From the outside, Ruby May is the epitome of success in her chosen fields, songwriter, performer, artist manager and promoter. Scratch the surface a little and you find that, as a person who has experienced significant trauma and the mental health issues that go along with those, May defines success differently to many of us.
“In the last few years, my life has seen really dramatic change,” she explains. “I don’t compare myself to other people now. I’m learning that even to be able to breathe is a miracle in itself.”
That’s May in recovery mode, speaking about the road to healing in her mid-20s. Ask about her past and it’s a different story. Speaking of the moments before her life was ripped apart in her mid-teens, she reflects, “It's a funny thing to feel safe, it's something I never knew I took for granted until it happened.”
At 16, May was a self-described “every day middle class white girl from a first world country.” In a single afternoon, one man stole her carefree nature from her. Since that day, life has been about survival for May, and about learning how to live again. Survivors of post-traumatic stress disorder know all too well how real this struggle to survive is. Many don’t survive and for many more it’s difficult to find a way to recover.
So, how does this impact Ruby May the artist?
“Imagine that your life is a giant sculpture and that it takes you years and years and years to chip away at it. Each tiny thing that I’m doing is chipping away at a grain of you and a grain of me. It’s an ongoing and always task, and as an artist, I want to be using the things that I’ve gone through to bring light. I like to bring light to people’s lives and I like to see them dance and to see them feeling good through the sharing of that energy. That make me feel good, too.
“As long as I’ve touched just one person in the crowd, I feel as if I’ve done my job right. Reaching that one person might be setting the bar too low, but you never know what that one person might be going through, or how much that might mean to that person.”
Ruby May the artist shares her life and experiences through her lyrics. The upbeat electronica that she’s producing right now has a strong undertow. Take current track, Real Monsters, for example. The driving beats and trippy synth that hold up the dreamy vocals almost hide the venom of the words: ‘Did you know / There’s people hiding the streets / Because of people just like you / Causing the world grief’.
People respond to what May the artist is putting out there. “I’ve just found that time after time when I sing my songs, I have people coming up to me saying, hey I listened to those lyrics and they’re my experiences, too.” And that encourages Ruby May the person, “So I’m prepared to open up quite a bit.”
It’s hard not to think that audience reaction is a big part of the integration of Ruby May the artist with Ruby May the person. The flow of energy from artist to audience to person is part of her healing.
And then there’s dance.
“Movement is a really big part of my healing process. A big part of my performance is to challenge people to get into the flow and to learn to let go. When you open up in this way, people are really receptive about it and it’s like, hang on, this is happening to this person, too. This happens to me as well and, if she can do it, then so can we.”
Which brings us to May’s upcoming event, Mind Funk, which is a celebration of Mental Health Week 2017.
“You know, having heard my story, how important it is for myself, and for people, to feel safe, and feel like they’re in a safe space.
“Mind Funk is about creating the flow of energy between the bands and the audience and the unity that comes from that. The whole purpose of the night is to challenge people to get into the flow as part of learning to let go. When you open up in this way, people are really receptive to it and they’re like hang on, this happens to this girl, this happens to me as well. And, if she can do it, then we can too.
“It’s important for me, for myself, and for people, to feel safe, and feel like they’re in a safe space. I want people to be able to let go of everything at the door and get to just dance and be and exist. I have learnt that deliberate distraction by way of spontaneous movement will arrest the flow of negative energy — dancing is in fact doing this. Simply moving your body into a new state of mind.
“The bands and the people that are playing at Mind Funk were picked for specific reasons. They are all in some way connected to something mental health related, or they want to be helping out in some way and they’re all very much on that wavelength of keeping it a very safe, beautiful space for everyone.”
How could anyone resist an invitation like that? Step into the funk!
Mind Funk - Celebrating Mental Health Week 2017 is on October 13 at Testsuo and features Ruby May, Shy Panther, Wiluś Bixler, Wooly Mammoth, Del Boca Vista Social Music Club, Scatterpillar, Kopano, Baby Kool and Father Figures.
Entry is only $10, with part proceeds are going to the JOC Wellness & Recovery
Photo credit Bee Rizzi
If you or anyone you know is in crisis and needs help you can call lifeline on 13 11 14.