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Alternative folk and blues singer-songwriter Ruth Theodore releases her album Cactacus on 23 September. She tells Big Issue North about her beginnings as a busker in Southampton.

Tell us a bit about your sound and your influences.
My sound is hard to describe in words, which is odd because it is so full of words. The words are what tell my stories and the music paints the backdrop. The sound of my new record Cactacus is the result of a collaboration between myself and producer Todd Sickafoose (Anais Mitchell/Ani Difranco), which we recently recorded on the Pacific West Coast of America. Listening back to it now it kind of reminds me of a really good paint fight. I’ve very happy with that. Weirdly I don’t listen to music on a regular basis but have been influenced by some great artists over time – Joni Mitchell, Stravinsky and Spike Milligan, for example. But I guess my closest influence would be Ani Difranco who I opened for live in London back in 2012.

How have you evolved as a musician over the years?
Well, I began as a busker on the streets of Southampton. The doorway of WH Smiths was my territory. I would de-tune the guitar so that I could play all the chords with one finger and I would just belt out hit songs and increasingly more of my own material, until I stopped with the cover tunes altogether and continued experimenting with all kinds of weird guitar tunings and song structures. My music has been through many phases and I really hope it doesn’t stop now and that in 20 years I’m still writing and playing with all the sounds around me.

Were there any alternative artist names before you decided to use your real name?
Had I been born a boy I was going to be called Tom but no – I’ve had the same old name since birth. I think it only became my artist name because when I started gigging in bars aged 14, I must have been asked “what are you called?” and replied with the truth, and they would’ve written it on a chalk board and that would have been that. My friends have many nicknames for me but most of them unpublishable.

What are you up to at the moment artistically?
This year my focus is on performing the new record Cactacus with my seven piece band of talented types from all walks of life. We’re really excited about the record launch at the Borderline, London, on 22 September.

How do you stand out from the crowd in a saturated industry?
I wish I knew. It is a sandstorm out there and when it comes to the industry I tend to keep my eyes closed, head down and just keep writing. Luckily like a clumsy tumbleweed I pick up good friends and industry comrades along the way who add momentum, make me laugh and keep me going. I don’t know what everyone else is doing but this way I hope I can keep my integrity and sense of humour intact and that matters most to me.

What’s on your rider?
Water and beer.

Tell us about your worst live show.
Well, it all started when we realised they’d forgotten the water.

Antonia Charlesworth

Interact: Responses to Music Q&A:
Ruth Theodore

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