Quarantine day 4,725 and interviews, for whatever reason, are still not deemed “essential”. Thus, I endeavored to virtually communicate with Trinity musician Trophy Wife.
Fourth year English student Ruby Smyth has graced the cultural scene since she took her first steps as a realized creative at the age of 12. “I started playing guitar [at the] age [of] 11, after being classically trained in the violin and piano. I loved classical music but I always knew the guitar was where it’s at,” Smyth admits. With an extensive background in music theory, Ruby decided to expand her creative portfolio. “I remember seeing a video of Emilie Remler performing Tenor Madness and I just couldn’t believe how much it slapped. I have a whole Spotify playlist of guitar solos that I just listen to and cry. The guitar is just such a special instrument, nothing gets me like it.”
Smyth’s affinity for the guitar soon blossomed into a melodic enterprise. “I wrote my first full song at 12 and then proceeded to have a four year period I call the ‘fetus Joni Mitchell stage.’ I worshipped the ground that woman walked on and tried really hard to emulate her sound, her guitar tunings, her vocal delivery, and inflections. I still adore Joni and her music, but I reached a stage where I realised that wasn’t who I was or the type of music I ultimately wanted to write and produce.”
As with anyone striving to master a speciality, Smyth did her homework. “Although between then and now I was writing all the time, I turned my attention to learning about and listening to as much music as I could. I think that’s really important. Trophy Wife’s sound as it is now came together about two years ago, and I’ve just been striving all the time to improve and expand it,” Smyth adds. She discusses the ins and outs of making music, particularly as a solo artist. “A big part of that is producing, learning the technical side, and how to make shit sound good on a sonic level. It’s a huge learning curve, but so important and I am very very lucky I have been surrounded by people who could show me the ropes. I am still learning all the time, but guess I always will be, so I’m down with it.”
“Trophy Wife’s ‘holy grail of inherent musicality is Miss Whitney Houston. If you want to talk about a flawless fusion of technique, soul and just sheer talent, she’s your girl. I’ll stan Whitney until I die.’”
In terms of the artists who have inspired Trophy Wife in the past and those who continue to influence her work, she admits it’s more of a continual process rather than a concise one. “I find myself getting influenced and inspired by so many different things all the time.” Trophy Wife is an accumulation of so many external influences, not just those relating to music. “I really am inspired by the big ass emotions, that is – feelings such as love, longing, joy and pain usually push me to create something. I just think there’s a lot of beauty and depth to the emotional landscape of life.” For Smyth, emotions translate into art and provide a platform for her to explore what matters most to her. “It really do be one big extension of self – feeding into who we are, how we express ourselves and vice versa – and that can be harnessed to create something that connects with people. That’s why the EP is called Art.”
Smyth admits listening to “a lot of Jazz – Billie Holiday, Miles Davis, Milton Nascamiento and then later more Jazz fusion like Steely Dan, John Scofield and Keith Jarret,” majorly framed her aesthetic. “I’m really inspired by musicality – something some people are born with and some people have to learn. It’s quite evident in Jazz music, as it really is an art form in and of itself. Learning Jazz Harmony later in life really opened up melody for me. While you see this sort of musicality more explicitly in Jazz, it’s also heavily present in all musical genres – from classic rock to pop.” On that note she also adds, “Rock music is also really important to me, and I have learned a lot from people like Neal Schon, Gary Moore and the Young Brothers about what it means to find a good guitar sound and just rip. It’s almost transcendental, and a lot of ideas have come to me when I am in the middle of listening to a guitar solo.”
Evident in her instagram posts, Trophy Wife’s “holy grail of inherent musicality is Miss Whitney Houston.”
“If you want to talk about a flawless fusion of technique, soul and just sheer talent, she’s your girl. I’ll stan Whitney until I die. That sense of inherent musicality that has the ability to evoke really specific emotions is something that is really attractive to me.” It becomes clear to me throughout the interview that these influences do not merely serve to educate Smyth’s style, but rather to shape her musical creativity into the ever-changing form it continues to represent.
For Trophy Wife, a solo artist and skilled producer, influences come from every walk of life as she finetunes every aspect of her artistic zeal. While many artists prioritize the melodic science behind producing songs, Smyth focuses on all aspects of her brand, from image to song material to album art.
“I’m a very visual person, so I spend a lot of time looking at paintings and photos. I’m a real hoe for Monet (and impressionism in general) – I just love his use of colour and the way that his paintings are simultaneously clear and unclear. Right now I am in awe of the photography of Vivian Maeir and have spent hours pouring over her work, especially her self portraits. It changes all the time. I love to take photos too, mostly of my iconic friends, but it serves me too as it helps give a more objective perspective on the world.”
