We chat with New York-based artist Andrew Ruoti, whose new release Odyssey emphasizes stirring songwriting and enriching concepts.
Your new 5-track album, Odyssey, releases alongside five original paintings by Shelly Luan and digital art editor William S. Pierce. What inspired you to visually express the album’s concept in such a way?
Great question! Overall, I was just inspired to put this concept album together. So much has gone on in the world these past few years and in my personal life and it felt like I had been on this long journey. The whole concept came to me during the shutdown in 2020. I wanted to tell a story of a journey through these challenging times and not only that, but the strength that comes with it. The meaning may be different for everyone. For me the main theme is rising from a dark place, the tribulations of life and transcending them and coming out the other side with a type of spiritual resiliency.
The paintings came up in my mind early on to help give the overall flavor and feel of what the journey represented. Another dimension of storytelling. Two words came to my mind for me in the early stages of conceiving the concept for the album, diversity and resiliency. So I wanted to find an artist who could express those concepts visually. I looked up a few local visual artists that inspired me and just literally reached out directly to artist Shelly Luan. We had a couple of phone conversations and Zoom meetings and Shelly really got the whole Odyssey concept. She is such a versatile artist with so many different facets, which I felt was needed on the project. We started to talk about portrait designs, but mainly what stuck out for me was the different themed landscapes that matched each song. The song 1 painting is called Digital Pollution. The song and painting illustrate a type of dream premonition of a possible apocalyptic future. Pretty much let’s get on the right track with regard to taking care of one another and our planet or we’ll end up here.
Song 2 features an urban landscape and the painting it is called Urban Roots. All about renewal, diversity, gratitude and the vibrancy of the city. The Tribals and Tribulations painting includes a rural landscape paying homage to Mother Nature. Deconstruct is very a Matrix-esque inspired type backdrop. We used visuals of songs 3 and 4 to create a double painting for the album cover. Song 5, Odivisha, painting is like a pure land or heaven environment titled The Lady in the Red Dress. So much fun seeing it all come to life, the visuals with the music. Great collaboration!
Bill came in at the 11th hour and brought his talents and sensibility to a few of the paintings and sharpened some of the ideas up. It’s always good to have another eye come in and sort things out with a fresh perception, especially on a longer and grander type project like this. I was grateful for his contributions!
I love that the music and art definitely paint an overall picture, but the story remains ambiguous enough and open to a degree, for the listener to experience their own journey. Music is subjective and that is the beautiful thing about it.
You have described the release as not only about your own personal journey, but also about “the journey of the collective.” In such a tumultuous time, where people seem so separated, what’s the primary message you would like listeners to take away from Odyssey?
Exactly, at the end of 2019 I shared with a friend that I felt the world was spinning so fast it was headed off its axis. How disconnected we’ve become overall and how reliant we are to our electronic devices….what we do to one another and our environment was leading to something unpredictable and dangerous. This was the impetus for writing Odyssey. The main thing is that listeners connect to the music in however it resonates with them. Music is a universal language in a sense, so if it helps any listener access any emotional experience, feel inspired, know that they are not alone in some of the more darker times in this world, then it is all worth it. The album starts in a dark place and there is a turning point in Special Day, a sort of epiphany while maintaining a playful innocence. Again, highlighting diversity and feelings of gratitude were at the forefront of Special Day. Hopefully it’s uplifting, especially after the ominous overture, State of the World.
To me music is healing so if it gets you into that healing frequency that’s the ticket. One of my favorites, Tribals and Tribulations does that for me, it transports me and is like a celebration of resiliency. The song is also about compassion and empathy, not turning our backs on one another, taking care of one another, taking care of our friends in the animal realm, our beautiful oceans, celebrating Mother Nature. The album is all about the journey home, the connection to the untapped reservoir of inner peace that we all have in our own heart.
But maybe others have another song on the album that resonates with them and relates to their own life. In that way the listeners can experience their own story or meaningful takeaways.
From 1998 to 2005 you played with your father (and lead guitarist) Dan Ruoti Sr., and his previous band Aisle Nine. How did that experience help you craft your own solo music later on?
Aisle Nine was a lot of fun and playing in the band with my father was a unique and special experience that I will always be grateful for. Lots of special memories and shows. Previously I was playing bass in a thrash metal band and Aisle Nine was the first band I played in where I was writing the bulk of the material. For the most part I would bring the lyrics and music to the table and then sort out some of the fine details with the band members who would bring their own talents. I was exploring with different genres and different ideas and I was definitely influenced by the grunge era of the time. Our 7 year run offered a lot of experiences of being in a band on and off stage…what it takes to build a following, gig out, network and get the whole thing moving in a successful direction. Although it seemed as if we came close at times, we were never signed to any label, but I still feel there were a lot of special accomplishments and positive takeaways. It helped me become more versatile as a writer and performer…rocking out alongside my father, opening for the band Evanescence at a historic venue in the Chance Theatre, and then playing a family summer fair with my father the next week, getting the crowd warmed up for acts like Little Sammy Davis. It really brought out our diversity and versatility.
Do you have a specific process or ritual when creating new music?
