This is the story of Philadelphia band Ruby Keeler, perhaps the last great undiscovered band of the late 90's. 3rd Outing discovers the story of what could have been...
When you first listen to Dotti Hoffman on the second Ruby Keeler record They'll Build a Neighborhood Where Your City Stood, two things should instantly come to mind. First, there's a certain Pavement felling here. Second, it screams Indie Rock and Roll at its best (two elements we pine for here at 3rd Outing, but we shall not not dwell upon that)! Here's the story...
It's late 2000. One year before The Strokes roll up and bring guitar groups "back" to the forefront of music. Ruby Keeler have already released a début record Shiver Shiver, and have gained the attention of the local newspapers. They're a good Rock band, and their first LP is more than a decent first effort. Is it outstanding? No. Is it very, very promising? Yes. The perfect blend of Punk, Grunge and Indie Rock elements. Ruby Keeler are going to get bigger.
"The Philly Weekly was especially good to us. Their best writer gave our first record an over-the-top review that really helped."
Soon after Ruby Keeler started working on the follow-up record, returning more confident, ready to show the world who they (really) are. But the second outing never released. A disagreement about who they were going to record with ensued and it signaled the end. That's until now. Jagged Skyline, a record label based in East Midlands, have just released a collection of songs and demos from that time, a collection which shows just how good Ruby Keeler could have been.
They'll Build a Neighborhood Where Your City Stood is a proudly imperfect album which remains flawless. It sounds madder, weirder and a whole lot bolder than their first record. They clearly upped their game, and made the progression needed in that all important second release. It portrays a band too lazy to Rock, fluttering with resigned melodies, sending out a laid back message with a certain coolness attached to it. The kind of attitude lacking from too many bands.
"There are a lot of terrible bands, but there are also lots of great bands not many people have heard of."
Now, here's the question which unfortunately cannot be answered: could this record have been the one that would have changed everything for the band? The one which would have helped the band gain a wider audience? Maybe. We can't answer that. But Jeremy from Ruby Keeler has kindly answered some questions which might help shine a light on the matter. Here's the interview...
Do you think that if They'll Build a Neighborhood Where Your City Stood came out in 2000, the band would have gained wider success? // Who can say? I think what really would have tipped the scales was not one record, but instead if there'd been a local label or some other para-musical institution (like a super good zine) which would have acted like a center of gravity for all the disparate bands, the way Merge did in North Carolina. When I lived in the UK I used to buy Sounds, NME, and Melody Maker every week and it was intense how complete a view you could get of the entire UK just from reading those but it seemed like they reviewed every gig and said nothing of the records.
Did you get any recognition from your first releases?
Sure, print medias, especially the local free weeklies. They were a big thing and we would usually get some kind of a write up in places when we were on tour. The Philly Weekly was especially good to us. Their best writer gave our first record an over-the-top review that really helped.
Jeremy, we'd like to know. How come you're not more famous? I mean, your music is fantastic. So what happened? // Well, thanks, but I don't know. You know, there are a lot of terrible bands, but there are also lots of great bands not many people have heard of.
Why did They'll Build a Neighborhood Where Your City Stood never come out? // We had a disagreement about who we were going to get to record it. The first two songs were a 7" we put out, but the rest are demos we did on the fly.
This performance on Chic-A-Go-Go is pretty funny. Do you remember it well? // For sure, Chic-A-Go-Go is a great institution. One thing you don't see on that clip is that the show is co-hosted by a rat puppet named Ratso! They did a whole episode of the show that was a spoof of Behind the Music telling Ratso's story; when Ratso bottoms out it's because he talked his friend, a French frog puppet, to sell his legs to a restaurant so they can go buy ice cream.
When Chic-A-Go-Go came through Philly a few years later I got to do the camera when Ratso interviewed Art Brut and Gil Mantero's Party Dream at their show at the First Unitarian Church. Both bands were total naturals being interviewed by a rat puppet, by the way, which was really impressive. And Gil Mantera's Party Dream were eating crappy gas station hoagies throughout their set. That was very memorable.