“On the other hand,” she continues, “I feel like artistic inspiration doesn’t always have to be overbearingly pretentious, or come in the way you want or expect it to.” She credits almost everything around her for informing her aesthetic. “I find myself getting inspired by the things closest to me every day. I’d have to say my biggest artistic influence is the people that surround me. I am so lucky to have such a diverse group of people in my life that live their lives in ways that inspire me daily.” And like any good artist, Trophy Wife dotes on her many confidants for helping her realize her personal creative path. “A lot of my friends are crazy talented, and I am always in awe of the art and music they produce. Seeing the people you love feel, express, grow and achieve shit while just being themselves is one of the most inspiring things to me.” She finally adds, “Oh, and more recently, re-visiting Kylie Minogue’s complete discography has creatively blessed me.”
“Beauty Queen”, Smyth explains, is her most recent single, “is a song about a few things. At the time I wrote it, I was on Erasmus in Barcelona and thinking a lot about female identity. I was reading The Awakening by Kate Chopin and The Price of Salt by Patricia Highsmith, and engaging with a lot of criticism/etiquette books from the 1890’s-1950’s.” She continues, crediting another creative platform for informing her genius. “When I am reading about something like that it tends to permeate my brain so I was definitely reflecting on beauty standards [and] general standards women face both today and throughout history. In ways, Beauty Queen may sound like a love song, which, I guess it kind of is, but maybe not in the way people would expect. It walks the line between appreciating female beauty, but questioning its role in society.” Though Smyth is giving me a fabulous education on the ins and outs of musical production, she stops herself to gather her thoughts. “Ok, I sound like a bit of an asshole when I lay it out like that but I can’t deny the presence of those ideas in the lyrics, even if not fully consciously. The song fundamentally centres around the challenge of loving someone who has endured a life of being defined solely by their appearance, and the pain that comes with keeping up a facade that is ultimately,
psychologically and emotionally, empty.” She continues: “Sonically, I knew I wanted it to slap, and I knew from the beginning what I wanted the bass groove and beat to sound like and how they would interact. I was listening to a lot of Morsheeba at the time, and you can definitely hear my budget attempts to emulate some of their sonics in the track.”
When asked if, as a young woman producing music, she ever experiences a sense of hesitation when creating and debuting her songs, she responds simply.
“I really am inspired by the big ass emotions, that is – feelings such as love, longing, joy and pain usually push me to create something.”
“Honestly, no. I think before you release anything you gotta sit yourself down and be like, ‘Ok, I’m going to do this, and I am just going to have to believe in what I am doing.’ I don’t think my music is better or worse than anyone else’s, I just think it’s inherently good to me, and that’s all that matters.” She credits her ability to find beauty in her personal work as a great foundation for artistic confidence. “I’ve found that’s the way you gotta be – otherwise comparison will rob you off all your ideas and motivation. I think that applies to many things. I like that people have different reactions, I think that’s ultimately a good sign. Of course it feels really vulnerable to release songs about your big heartbreak moment or sad girl hours, but equally these experiences have aspects of good and valuable lessons.” Rather than viewing her music as deeply personal, and therefore attackable, she sees it as liberating. “It feels really good and empowering to transform them into something tangible – for me, turning big ass emotion to banger is the ultimate form of self expression.”
In terms of her writing process and the many forms it takes, she admits her method isn’t an exact science. “It really depends. Sometimes I think of a concept first, or come up with the basic chordal structure. Other times I create a whole track without any idea of what I want the song to be about. Other times I hyperfixate on one element (like a particular guitar sound or instrument) and build the song around it. I rarely write lyrics first, although lately I have started writing down stuff people say or ideas that come to me and try to build songs around them.” Elaborating, Trophy Wife admits her “‘process is a bit manic, as in, I don’t really have one. Organised chaos…Birthday for example came to me all at once and was written in like seven minutes flat.”
Looking to the future, Smyth discloses that her “final single off the EP On The Phone is going to be released [in] early June and the rest of the EP will be dropping in the summer. I’ve been sitting on it for a while so I am really pumped to release the full thing. I’ve also been working on some other tracks and collabs which I am so excited for including featuring on a Shaky Shack banger one of my best friends Mateusz produced.”
I find myself enamoured by her self awareness and profound confidence, which are ubiquitous within her work. Trophy Wife exudes an energy similar to that of a seasoned veteran and a musician with decades of experience and knowledge. Speaking with her about music is like being taught the art of negligence by Trinity College: a lesson from a maestro. For Ruby Smyth, her musical career is only beginning. And as a master of all things expressive, Trophy Wife’s artistry is only on the up.