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Sam & RubyNashville, TN has many great musical evenings, but few surpass an  event that takes place during the Nashville Screenwriters Conference,
where Hollywood bigwigs mix and mingle with the best young artists in Nashville's music scene. The highlight of the evening is always the same, an impromptu jam featuring a song or two from each of the many stars and soon-to-be-stars in the room. This year, an unusual duo caught my eye, a handsome guitar player and a pretty Ghanaian- born singer who blew the crowd away with their soulful sound. I was curious. Who are they?

Shortly afterwards, a CD arrived in the mail. And there they were, on the cover of a Rykodisc album about to be released on Aug.11, “The Here & The Now”  featuring Sam & Ruby.

As I quickly learned, Sam Brooker and Ruby Amanfu are both accomplished artists and songwriters in their own right. In fact, their song, "Heaven's My Home," as performed by The Duhks, was nominated for a Grammy Award in 2007. The song was also featured in the recent major motion picture "The Secret Life of Bees," (Fox Searchlight).

The pair met in 1999 at a writer's night in Nashville. They formed a friendship based on mutual respect for each other's music and penned their first song together, "The Here & The Now", the title song for their first album. The two would go on to perform the song at each other's shows and the audience immediately embraced them, giving rise to the dynamic duo of Sam & Ruby. Musically their songs represent the "stuff of life". Ruby comments, "We try not to fear honesty in our writing and tackle the things that hurt, the things that aren't always pretty. We wanted this record to be honest and conversational."  

Dish jumped on the chance to photograph, and interview the pair about their music, their friendship, and their lives. Here’s what they had to say:

DISH: I understand this is your first big photo shoot. How did it feel?

RUBY: Yeah, oh my gosh, this is the first time Sam and I have been photographed together in such an amazing way. Start in the morning… start early…it felt like the morning because we were bright and ready to go. We felt special, well taken care of.

DISH: Thank you. Thank you. I can tell when people have talent with music, too. Which is why we invited you to come here.

RUBY: Thank you so much. It's so cool that we were at the same Screenwriter event, the same party.

DISH: That’s what started this…

DISH: Let me stay on the photo shoot for just a moment. If this has been your first experience together, I’m wondering if you’ve thought about how you’re going to present yourselves as a duo, your costumes, and your image. Did you give that any thought?

RUBY: I think that our music is really genuine and it’s… when we recorded this record we didn't want a whole bunch of bells and whistles. We wanted it to be who we are, so I think with the photo shoot the focus was for both of us to be who we are. It’s really important because this is the first time we’re coming out and making this statement.

DISH: And who are you?

RUBY: Sam and Ruby. We're two crazy kids in this crazy world, and we just want to do something good and we want to bring a little bit of peace and joy and make people think with their hearts.

DISH: What about you, Sam?

SAM: I'd say our music is very honest and songs we write are true and from the heart, or hopefully perceived that way. And I think we are. People pick up on that in our shows. It’s real. We just want to be real. There’s nothing contrived about this project. We didn’t try and put this together or audition for each other. It was just a natural progression of time and music. And now we have an album.

DISH: So, you two, everyone probably thinks you’re a couple but you aren’t, are you?

RUBY: Why are you looking at me Sam?

SAM: Well, a couple… We actually get asked this a lot. Are we dating? No, we’re not dating. We have a very real relationship. We work together on, honestly, it's on a very personal level. Our songs are intimate. We laugh together and cry together, we’ve frustrated each other and have all the things a relationship has, it’s just we're just doing music.

RUBY: Yeah, I was actually just about to get out of the business and Sam and I had been friends for awhile. It was just one of those points were I said, ‘should I be a music teacher?’ Sam was right there saying, ‘I think we can do this. I think we can do this together. If we do this together, would you wanna do it?’ If it had been anybody else who had asked me, I probably wouldn't have said okay, but it was him and he was gently pushing me to not give up and to continue.  I depend on him and he depends on me. I can lift Sam up and he can lift me up.

DISH: So, you must have a relationship with somebody else then?

RUBY: I have lots of relationships with somebody else's.

Sam & RubyDISH: And you?
SAM: I do. I actually have a baby coming, his name is Max, but I haven’t written anything yet that’s directly related, but it’s obviously a new perspective.

