Music News

Lara Ruggles's Debut Full-Length Was Worth the Wait

“Fighting Time” is one of the standout tracks on Cynics & Saints, the debut full-length from singer-songwriter Lara Ruggles. It’s brooding, poetic, and angry as hell. Ruggles hurls threats with her impressive vocal range: “It’s fighting time, and I need to see blood on the floor/Whether it’s mine or yours.” The chorus is brutal and heartbreaking, a perfect description of the singer’s struggle to get this album out into the world.

The long journey to create Cynics & Saints began in 2011, shortly after Ruggles had released her Out of an Eggshell EP. She was approached by Steven Vidaic and Mike Yach of Immersive Records, who were interested in working with her.

“They told me, ‘We want this [label] to be more artist-friendly and -structured, and we want to make an album with you,’” Ruggles says. “I remember finishing that conversation and wanting to be so excited but trying to contain myself.”

Vidaic and Yach waived the normal studio fees for Ruggles, but that meant waiting for time to open when the studio wasn’t working with paying clients. It was more than a year after that initial conversation that Ruggles recorded her first song.

“In 2012, I went in and played a song for them, and that song was ‘Small Is Beautiful,’” Ruggles says. “They wanted to record it right then and there, and that kind of started us working on the album again, but, really, all throughout the rest of 2012 and 2013, they were just squeezing [the album] in here and there when they didn’t have anything else at the studio.”

In the interim, there was much more than art occupying Ruggles’s mind. Throughout the recording process, she was forced to work countless jobs to help support herself and the project. She worked as a nanny, as a substitute songwriting teacher for Think 360 arts, and as a Lyft driver — all while recording and touring.

Ruggles was riding the poverty line and struggling to make ends meet.

“I remember that one time I went in to get food stamps and was worried that I made too much money,” she recalls. “The woman asked me how many hours a week I thought I was working, because most people are saying like twenty to thirty, and here I am working sixty-plus hours per week. This woman, who was so sweet, looked at me and said, ‘Oh, honey, this is just temporary. I just have a feeling that the music you make is good, and this will just be a temporary thing for you that you have to get through.’”

But the blows kept coming for Ruggles. When it wasn’t a financial issue distracting her from her songwriting, she found herself dealing with personal and emotional issues.

“Throughout one whole year, I was breaking up with my longtime partner and moving into a new place and then looking at moving to Denver from Boulder,” Ruggles says. “Then there came a time when I realized I hadn’t written a song in six months.”
And although much of what she went through that year ultimately inspired some of the tracks on Cynics & Saints, at the time she’d begun to doubt herself and what she was trying to accomplish.

“I’ve learned that it’s about figuring out how to put all these jobs together that are going to make your living while you build this other thing that also ideally requires all of your attention all of the time,” Ruggles says. “I think when you start out, you want to believe that you’re going to be the one that breaks the odds and that [your album] is going to be so huge and awesome, and then you come to terms with the fact that you’re making a really illogical financial and potentially disastrous decision, and that you’re going to do that fully.”

For Ruggles, part of coming to terms with her decision meant realizing that she was hardly on this “potentially disastrous” path alone. When she was in between living spaces post-breakup, Vidaic offered his basement. When her car continued to break down, Yach appeared at her place, ready to replace whatever engine part she needed. Through a Kickstarter campaign, she raised almost $9,000 to help pay for recording costs.

“I’m not doing this alone, and I realize how impossible that would be,” Ruggles says. “I often have this moment of intense gratitude for really amazing fans who have stepped up in really cool ways. People have sent me tax returns with notes that say, ‘I believe.’ Things like that really spoke to me on a really down day, and then I didn’t want to quit anymore.”

But the frustration lingered amid the inspiration. Ruggles remembers hitting a breaking point during the recording process. The meltdown led to “2500 Years,” the only song written entirely in the studio.

“I had a moment when we were in the studio and writing all the strings parts for ‘The Secret Ingredient’ and ‘Fighting Time,’ and it felt like all my creative energy was being taken from that,” Ruggles says. “I took a bathroom break and ended up thinking about why I hadn’t written in so long. I wondered if I was afraid of being too Ani DiFranco, too political message-y, because nothing was coming out and I wanted to say something important. Then a song came into my head, and I walked out of the bathroom singing it. I knew that one had to be on the album.”

That song and the album are finally here, four years and countless tours later. Cynics & Saints is an album of both heartbreak and love.

Whether Ruggles is singing about falling for a guy or trying to prop up a failing relationship, every note is sung with the same sincerity and determination. She’s a romantic at heart, her songs filled with beauty. Naiveté would also come to mind, if it weren’t for the pounding percussion and vocal howls of “Fighting Time.” The line “It’s too late to ask what for/Sink in your teeth” is a melodic reminder of all the blood, sweat and tears that go into a creative endeavor.

“When we recorded that song, Mike asked me if I was ready to bleed for [it], but we didn’t really think it would happen,” Ruggles says. “In the last take of some of the percussion, though, we all basically cut ourselves open on some of the things we were banging on. You can see me with a knuckle busted open, and Mike cut his wrist on the washtub he was banging on.” 

Lara Ruggles album-release show
8 p.m. Friday, October 16, Walnut Room, $12-$15, 303-295-1868

And below, check out the premiere of the "Fighting Time" music video. 

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Lauren Archuletta is a contributor for Westword's arts section, covering Denver's health and wellness scene. Follow her work for tips on cheap workouts and which yoga classes include mimosas and beer.
Isa Jones is an editor in Jackson Hole; her writing has appeared all over the Internet and occasionally in print.
Contact: Isa Jones