The New York-based rock trio known as Ruth Ruth formed in the early 1990s, having evolved from the Mercury Records-signed band Janata. The group’s regular gigs at East Village venue The Continental helped bring a lot of attention, leading to a record deal under Rick Rubin’s American Recordings label. 1995’s Laughing Gallery was released on Ventrue/American, and Ruth Ruth went on to tour with Everclear, No Doubt, Sponge, and Spacehog. The next Ruth Ruth release was a single on Deep Elm Records, as followed by an EP on Epitaph Records in 1996. RCA signed the band after that, leading to 1998’s Are You My Friend? and a 2000 album under the name Ultra-V. None of these labels did what had been promised and Ruth Ruth went on hiatus not too long after Ultra-V’s Bring On The Fuego came out.
Although Ruth Ruth came back with a reunion album in 2004 titled Right About Now, and In Music We Trust released an archival Ruth Ruth live album in 2009, things were very quiet on the band from 2005 through 2015. However, vocalist/bassist Chris Kennedy and guitarist Mike Lustig properly revived Ruth Ruth earlier this year. Since adding drummer Johnny Powers, the group has played a number of high-profile gigs, including a June show with Eve 6 at The Gramercy Theater and a July performance alongside Hollywood Vampires at the new Coney Island Amphitheater.
Chris, Mike and Johnny caught up with Downtown to talk the past, present and future of Ruth Ruth. While Mike is hesitant to call this regrouping a “reunion,” it is clear that the guys have returned and are having fun. Mike had some excellent “last words” on top of that. To stay posted on upcoming Ruth Ruth shows and news, follow them on Facebook via @RuthRuthRockShow.
What prompted a Ruth Ruth reunion?
Chris Kennedy: It was basically Johnny’s passion for the music and Mike’s beautifully compassionate friendship that made it okay for me to play these songs again. It was because of love and friendship.
Mike Lustig: It really was Johnny. We’ve known him a long time and he pretty much forced us to start playing out again. He didn’t just want it to happen, he made it happen by asking us a million times until we said yes.
Johnny Powers: I was being a bit relentless with trying to pull something musically together as I have always wanted to play with Mike and Chris.
Do you view this as a reunion? Or does the band have long-term plans?
CK: The plan is to have fun. Whatever that entails.
ML: I wouldn’t call this a reunion, since our original drummer isn’t playing, and Chris and I are pretty much bonded musically for life. I think of this as another beginning.
How did the band wind up opening for Hollywood Vampires?
CK: We asked. You gotta keep asking, you never know.
JP: It was funny because that’s what Matt Sorum asked before we went on and Chris said we called and asked. Matt responded, “Hey good for you guys. You made the call.”
The band had a few label deals over the years. Do you look at one particular period as being the most exciting?
CK: Now is the most exciting for me, by far.
ML: The period before we ever got signed was the most exciting for me, because the future was wide open and we had a great band and great songs. But this period is the most fun, which beats out the most exciting by a mile. Really, things moved from exciting to fun the day we were dropped from RCA. It eliminated any kind of pressure, and allowed us to just do whatever we wanted without all the bullshit.
Is there anything that you’re nostalgic about when it comes to the 1990s?
CK: Yes, I had less fat and more energy in the 1990s. Now I feel my body put through the wringer from the rock [‘n’ roll].
JP: I played in another punk band in the 90s called Headwound, but seeing Ruth Ruth back then is definitely part of the nostalgia.
ML: The 90’s were the last great years for New York City. I miss those days in New York very much and feel virtually no connection to what it has become today. This isn’t just an old guy longing for his youth. New York was accessible to everyone back then, and now it really is home only to the very wealthy. That kills any artistic or creative scene, and virtually eliminates any offbeat small businesses. To me, New York is now basically a place with a lot of great restaurants. That’s the only good thing I can say about it.
Was there a New York venue that you looked at as being your home venue? Was it Brownies? The Continental?
CK: I guess Continental.
JP: I liked Coney Island [High] and The Continental.
ML: If we had to pick, it was The Continental for sure, but only because they booked us more than other clubs booked us. Our home was really all of the East Village clubs back then. Brownies, Continental, Mercury Lounge, CBGBs, Luna Lounge, Spiral, and a host of others.
Do you remember where Ruth Ruth’s first gig in Manhattan was?
ML: The first time we played in New York was when Chris and I played The Bitter End on Bleecker Street when we were 18. I look at certain shows as landmarks in our career, and playing New York for the first time was definitely one of them.
Word is that the band did not like being on Rick Rubin’s label. Had there been a lot of pressure to write a hit song? Or do things that didn’t come natural?
CK: Rick Rubin’s label fucked up a smash album delivered to them on a silver platter for the taking. All they had to do was wake up, but they couldn’t get their shit together. But I’m not bitter or anything like that.
ML: Aside from Chris’ answer about how that label ruined a perfect opportunity for us and for themselves because of infighting, we also hated the label because almost everyone we met there seemed like a genuinely-horrible person. I’m absolutely certain that their top job requirement when hiring new people was “Minimum 10 years experience being a complete asshole.”
Chris, how did you wind up having a song covered by Kid Rock?
CK: We tried to get Kid on our version of the song which was on the Ultra-V album. RCA didn’t want to pay for that, but apparently he liked the song enough that 13 years later he cut it.
Did you wind up co-writing for other artists or at least trying to in the past?
CK: I’ve tried without much luck.
Chris, you also wrote a book a few years ago. Where did the idea for that come from?
CK: I was searching for a lost Elvis film and on the way found a collection of amazing photographs from the 1950s. I thought they were important enough to rock ‘n’ roll history to do a book about the collection.
How exactly did Johnny come into Ruth Ruth fold?
CK: Long-time friend, and he’s nice to be around.
ML: We have known him since we were kids. He’s always been there, kind of like The Shining.
What’s ahead for Ruth Ruth? Are there any goals beyond doing some gigs and having some fun?
CK: Since we began doing this a few months ago, its amazing how many people we reconnected with who were fans from way back. The music is very important to them. That’s a mind-blower and so beautiful. So more gigs and fun sound OK.
ML: I can’t say there are goals, but if you want to phrase it as wishes, I hope that someday Chris is recognized more broadly as the great singer and songwriter that he is. I think he’s a genius, and I think too few people know it.
Seeing as the band is a part-time thing for you all, how do you tend to spend the rest of your time?
CK: I laugh with my kids and hug my wife a lot.
JP: I spend it with the love of my life, my daughter Brodie. Also get together with good friends and old bandmates at times. I surf when I can, too.
ML: Aside from answering interview questions? There’s barely time for anything else.
Finally, any last words for the kids?
CK: The answer and key to everything is compassion.
JP: Work hard, be polite, love a lot and don’t limit yourself.
ML: Don’t ever do business with Rick Rubin unless you are already a musical legend. Even then, you’ll have to stare at that stupid beard, so it’s best to just stay clear. Other advice not nearly as important: What makes you rich in life is experience. Travel, listen to music and read books, talk to people that are different from you, and collect experiences. They are the only things that you will keep with you for the rest of your life, aside from herpes.