I really just need to be inspired by something, an idea, a story, an experience and the rest all just flows easily. Some songs I wrote in the past “Standing in the Doorway” and “Find Me in July” have come quickly in the span of about 45 minutes (lyrics and music). Others, including the songs “Extra Ordinary” and one of the new ones “Deconstruct”, took about 10 years for it to all come together as songs I wanted to share and stories I wanted to tell. The song “Tribals and Tribulations” just started out as this melodic riff I was humming all around the house, all the time during the pandemic and it became the backdrop and glue of the Odyssey story.
Of course, collaborating with 2 time Emmy Award winner Uly Millan was an amazing experience on this album. Taking the songs, highlighting the essence of what they were and just being very authentic with each song. He had me going places vocally I’d never gone before. “Deconstruct” had many different elements to it and Uly was able to really guide it to where it needed to be and honor what I had truly intended for the song. It’s a high-octane, adventure, sci-fi love story about letting go of what doesn’t work and reconstructing and manifesting the life you want. To me that song is the pinnacle of the album.
Any favorite artists or albums you’re listening to at the moment?
I’m actually listening to a lot of instrumental music and movie scores at the moment. Of course, more traditional artists and bands get sprinkled in here and there (mostly classic soul and R&B artists right now), but for the most part I have been listening to modern day orchestral composers. I feel like we have these current day musical national treasures present in our world right now. Musical visionaries of this generation reminiscent of the classical composers of the 16-1800s, and we are so fortunate to have them… composers like Hans Zimmer, Hildur Guðnadóttir, Tatiana Lisovskaya, Rupert Gregson-Williams, James Horner to name a few.
I found the album by Shaman’s Dream/Rari Avis called Kerala’s Dream and have been listening to that. It is an epic journey and very inspiring. Each song flows into one another and it just takes you to different places emotionally and spiritually. Oh man it’s a journey. I love playing the bass and guitar, but I would say my main instrument is my voice. It’s albums like Kerala’s Dream that inspire my musical and vocal ideas.
And I also keep finding myself going back to the various music written by the musical composers, Kyle Dixon and Michael Stein on Stranger Things. That type of music is really authentic to me, it makes you feel something and doesn’t just spit out a formula to sell records, but rather to tell an emotional story. It’s all heart. I think that’s why the show has done so well too.
If you could collaborate with any artist, alive or dead, who would it be?
Some of my favorites include Bob Marley, Jimi Hendrix, Rage Against the Machine, The Police, Michael Jackson, Metallica and of course the classical artists like Bach and Beethoven, although I’m not sure what my role in the collaboration would be other than shining their shoes.
What do you find is the most satisfying part of being an artist?
Connecting with the listener and seeing or hearing them take away some meaning from it, whatever that may be. Striking a chord in the listener and taking them on a journey and especially offering a source of happiness, enjoyment or emotional release. During these challenging times nothing beats that, offering a sort of musical refuge for folks.
What is the biggest challenge you find in today’s music industry?
Just getting the word out there and the Odyssey story heard. There is so much music out there and so much hidden talent. It is really getting heard by the right audience and taking what is in your heart and soul and making connections with others. If I could do that for a living what could be better? For me it’s easy to write a hook, but staying true to what you love is essential for me. And of course, there is a balance with making your creative expression something others can connect to, digest and appreciate. You don’t want to go too far off the beaten path and just play for yourself.
Teaming up with my producer Uly has been amazing. He believes in my music and really got the concept of Odyssey and where I was going with it. He is also a mentor and I’m currently building a music studio as a producer under his guidance. I’m grateful and I think it will both fulfill my childhood dream of writing orchestral scores for film as well as make me more versatile as a songwriter/producer in the music industry. Uly has every studio session working from a heart space with uncanny vision, direction and spontaneity, which added a deep level of emotion and authenticity to Odyssey.
Of course, James Moore and his book Your Band is a Virus has reignited the original passion I had in my early 20s (many moons ago lol) with getting authentic music out there that people can connect with.
What’s upcoming for the project?
We just finished a successful CD pre-sale and album listening party at Class Act Tattoo in Middletown, NY. It was our way of celebrating art and music in the community and getting the word out on Odyssey locally. Lots more press and showcasing for the album on the way, and it has been a lot of fun telling the Odyssey story. Some live shows (in-person and virtual). We have an old school type CD release party planned, which is sort of a combination of my original music and my old cover band Radio Pirates. So that project is called Andrew Ruoti and the Radio Pirates Revival. Very talented musicians in that band and the guys are supportive of my Odyssey album stuff. We are playing quite a few of my originals (old and new) for the Odyssey CD release party in August. We will be playing alongside my father and brother’s band BoneTomahwak. Purchasing the physical copies of the CD is the only way to get the 5 paintings by Shelly and Bill. The CDs will be available at our show at the Switch Inn on August 5th in Middletown, NY.
If schedules would allow, I would love to do some live performances with Uly on lead guitar/keyboards and Gregg Sulzer, the studio drummer on the album. We have great chemistry as the Odyssey trio. Time presents its constraints, as I’m a full-time music teacher, as well as take care and foster rescue cats in my spare time, but music is life and when something is your true passion you make it all happen!