Bex Chilcott, who performs under the name Ruby Boots, feels like writing songs was something that was given to her. She’d left a troubled home in Perth, Australia, at age fourteen, and about eight years later, she learned how to play guitar while working on a pearl farm and living on a houseboat in the middle of the Indian Ocean.
“You literally you have to catch a seaplane out to the houseboat, which is a 45-minute seaplane ride," she says. "So it’s in the middle of the ocean. I’m not even exaggerating. It’s not something where you can get in the boat and go to shore every night."
A friend of Chilcott’s was on the houseboat as well, and he’d play guitar while she sang. After some encouragement from her friend, Chilcott started to learn guitar, playing along to some of her favorite records, like the first three albums by the Australian band The Waifs.
“All of a sudden I found a way that I could express myself that I hadn’t been able to do before,” Chilcott says. “It was just hook, line and sinker. It was like, ‘Oh, shit, this is something I can do. This is something that I have all to myself that I get to kind of be in my world and not have to be present and look internally for some kind of light. And that was really rewarding.'"
Chilcott says her early songs were written about her intense raw emotions, tapping into the pain, heartache and loneliness she’d endured as a teenager.
“I had felt a lot of things early on as a young person,” she says. “I feel like I never had a grounds to express myself and be able to find a place of catharsis in life. And working out at sea and finding this creative outlet was the thing that allowed me to at least start processing all of that.”
Over the past fifteen years that she’s been writing and singing primarily Americana and country songs, Chilcott has busked around Europe and the U.K., going back to Perth before finally landing in Nashville, where she’s lived for the past two years. Chilcott says her songwriting style has changed over that time.
“You do get to process a lot of the pain through your art,” she says. “As a result of all that early kind of intense pain, you hopefully become some kind of empathetic and compassionate human that can see the world through a broader view and really understand different people’s way of life and how they feel because you’ve been through a bunch of stuff yourself.”
Take “I Am a Woman” from her new album, Don’t Talk About It, which was released in February on Bloodshot Records, for example.
“Not because I’m writing about my own experience, but because I’m writing about fucking everyone’s experience, and it causes a lot of pain, and it’s both an extremely painful song, and a sad song at the same time, and an extremely empowering and powerful song at the same time,” she says. “I wouldn’t shy away from writing about that place, because I think that drives a message that needs to be said.
"Probably about 30 percent of the time when I’m singing that song, I can’t finish a note because I just choke up, literally," she continues. "That has to happen. As an artist, I wouldn’t be doing my job if I ... felt that intensity about something and I didn’t write about it. My duty is to share that emotion because other people are feeling it on that level.”
Chilcott says that through the resilience and strength she’s built through her life, she'd shut the door on vulnerability.
“And I feel like on this record, I tried to unlock a door of vulnerability in some of the songs in me that I probably felt a lot of fear around and were quite challenging for me to now express,” Chilcott says. "‘Easy Way Out’ is about myself as a young girl, leaving my home town and just running away from shit for years. It’s about a character, because that’s not myself anymore.”
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While Chilcott is clearly comfortable in American and country settings, she has no problem injecting some energy into some of the cuts on Don’t Talk About It, particularly the album’s rocking opener, “It’s So Cruel,” that sounds like something Marc Bolan would have recorded had he grown up in the South.
Chilcott says her current tour with Low Cut Connie, which stops at Globe Hall on Thursday, November 8, and Friday, November 9, is her first rock-and-roll tour and quite different from her more intimate shows.
"It’s been really interesting to play for [a different] audience, because they’re just sparked up and ready and just very vocal," she says. "It feels really nice."