Nuha Ruby Ra: “These songs saved my life in many, many ways”

Each week in First On, we introduce a shit-hot artist you’d have no doubt seen opening the bill for your favourite act. This week, the art-punk’s debut EP sees her delving deep into her own truth in order to find a way out of the darkness

Nuha Ruby Ra’s debut EP, ‘How To Move’ was written out of necessity. During a period of personal strife for the London-based artist a couple of years ago, she forged songs out of destructive forces that ultimately offered her a route out of the darkness.

“I went through a really tough time, I was pretty depressed before I wrote the record,” she tells NME. “I had some pretty big changes in my life… it just wasn’t a good time. It felt like I was at the end of my life, in a lot of ways. I somehow found a way to move forward, and it was to literally start writing some of these songs. They saved me in many, many ways and I’m really grateful for them.”

The songs, which are collected on the ‘How to Move’ EP, out on March 5 on Brace Yourself Records, do reflect their creator’s state of mind at the time, but no more than they reflect her effortless cool and sense of mischief too. The dense, echoey Birthday Party-esque melange of post-punk instrumentation and Ra’s untouchably aloof vocals make for an irresistibly alluring combination, while Erin Tonkon’s production [David Bowie, Pixx] ensures that the atmosphere is thick as molasses.

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‘Cruel’ and ‘Erase Me’ represent Ra’s reality at the time as plainly as they can. “It’s 100% me,” she says, when asked whether there was a difference between herself and the character she plays in these songs. “It was the most honest I could have possibly been, they’re all confessional songs. It is scarily the most honest that I have been.”

“I’m not someone that is generally very good about speaking about what’s going through my mind and thoughts and feelings, so that was pretty terrifying to write those songs. It’s been a help, it helps to talk. When you get something off your chest, afterwards you find it a lot easier to talk about it again to someone. That first hurdle is the hardest and then it gets easier.”

This may be Ra’s first major solo release, but her life has revolved around art and music for some time. Born in Bedford, she spent much of her childhood living with her mother in Cairo before settling in London as a teenager. An introverted youngster, she eventually found her tribe in the art block at school and developed a passion in particular for sound art, something she would go on to study at the John Cass School of Art and Design in London.

Nuha Ruby Ra
Credit: Maxime Imbert

“I was mostly obsessed with breaking out and freedom,” she says. “I was a sound artist before I went into music in any way.” Her first steps as a musician came when she started to play with bands while at college. “It was quite an awkward fit for a long time,” she says. “Being in a world of musicians felt very alien to me. We just spoke different languages, I felt, when I was in a room with musicians. But I started to believe in the methods I was using – everyone has their own ways of working. Some people are a lot more open to experimentation than others, shall we say. It’s about finding your right tribe of people, regardless of if they’ve been playing guitar since they were three years old or if they started making abstract dada cut-up music for the first time when they were 25.”

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Clearly, Ra was the latter. Her first break came when she became the bassist for the band Arrows of Love alongside her friend Nima Teranchi. Playing regularly with them allowed Ra to develop her inner performer, something that art school had opened her mind to. “I discovered the joy of using your body to express yourself – oh, it’s so good! It’s truly one of the best things, it’s very, very freeing. Rather than performing for other people, it is more about finding a personal joy and using your body as a way of release and expression.”

Bitten by the performance bug and inspired by songwriting sessions with the band, Ra knew that the creative freedom of life as a solo artist was her calling. That it allowed her to channel the negative energies in her life at the time into a creative positive was an added bonus. Her breakout single ‘Sparky’, however, has its roots in an altogether different state of mind.

“I was sitting with my laptop in bed after having a day of ‘everything sucks’ and I made the beginning of ‘Sparky’ purely so I could have a nice time. It was absolutely not supposed to be a part of the EP at all. It was where I put away the feelings of being wounded by the world and instead I’m going to have some fucking fun.”

That song is her most direct and accessible work to date, elevating her to national radio playlists and her widest audience so far. Having shared stages with Fat White Family, Bo Ningen and Snapped Ankles and having been named the winner of the 2020 Green Man Rising competition too, Nuha Ruby Ra is reaping the success that she deserves. And it is all thanks to her discovery that even in life’s darkest moments, embracing your creativity can provide the escape you need.

Nuha Ruby Ra’s new EP is out March 5 on Brace Yourself Records

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