Rebekah Higgs

Rebekah Higgs
Hailing from Halifax, Rebekah Higgs isn’t just another female singer-songwriter to add to the recently expanding list. She might be compared to the likes of another of our own, Miss Leslie Feist, but this musician has a flavour all her own. In fact, she sometimes even reaches outside her usual self to take on the persona of Ruby Jean in her dance-worthy side-project, Ruby Jean and the Thoughtful Bees. Before heading out on Exclaim!’s Wood, Wires & Whisky Tour, Higgs took the time to answer a few questions about herself, Ruby Jean and everything in between.

Your record was released a couple of years ago?
Yeah. Well, actually it was released last October but I first released it independently in 2006, then it was re-released by Outside after I added a couple of songs to it in October.

And how was working with Joydrop’s Thomas Rider Payne?
It was awesome. He’s just a super easygoing kind of guy to work on a record with, and I worked at his house. He has a studio in his basement, so we had dinner every night together with his wife and two children, and played with the kids. It was really fun. It was a really nice experience.

How did you end up working with him?
In 2006 he recorded a demo with a guy I had gone to university with. This guy had asked if I would come sing on this demo he was doing, so I came down and sang on it and worked with Thomas as a producer. I just really liked the way that he worked; he was really fast. He’s someone who is very technically savvy and very quick with the recording process, and I have a lot of ideas that happen very quickly, so I really liked the way that Thomas worked and I just asked him if he would be interested in recording an album with me. He said sure and I suggested doing it in Toronto, and he said that was perfect because he has a recording studio in his basement.

Do you plan on working with him again?
Yeah, I’m going to go up in October and finish my album that I started with him.

What’s the new record sounding like so far?
They’re kind of happy songs, I guess. But there’s going to be some slidey guitar, some acoustic guitar and there’s going to be a lot of vocal looping. There are some experimental tracks as well, some things that might seem more Ruby Jean-ish, I guess, more electronic sounding.

If you’re doing that kind of thing with your solo record what made you want to start Ruby Jean and the Thoughtful Bees?
I guess when I had started the Ruby Jean project I wasn’t really doing electronic stuff or full-on dance music, so we just started it for fun, me and Colin [Crowell], and then it sort of evolved into super dance electric stuff and was really fun. I find the Ruby Jean stuff, because it’s a band and not just me by myself, more of a collaboration. When I do it on my own I just play everything.

What made you want to do something so different?
When Colin and I first started it we played a couple of shows and people were really into it and we just thought it was fun. And then it became, I guess, one of the only super dance-y bands in Halifax, so we just got offered a lot of shows. For me it’s a way to have a sort of wacky stage show, kind of do some crazy stage antics and get outside of myself a little bit. With my solo stuff I tend to be, not reserved on stage but with Ruby Jean I’m all over the place, jumping up and down and dancing. It’s just more of a fun thing.

I heard your alter ego came from your grandmothers’ names.
I have one grandmother named Ruby and one grandmother named Jean and my grandmother passed away right before Colin and I started recording. It’s funny because I remember when I was a little girl I used to think Ruby was such an old lady’s name and I didn’t really like it. People would always say, "Oh, you look like your grandmother Ruby.” And then after she passed away I just loved that name and it kind of just came to me, so when I wanted to create that alter ego I decided to use my grandmothers’ names.

With your solo project you seem to be playing a lot of festivals lately. Is there something specific that you like about them?
Festivals are amazing. A lot of them are really well organized. They think for you. And not only that but it’s great because you’re playing for a whole broad audience of people that you’ve never played for and who’ve never heard of you. I’ve loved every festival that I’ve played.

I heard that a fan once compared you to Bach at one of your shows.
That was at a Ruby Jean show the first time. It happened twice, actually. The first time this guy came up to me at a Ruby Jean show and he was like, "You have such incredible rhythmic timing and musical sensibility and yet you’re completely untrained. You’re like the reincarnation of Bach.” And then they printed a story about it. And then this guy came up to me at another show and said to me, "You always hit the note right in the middle and have exact perfect pitch and the way you create your melodies is Bach-like,” or something like that. I was like, "That’s funny. You must’ve read the story,” but he was like, "What story?” I don’t really know what that’s all about. Obviously I’m no Bach.

Another comparison you must hear a lot is Feist.
Yeah, I think that it’s great. I think people are always going to compare you to the most well known thing that’s similar to what you are. And if it’s Feist, that’s great. I’m so happy that she’s become that well known that she’s who people compare me to. When I first started people were like, "Oh, that’s like Sarah McLachlan.” It’s not at all but that’s what the reference was then. I think people compare you to someone whose music they like, so hopefully they appreciate what I’m doing.