Outspoken Linguists

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Ruby Ibarra Feels Like a True Artist with Beatrock Music and the Balikbayans

Interview by Andrea Miralles on Jan 29, 2019.

Ruby talks artistic inspiration and validation for her success, explains how Beatrock Music shaped her into the artist she is today, describes rounding together the Balikbayans, and mentions what’s to come.


What does it feel like to be on stage, write music, practice with your band, and see yourself blow up, recognizing that you inspire youth and stand as a role model to young Filipinas and people of color? It’s a trip, but at the same time, it’s so motivating and inspiring for me. I remember when I was first starting out, I thought, “This isn’t something that I could probably make into a career,” but now I do these shows, and I see the shift that's been occurring this past year where the first four or five rows of the show are completely women of color. That to me is my validation; that reminds me that I have to keep going and share my voice because it’s empowering women out there and I don't take that lightly at all. I welcome that responsibility. If these women feel like I'm representing them in any way, I'm very honored to take on that role. It’s been one hell of a year since the album dropped. The response that the songs have gotten. When people come up to me after the show and tell me they went through something similar—usually they're not even Filipino American, that also tells me that what I'm saying is of value because people can see parts of themselves in the music.

Performing with the band has been completely exciting, and has made me feel like I've grown into the artist that I wanted to become. For the first time in my life, I feel like a true artist, and being on stage with those talented musicians has been such a complete dream come true. It just makes me excited for what’s to come. I think I can speak for the band when I say that we’re just very excited for the next opportunities and the next gig. I just wanna continue working on my craft and I wanna improve and keep making music where people feel like they're represented.

How did you get together with the members of the band? A brief background of how the Balikbayans came about, last year, I knew that the one-year anniversary of the album was fast approaching. At that point, summer 2018, I had probably performed the album inside and out in so many shows that I wanted to do something new, to take the album and make it so that the audience felt like they were hearing something for the first time. I wanted to give them that moment. So, I thought doing it with a live band would be completely badass. I started thinking about who I would be able to potentially have on stage with me. When I started thinking of the different elements that I needed, I realized, “Oh shit I know musicians who could join me on stage.” For instance, Astrologic. I went to UC Davis with the vocalist in my band, Sherita, who’s part of Astrologic. Then my drummer Nico, he’s been a homie of mine. He has his own clothing line that I’ve been supporting for the past two years. And Ray, he’s been my DJ for several years now. These are all different people that came into my life at different times. I'm super blessed and super thankful that it all came together. I remember when we had our first meeting; it instantly felt like a family. It was just natural—the connection—and everybody was able to gel well together on and off stage. I’ve just been really lucky that these are all musicians who not only care about the music they make, but also have a like-minded approach when it comes to living out what they talk about in their music. They’re very much involved in their communities as well.

What drew you to Beatrock Music, what's it like working with the label, and what lessons have you learned? I've been sharing the same stages as a lot of Beatrock artists for several years now, even before I joined Beatrock. In 2011/2012, I was already getting booked on the same lineups as Blue Scholars or Bambu and Rocky. So, I would constantly see them at these events and naturally we became friends throughout the years. It wasn't until the end of 2015 where they finally approached me and they’re like, “What do you think about joining the Beatrock family/collective?” It was a no-brainer for me. I already knew them as people, and for years before that, I already admired them as artists. So, I thought that it’d be a perfect marriage for us to be able to work together, and it was a dream come true.

Working with them, especially being in the studio with Fat Gump—who’s the CEO of Beatrock and the sound engineer for a lot of the projects—working with him late into the night on Circa 91 helped me grow as an artist. It was because of this album that I realized what kind of artist I wanna be and what kind of sound I wanna make. It also helped flourish my work ethic. Seeing how Bambu works in the studio and Fat Gump’s dedication to the quality of music they put out, has inspired me and helped me grow and be more critical of my craft. Just being able to work with these very, very dope artists continually inspires me to wanna make good music. Obviously, as an artist on a roster as prolific as that, it makes me wanna step my game up.

Speaking on the timeline of things, did you already have the Balikbayans before Beatrock approached you? The idea for the band was really a one-time anniversary show, which I was planning the summer of last year, but, after we did that show in SF there was no way that we could just end it that way. After that SF show the sax player in my bad, Rocky, text me and said, “We’re still gunna play together right?” I was like, “Yeah of course we are.” Having so much fun from that anniversary show and the rehearsals, there was no way we could do just a one-time thing. I definitely see us continuing to do shows together. We’re actually thinking about creating an original song with the Balikbayans, so that’s in the pipeline. It should be fun.

How do you stay humble and ground yourself in light of fame and the come up? I can answer that question once I get the fame LOL. I don’t know the answer to that yet. Hit me up next year. I’ve had that question a couple times this year. First, I don't think that I’ve reached the level that I wanna reach yet as an artist—not talking about success or accolades, but the level of skill that I want to attain. Since I don't feel like I've reached a certain point yet in my career, there's no reason why I should not be humble. Second of all, it’s just knowing that none of this attention on the album or whatever music video I come out with is permanent. At the end of the day, I just want to create good music, and if people somehow relate to it, that’s the cherry on top for me.

I’m curious, what does that level as an artist look like for you? A grammy! I guess that’s the physical accomplishment for me. When it comes to what I’d define as success in my career, I don’t know if artists ever feel like they reached that point where, “this is me at my prime.” I would hope not. I don't feel like I'm even close to that point. I feel like there are more things I can improve on, so many more things I wanna grow on, so much more that I wanna do musically. Even in my shows—I feel like I can improve my show much more, on a bigger scale. I feel like I'm still on an upwards trajectory in building my career.

When speaking about success, I would find success when I know for sure that I’m out there inspiring people through my lyrics. I told this to people a couple times, that I think I would feel accomplished as an artist if I can make someone feel the same way Lauryn Hill made me feel growing up. Even just 1% of that, where I felt like her music was the soundtrack to my life. If I can do that to one person, then that’s success to me.

What does the future look like for you? It’s open. Christina my manager can definitely confirm this, where sometimes I throw crazy ideas out in the middle of the night. I’m like, “Hey what do you think if I did this” or “Do you think this is possible for me to do?” Right now, I'm at a point in my career where I think there’s a lot of options in the direction I can take, and there are so many things on my to-do list, so that’s very exciting for me. In the very near future, what’s next for me is another full length album, which I want to release before the end of the year. I also want to write a book and definitely come out with more music videos. I wish there were more hours in a day. Time is my biggest challenge.

Ruby Ibarra Gives Voice to the Voiceless