DISH: So this is a big step for you, I mean, having your first record coming out without having to struggle horribly. Do you feel like you’re kind of naïve, lucky, or that you earned it?

SAM: There’s a lot of excitement around it. We’re hoping that our team that we finally assembled does a good job on our behalf and we’re obviously doing everything we can on our own. I'm just hoping for the best. This whole time, from the process of writing the songs to getting the publishing deal to making the album and signing the record deal, all we’ve hoped for is to make the best music possible and to be heard.

RUBY: Both Sam and I have had journeys leading up to this. The journey has brought us here, and there’s been a lot of work along the journey. We’ve both had deals before and there’s been a lot of work because it’s what we do. So, with that said, I think we’re a little wiser which is great because, we want to be responsible with this record. This is a really special one, it’s really close to us and we want to get it right.

DISH: I’ve read quotes about you and you’ve been compared to pretty much every great singer in the world. How do you feel about your own music? Do you have an idol, someone that you idolize or someone you would like to be like? Like Diana Ross?

RUBY: That's funny because some people say my mom looks like Diana Ross, which is funny. What about you Sam?

SAM: Idols… all the greats. I grew up on James Taylor, Cat Stevens, Paul Simon, all the great singer-songwriters of the 70s.  And then, that was one side, and on the other side was Prince, Michael Jackson and Stevie Wonder, a pretty diverse background. As far as this album and what Ruby and I do, it is hard to categorize. Like, I can’t exactly say we exactly sound like someone because we don’t as a duo, we both have different voices and songs, but I think a goal of songwriting is writing songs that are timeless. I think it’s a big challenge these days, and in some ways, we accomplished that. A handful of songs on the album sound like they could have been written from the 1940s through today, which is pretty cool.

RUBY: It goes right along with what I was thinking. I like to take, I know Sam does too, but I like to take a little piece from every musician that I love, such as Sarah Vaughn, Ricky Lee Jones, Cindy Morgan…um, I know I’m naming a bunch of girls…
DISH: You are a girl.

DISH: What's your dream? What would you like to see happen in the future?

SAM: Ideally, in the next year… Okay, Ruby and I have a successful album out and we’re doing whatever artists do who have a successful career, like playing shows, maybe a Grammy nomination. A business, a little publishing company I have with a writer, I hope he has success as a country writer… His name’s Jesse Rice. I could represent him, pitch his songs. And then this year, I hope to buy a house on Old Hickory Lake and a bass boat…and go fishing.  I'm a huge fisherman. If I didn't do music and I could find a way to make a living as a fisherman, I think I would. I did try and do a little bit of competitive bass fishing last year but this year I haven't really had time. I fly fish. I fish. I do model airplanes, um. Other hobbies…I play poker.

DISH: What about you, Ruby? What are you aspirations? I’m sure you’ve had dreams through your youth and you’ve gotten sort of what’s a dream come true in many ways.

RUBY: I definitely want be able to continue to do this. I think short-term goals are pretty simple for me. I'm a simple girl and I often say that I’m a lot less glamorous than I’m typecast... So, I think to stay peaceful in my heart and be surrounded by good energy, good people may get more challenging down the road to maintain that, but I want to be led by my spirit and the great people that I have around me.

SAM: She just wants a garden.

RUBY: Yeah, I want a garden. I want to grow things. I watch HGTV a lot and they have a show called I Want That and I want an I Want That kitchen that my friends are envious of. They won’t be envious for long because I'll cook for them and then they'll be happy again.  I’m so…I'm a home girl in the most true definition. I love home. I love it. On the road I definitely do find those things that make me feel at home, even as simply stated “home in my heart.” I really do try to stay peaceful. This one on the other hand…

DISH: What do you mean “this one on the other hand?”

RUBY: He likes to go out. I’m always like, ‘Sam, it's three in the morning. Are you, are you gonna be back in time for us to do our show?’

SAM: If we are out on the road, in a new city I like to explore a little bit. On our last trip, I didn’t get to do much.  I like to go to the bar and have a beer.

RUBY: And I like to say in the comfortable hotel bed and watch Golden Girls.

DISH: All right, my story is completely ruined.

RUBY: And Will and Grace. What are you trying to do, make us a little more exciting?

Check out The Here & The Now on Rykodisc beginning August 11 at your local record store. / Issue 106 - September 2018
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