Who Are…Ruby Pins

Tobi Vail

By Tobi Vail

on 08.20.13 in Who Is...?s

File under: Dreamy and infectious, fiercely independent angry femme-core; experimental art-pop that's anxious and danceable

For fans of: Wire, The Raincoats, The Clean, The Plastic Ono Band, Mary Timony, U.S. Girls, and Grass Widow

From: Oakland, California

Personae: Lillian Maring

Ruby Pins is the recording alias of Lillian Maring, best known as the drummer from Grass Widow. On her debut for Portland label M’lady’s Records, she layers her voice and instruments with effects, creating a magical, psychedelic backdrop over which she unleashes personal angst and articulates her politics using humor and vivid, nuanced storytelling. The record is an introspective masterpiece that also manages to feel whimsical and free. Maring’s lyrics capture the chaos, absurdity and pain of life as a woman under patriarchy. But instead of feeling depressed and constrained, Maring offers hope and optimism.

Tobi Vail spoke with Maring via phone and email on the eve of the Rub Pins’ first West Coast tour.

On the difference between Grass Widow and Ruby Pins:

I’ve been writing songs since I was a teenager. It’s like meditation or anything a person does alone to get their head straight. Grass Widow’s collaborative process teaches me to get outside of that realm and use a different part of my brain. [bassist/vocalist] Hannah [Lew] and [guitarist/vocalist] Raven [Mahon] and I have this method of making decisions based on what a song needs, not feeling attached to our own ideas. We’ve been writing this way for five years now. Last summer, I spent a month in Port Townsend, Washington, at my friend’s house just being alone and writing songs. Hannah makes music videos and Raven is a fine woodworker, and I was sitting on my desires to play more music.

On anxiety-as-parody & Ruby Pins’ sonic impulse:

Sonically, I was aiming for those moments in a song where it starts to feel out of control, like a guitar solo that doesn’t seem to know where it’s going, or the build-up in “A Day in the Life.” Those moments best represent my anxiety. When I translate those feelings into music I’m creating an enjoyable experience for myself, which is a way to acknowledge my feelings, process them, expel them and not let them rule me. It’s like I’m parodying my anxiety in order to live with it. Sometimes I feel like a stand-up comedian hiding behind a guitar. Like, “Hey everybody, doesn’t the world suck? Haha! Let’s rock.” I was thinking about Syd Barrett, Brian Eno, John Frusciante, Catherine Ribeiro, Jacque Dutronc, Wire and Yoko Ono a lot while writing and recording these songs.

On finding a voice as a feminist artist through pop music:

Art is exciting when it is political. I don’t have to scream from a soapbox to express my discontent. It’s a very angry album with a sense of humor to make it palatable. I like to think the songs stand on their own from an aesthetic standpoint, but they are all the more satisfying to me for the lyrical and conceptual content. I’m expressing a lot of anger and criticism, I hope that can be unifying for me and the audience. That’s what I love about pop music: It creates a space to introduce new topics of conversation by abstracting personal experiences. So much of this album is about me finding my voice as a feminist artist and being really overt with it because that’s what I feel inspired by. I wanted to represent some kind of supreme feminine idea that even draws on negative aspects — ways that women have been represented negatively.

On the name “Ruby Pins”:

“Ruby” represents red, like blood — and ruby is also my birthstone and I just feel special about it. And then “Pins” — I was looking through this book about witches and witchcraft, The Encyclopedia of Witches and Witchcraft by Rosemary Ellen Guiley. It’s about both current practicing witches and also about the history, and it includes a lot of weird, supposed [facts], because everything was destroyed. There were a lot of stories people would make up about women they wanted to burn, and the kind of shit they would say — the weird side effects that people had as a result of witchcraft. One of them said was that they’d puke pins. It just sounds so terrible, and I wonder what actually happened, or if that was just a descriptive way of explaining what it felt like? Puking pins is just such a jarring image. Ruby Pins kind of fell together.

On being femme and the song “Gagging on the Obvious”:

“Gagging on the Obvious” is about walking around in public as a woman and seeing other women and knowing the danger of being who you are and still going about our day as if there weren’t terrible imbalances at play. In the last couple years I’ve been sinking into being really femme, accepting that is how I want to dress and that it has not much to do with what other people think. It was a conscious decision, and I took into account the fact that I would be treated differently. On any given day as I walk to the post office or the train station, men are yelling “compliments” at me. If I dye my hair blonde there is a 40 percent increase in street attention. Literally. So I mentally prepare myself for that. I figure it’s everyone else’s responsibility to treat me with respect no matter how I look or what I’m doing, ideally. But the reality is far from that, because it is still generally assumed that women do everything for the attention of men. You have to embrace a subtle denial in order to get anything done, because when you start to consider how fucked everything is it colors your world and suddenly you’re embittered. I feel very fortunate to have a community of so many strong-willed, radical people.

On the state of underground punk culture and gentrification in the Bay Area:

There’s a lot more underground punk culture in Oakland than in San Francisco. Bands I really enjoy in Oakland include Daisy World, Stillsuit, PRCSRS, BAUS, and Pang! There’s Thrillhouse Records, there are all ages shows at 1-2-3-4 Go! Records. If you wanna play an all-ages show at a bar, tickets have to be more expensive, so it kind of creates a divide. I wish bands could easily play lots of all-ages punk shows that were accessible and that would be enough to support them. But the economy doesn’t allow for that, the cost of living in the Bay Area certainly doesn’t allow for that, and it seems that the communities that spring up around those ideals remain very insular. It creates an exclusive atmosphere and the aspect that is exciting to me about playing music, disseminating ideas, is kind of lost. Although the industry is fucked it’s worth it to challenge yourself in order to reach a wider audience. It’s fun to play shows for your friends and know that everyone is going to “get” what you’re doing, but it’s also kind of boring and not really instigating change. It’s an interesting challenge to play for people who don’t get what you’re doing.