Grammy and Juno Nominee Deric Ruttan has accumulated quite a list of achievements both as a performing artist and as a songwriter. He’s one of a stellar roster of performers set to take over Markham Theatre for the Performing Arts on Monday, May 26, 2014 for the Second Annual CMAO Awards Show. The star studded event will celebrate the ever growing country music scene in Ontario. Ruttan is nominated for several awards including Single of the Year, Album of the Year, Songwriter of the Year, Male Artist of the Year, and record producer of the year. He opened up to us about the path to his success and how he maintains his creativity.
1. What country music influences did you have growing up in Ontario that inspired you to pursue music in the first place?
My parents record collection was really my first influence. Creedence Clearwater Revival, The Beatles, the Beach boys, the kinks, Johnny Cash, The Springfields. Growing up I got a hold of Gordon Lightfoot’s Sundown record, and knowing he grew up just down the road from me in Orillia was pretty cool. Also, in high school, a friend lent me Steve Earle’s Copperhead Road record, and that was it. That was the doorway through which I walked into country music.
2. What obstacles did you encounter that led you to choose to move to Nashville?
I didn’t really encounter any obstacles in Ontario. I just knew that the people who wrote most of the country songs I loved and was hearing on the radio were based in Nashville – and that almost all those songs were coming out of Nashville. It seemed to follow that I needed to be here. I wanted to learn from The people who were creating that music and knew that immersing myself in the culture was the way to do that.
3. Was there a Canadian contingency in Nashville that helped with your career development?
Not really…it seems to me there weren’t as many Canadians living here then as there are now. I did meet people after I moved here who happened to be Canadian, people like Tim Taylor and Duane Steele, who became my friends and co-writers.
4. You had persevered for several years before experiencing your first breakthrough. What allowed you to persist and what obstacles did you have to overcome?
It may sound trite, but I never really viewed failure as an option. I decided when I moved here that I would either make it, or years from now they would bury me here and I would’ve been another unsuccessful songwriter, but either way I wasn’t leaving. Plus, after a few years of being here I had a wife and family to support, and all joking aside, poverty is a wonderful motivator. All the obstacles I faced are obstacles all songwriters face in Nashville. The odds are so stacked against you, it’s staggering. I guess I did have the additional obstacle of not being an American citizen, so I couldn’t “legally” work anywhere to support myself while I was trying to make it. I had to be creative.
5. What are the challenges and benefits of juggling a career as an artist and as a songwriter who writes for others?
The only challenge really is time management. Learning to balance how much time to spend in each area. While there is overlap, they truly are two clear and separate careers as I view them. The benefits are that I get to do both things that I love for a living, and just the right amount of each. I also think being a performer makes me a better songwriter when I’m cowriting with another artist, because I understand what it’s like to stand on a stage and sing to a crowd — to have a specific message you want to relate to an audience in that live setting, that will also work at radio.
6. What advice would you give someone who has a Nashville dream of writing country hits? What first steps should they take?
Listen to commercial country radio. Study the hits. Try to emulate what you hear. Be honest about your work. With every song you write, try to get better. Make every line of lyric count. There’s no such thing as a throwaway line — they all serve a purpose. Also, If you want to write Nashville hits, you have to spend some time in Nashville. If you can’t or don’t want to move here, you need to spend a LOT of time here learning, crafting, and networking.
7. What do you usually bring with you in terms of equipment and ideas when you attend a co-writing session?
I always try to show up with at least two or three titles that I think are pretty good, or some melodic fragments that i like (I have a running list on my phone of probably over 50 titles at any one time). I like to have my laptop to write on, and an instrument – usually my acoustic guitar. In my office I have a guitar and mandolin and a banjo that I like to pick around on. I also would be a little out of sorts in a co-write if I didn’t have my iPhone with me, since that’s where I have melodic ideas and song titles stored.
8. As a professional songwriter, what disciplines or skills do you think are important to maintain your creativity? What works for me, and what I feel makes me more productive, is to have a regular place in which to be creative. For me, that’s my office – a dedicated space I have where I go to write songs. Also, having a regular time of day that you work is helpful. For me that’s about 10:30 or 11 in the morning. Also, to maintain creativity On a daily, monthly, and yearly basis, knowing when to stop is helpful. Taking a break after 4 or 5 or 6 hours of writing…getting away from it for a while, Then reconvening with yourself or with your cowriter and putting fresh eyes and ears on the song – that’s always a good idea, and helps you to not get burned out.
9. Congratulations on your recent Grammy nomination. How has the nomination changed or not changed your career?
Thank you! The daily goings on of my career remain the same. Artists who are looking to record songs don’t give a damn whether the writer has a Grammy nomination or not (It would be nice if they did!) In Nashville, at the end of the day, the best song wins, regardless of the songwriter’s various accolades. I think where the Grammy nomination is nice, is that it gives those who represent my catalog (my publisher), some ammo for building the “Deric Ruttan songwriter” brand. It’s a really nice feather in the cap.