
“...and, probably my own songs make me want to sing because i have to.”
wow. have to? why?
“it’s hard to explain to people who don’t create art why you have to do what you do. there’s always this sense of entitlement that people expect of artists, but it’s less an entitlement and more an urge to break out of the ribs. it’s like you’re trying to give yourself open-heart surgery. your heart is too big for your body, and it needs to breathe, and the breathing part of it is the expression through art. i think it’s essential for the populace, for society, and they don’t realize it. i know that sounds very, like, ‘they don’t really know what they’ve got,’ but i don’t think the world really understands how important the arts are until, i guess, it doesn’t exist.”
i couldn’t agree more and makes me ask about the role music and art has in society. this makes him stop and think. he asks if i mean now? or eventually? or a little of both?
i’m curious which way answers it for him?
he has to think of the future.
“i thrust on an optimistic aspect of the arts, for me...the future really is that art is more than its product. it’s the experience each person has. it’s a big part of everyone’s identity. and i feel the only reason why people don’t do art, if they don’t do art, is because it can’t factor in a day filled with other distractions and abstractions and difficulties that don’t allow them that freedom to create, and to be inspired by something other than their nine-to-fives, i suppose.”
of all the different outlets for art, what was it about "o memorie" that made him feel like he could hold his heart in his hands?
he knows exactly what it was.
“i’ve spent a lot of time saying my own name in this whole pursuit for a career in music. and i got so tired of it. it wasn’t at all how i felt. like, i would perform with amazing performers. they were session musicians, i hired them, and it was a great experience. but i was still there as ‘joseph ruddleston.’ i didn’t feel like it represented the active spirit that i was trying to emanate. so i sat in my room and started writing an album, then a few hours later, it came to fruition. it was an incredible, cathartic experience, and a very isolated experience. but it felt like it was more a vessel thing, where you can only consider yourself this passage for a greater truth. i don’t know, it sounds like i’m starting a new religion. (laughter) it just felt like i wasn’t joseph ruddleston anymore. i was contributing to a cultural and historical canon of musicians and artists that meant much more than themselves. like, a memory is more than the sum of its parts, and i wanted to create so many parts. and 'o memorie' itself as a title was an homage to the significance and relationship of memory and dreams because they run hand in hand a lot of times. it’s spelled 'ie' on the end because it, in itself, is a humanization of the concept of memory that i elaborated through many people because memory is a shared experience in its own way. i wanted it to mean something for the years to come. it’s been the most rewarding experience because it wasn’t my own name because it wasn’t just for me or from me. with some persuasion, it was a community-based thing. but it does feel good to be the leader of something.”
he laughs, and i have to agree - it is always better to be doing something meaningful.
i’m curious what drew him to the pieces he chose for "o memorie ii," in the order he selected for that ep.
“the first song, ‘spark of genius,’ was always to be the first song because it pretty much summarized the sensation of imposter syndrome, the idea that, like, there’s no way you can possibly do okay in life, but you do okay in life, and things find themselves eventually. then the next song that went down, ‘meteor strike,’ was just a challenge to myself, and me being consistent with the theme of o memorie, whilst pushing myself musically and being kind of weird, (laughs) and a bit fun and a bit verbose and loquacious and all over the place. but i didn’t go too far, and i felt good about that. ‘gargoyles on my chest,’ which is the most recent, was the complete and utter opposite, not of me pushing myself too far, but me feeling rooted into the ground.
“it was a throwback to the earlier 'o memorie' where i just threw what came out of my mouth onto a page and played it without even thinking about takes and perfection at all. it even has a section in the middle which came from the voice memo file when i was just trying things out. i thought, ‘this clearly works in its rawest form,’ so, i just spliced it in there two days before i released it. i was like, ‘you know what? f--- this, let’s put it in there and see how it goes.’ and it worked! i mean, maybe it’s the irresponsible thing to do, but it felt like it’s gonna live longer for it.
“with the order itself, i love curating playlists, it’s like my favorite thing to do, and i feel there’s a lot of power in it. so when you see a natural rhythm of music, when you see how it makes you feel throughout the song, and throughout the album, and throughout a multitrack bonanza, you understand what it feels like to be the receiver of that kind of music, even when it’s your own.’
i always want to know what the artist is thinking, as i always find it funny when someone else writes about an artistic piece because so often they put something there that wasn’t.
he tells me he loves people interpreting different things from his albums.
“i’m really excited to see different interpretations because it’s exactly that. whether i see or other people see that memories and dreams themselves, the interpretation is all part and parcel. especially dreams. people love interpreting dreams, it is overwhelming how much people want to understand things, and so songs are the same. songs and stories, they’re all forms of interpretation that people have to get something from, and they might choose what they want from it. sometimes when people find out what the songs are about, they can be disappointed because it’s not how they experienced it. but! the truth can be disappointing.” he laughs.
i ask him my next question, knowing everything he’s been through- if he could tell anything to his younger self, what would he say?
“i would love to tell them to have the courage to be honest with yourself and everyone around you. i don’t know if that’s really benefited anyone, but i always felt like i was afraid of what i might say or do. when i did things, the consequences were always this veiled threat to me, and i would always have to try and keep everything within me. and i’d like to have understood this quote, which has become my motto throughout life. it’s a quote by emil zola, the writer: ‘if you ask me what i came to do in this world, i, an artist, will tell you i came to live out loud.’ and i think that living out loud is the best form of what i always aspire to be, even now when i feel like i do live out loud in a lot of aspects. it doesn’t mean live really loudly and saying everything and being belligerent and just annoying as hell. it’s partially about living honestly, but also about living with purpose and with faith and understanding of yourself.”
he wraps it up with a perfect summation of the end.
“in the last year, i have been reevaluating the significance of being an artist in my life, as an identity. and someone very wise told me that i am more than the art that i create and more than the artist that i have manifested to be. if i don’t accept every part of me in whatever proportion that is, then the artist means nothing. it’s a tool for me to express myself, but it’s not the expression itself. it’s not the emotions, it’s a voice for me. so i have a responsibility to make being an artist and being a musician and a songwriter and a storyteller count.”
“it’s a waste of my efforts, and those of everyone around me, to form a good and honest and honorable person if i don’t see the balance in the artist world. i shouldn’t seek out pain and suffering in order to find inspiration, and i also shouldn’t be afraid of being happy. i shouldn’t give up because it’s too hard, but i should never push myself to self-destruction because i feel like that’s the only way i can experience or find happiness.”
"o memoire ii" is available on itunes and bandcamp and spotify,
and can be streamed through their website: omemorie.com/omemorieii