Ruby Rose Fox took a long time to find her voice. “When you’ve been socially conditioned to be a Disney princess, it’s hard to sing like Elvis,” says Fox, whose low, luxuriant voice didn’t fit the script during classical studies at New England Conservatory she undertook while still a student at Brookline High in the early 2000s.
“When I was studying opera, they told me I was a contralto. So I immediately looked up all the parts I was going to be playing, and they were all whores and old women,” says Fox, who also grew dissatisfied when she took acting classes at Emerson, delivering words written by others. “I was forced to make my own path.”
Four years ago, she began writing dramatic pop vignettes, reflecting the emotive mood and tone of the Roy Orbison songs she loved as a child. And it’s paid off in the past year with a Boston Music Award for female vocalist of the year (plus a Boston’s Best award from The Improper), a line of singles launched with the immaculate “Die Pretty” and the chance to open shows for kindred spirit Martha Davis’ band, the Motels.
“I’ve had a real intense urgency regarding this music,” says Fox, who sang in the reggae/ska band Mass Hysteria in her teens as Rachel Eliot before legally adopting her late grandmother’s name. “I think that’s why I’ve grown so fast.”
“Blue Angel” and “Good Friday,” two more singles in advance of an album to be funded through PledgeMusic, hint at gospel beyond their biblical allusions. “When I was younger, I sort of broke up with God,” says Fox, who grew up in a fundamentalist Baptist family. “I’m still a little bitter at some of the dark aspects of Christianity.”
That gospel sound is amplified in her band, which boasts three female backup singers. “When I make demos, a lot of it is choral because I have to sing what I’m hearing,” she says. “I end up with demos that have four- or five-part harmonies and get attached to them. I’m also a huge Leonard Cohen fan, and he uses a lot of choral singers.”
Fox calls her backing trio the Steinems, after feminist pioneer Gloria Steinem. “It really helps to have strong women around me,” the singer/guitarist says. “They help me emotionally and spiritually.”