Former Denver singer-songwriter Lara Ruggles once used music as a vessel for her emotions; now, it's also a tool to change the world.
Based in Tucson for the past few years, she's known to many in the music world as Sharkk Heartt. The name gives her strength, she says, especially after a rocky entry into the music industry, where she was dismissed by talent buyers who told her they "weren't looking for solo female singers." The name Sharkk Heartt "really has something to say about activism and standing your ground. That felt like the direction I wanted to go in with the message and the platform."
Her upcoming album, Wars Our Mothers Fought, is political at its core.
"It's an album where only one or two of the songs sound political, but they all are to me," she says. "They are all asking these big questions of what is it going to require to see the growth we need."
Ruggles is troubled by the current political regime.
"There was a shift, right when Trump got elected, and I started writing songs as Sharkk Heartt. I wanted my songs to be bigger than my own emotional experiences," Ruggles says. "As much as sometimes I write songs and I'm trying to comfort myself, I'm also hoping they'll resonate with other people and [make them] feel like they're more whole in the world."
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So she started channeling her political frustrations into her music, and most recently, she released a song called "More Than This."
"When the world won't let you rise up, but you keep on fighting to prove them all wrong, you are more," Ruggles sings.
When she set out to make the music video for "More Than This," which drops on September 29, she connected with dancer Na-il Ali Emmert. She recruited him to dance around different spots in Tucson that have personal significance to him from his childhood in the city.
"I saw him perform, and he channeled so much emotion. He had such an intense level of grace and physicality and lyricality," Ruggles says.
The dancing in the video is so graceful it appears effortless — unlike the way that Ruggles wrote the song. When she penned it, gigs she had booked were falling through, half the income she was planning for the year was gone, and she had just taken a job at a nonprofit. The transition was difficult.
"It was a period of time when I was questioning if there was a place for me in the world," she says. "I had this thing that so clearly felt like my purpose, and I wasn't able to turn it into something I could do full-time."
Now Ruggles is back in the music world and throwing herself into a cause she cares about, saving struggling music venues by championing the Save Our Stage Act, legislation that would bring aid to people and businesses in the entertainment industry put out of work during the pandemic.
"In Arizona, only our Democratic representatives have signed off on the Save Our Stages Act," she says.
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Music venues, she explains, are vital economic forces in cities. According to a recent study from the National Independent Venue Association, which is pushing the bill, 90 percent of independent venues will close permanently by the end of the year if they do not receive government relief.
In a cause bigger than her own career, Ruggles hopes to inspire communities to fight to keep independent music spaces alive.
"I'm trying to help music venues all over the country survive."
The music video for "More Than This" will be released on September 29 at Lara Ruggles's website.