Ruth B’s breakthrough this year with her debut single “Lost Boy” gives hope to every young singer/songwriter making music in the basement and posting homemade videos in the hopes of gaining a fan base. Written in January 2015, the simple, unadorned piano & vocal track became a hit first on Vine before exploding on YouTube, where her initial clip garnered over 9 million views and her recently released “official video” has over 10 million and counting. The certified gold-selling single hit the Top 10 on the iTunes singles chart and recently cracked the Top 25 on the Billboard Hot 100. The Edmonton, Alberta native signed a deal last year with Columbia Records, which released her debut The Intro EP last November.
The fairy tale-like quality of Ruth’s quick and unexpected success perfectly parallels the source of the song’s inspiration. Ruth had taken piano lessons for five years starting when she was eight, and says she always used music as “my solace whenever I was feeling lost or inspired, or bubbling over and needed to express myself.” The 21-year-old artist started using the Vine platform right out of high school, sharing six second clips of cover songs which helped her build a small but loyal following. The loop of her singing the chorus to Drake’s “Hold On We’re Going Home” was especially popular.
The idea for “Lost Boy” came to her after a friend suggested she catch up on ABC’s fairy tale-themed show Once Upon A Time on Netflix. After binge watching Season 3, which features Peter Pan as a lead character and takes place in Neverland, she found herself in what she calls a “Peter Pan headspace.” She sat down at her keyboard and wrote what became the first line in the chorus: “I am a lost boy from Neverland.” Though hesitant at first, she eventually posted a snippet and she got a quick 84,000 likes. Obliging her fans’ desire to hear more, Ruth, who was attending college at the time, built the song piece by piece—and she soon realized she was a bona fide songwriter.
“Every day for a week, I would come home from school and work on the next line of the chorus, and after a week I had the whole chorus done,” she says. “I knew I couldn’t just leave it as a chorus, so I decided to develop it. I wrote the full song in only 15 minutes, super fast. It was literally like a dam had burst. I grew up reading and writing short stories and poems and always loved music, but for some reason, those things hadn’t come together before. It took me a while to realize that this is what I was most passionate about. It happened organically, and judging from the amazing reaction when I posted me playing it on YouTube and since then, it works.
Here’s the video of Ruth B’s hit single “Lost Boy.”
As for the way she developed the song lyrically, Ruth adds, “I wasn’t sitting at the keyboard saying, ‘I need to write a song.’ I just thought about how I would feel if I were a lost boy hanging out in Neverland with Peter Pan. Who would I want to hang out with? It was just me making stuff up for fun and writing about belief and pixie dust. I wanted to make it as honest and relatable as possible. I wrote it from an honest place. I think it’s caught on because everyone can tap into its theme of being lonely and in need of a friend. It’s those emotions but it’s more than that, it’s finding something or someone that makes you feel at home. I think people are responding to its simplicity. The song leaves itself open to people’s own interpretation. It seems everyone has a different opinion on what it is really about. To me, it’s more than a song. It’s a story with characters, a plot and a narrative reflecting the vision I had in my head.”
Since writing and recording “Lost Boy,” songwriting has become the biggest part of Ruth’s life. The Intro EP has three other piano and vocal tracks that reflect insight and maturity. “Golden” is a gratitude-driven confessional, while “Superficial Love” is an uptempo ballad about her desire for a rooted relationship that’s the real deal, and more than first meets the eye. Inspired by a ride on public transportation, “2 Poor Kids” shows the singer’s depth as a storyteller, painting a heartfelt picture of a couple who are happy with life’s simple pleasures, regardless of the world’s definition of what wealth is.
“Every time I leave my room, I feel like there’s the potential to run into a song idea or a full song itself,” Ruth says. “It could come from something as simple as the look on someone’s face, or simply the emotion of what I am feeling on a particular day. Songs come in different ways. I can write one in five minutes, or I may write a verse and leave it for a week before the next lines come to me. It’s kind of an abstract art. But the center of everything is honesty. Songwriting is like the extension of a personal diary for me. I love writing melodies, but lyrics will always come first. More than anything, I want to say something that matters and that makes people feel something.”
Here’s the video of Ruth B performing her song, “Superficial Love.”
In many ways, Ruth, who is currently working on a full-length album, is still developing her skills as a songwriter. Yet her experiences over the past year and a half have given her wisdom she is happy to impart to young, aspiring songwriters who long for the good fortune that a single song can bring. “My number one bit of advice would be to stick with what you’re passionate about, even if right now you’re frustrated writing songs because there’s nobody around you can share them with,” she says. “That will come in time. Whether you’re making music in your bedroom or basement, or performing on big stages, do it because you love it first. For me, there’s nothing cooler than sitting in my basement with a piece of paper in front of me, starting a new song. There are so many great possibilities to explore, and that moment is where everything magical begins.”
Jonathan Widran is a free-lance music/entertainment journalist who contributes regularly to Music Connection, Jazziz and All Music Guide. He can be reached at [email protected]. He is also on Google+