it is no secret over here at CFHQ that we dig the jim ruiz set (and the legendary jim ruiz group before it). they’ve been playing at CF events since back in the 1990s, and pam berry had the good sense to interview them back in chickfactor #9. ruiz & co. recently released a fan-fricking-tastic (third album finally) album called mount curve avenue (the compact disc and “digital files” came out on allen clapp’s mystery lawn music label and korda records), and we are excited to tell the world the latest news about that record: jim ruiz set has teamed up with portland, oregon’s ace shelflife record company to put mount curve avenue out on light-blue vinyl! we cannot wait to get our chocolate-smudged fingers on a copy. read more over on the jim ruiz blog and preorder your light-blue vinyl copy right here. the interview that follows was conducted by allen clapp to run in advance of chickfactor 21 last month, but the lazy editor didn’t get it posted in time. enjoy!
chickfactor: jim, you’ve always had a unique blend of melancholy and humor in your songwriting (you even referred to your uncle as being something of a mexican woody allen in one of your songs). who are some other songwriters past or present who can do that thing you do?
jim ruiz: thanks, that’s very kind. I think you could probably trace it back to 1989 and listening to the jazz butcher sing “girlfriend,” “only a rumor” or max eider sing “D.R.I.N.K.” you don’t know whether to laugh or cry and maybe you just do both. they were able to be able to be incredibly funny but never cross into the realm of novelty. I suppose loudon wainright III does kind of the same thing. there’s no reason depressing confessional lyrics need to be so serious.
over the course of your three recorded albums, you cover a lot of musical ground, but there seem to be a few kinds of songs to which you gravitate: transportation songs, songs that mention or reference your musical heroes, and self-referential songs that look back on an earlier time in your life. is this coincidental, or are those the things that most occupy the mind of the legendary jim ruiz?
I don’t know what you’re talking about. okay, you’re on to me. I honestly didn’t think anyone would notice that! true, perhaps more than most people, I go back to the well. in my defense, I do tend to stop at three. for instance, “groningen,” “minneapolis,” and “mij amsterdam.” there were no city songs on this record (mount curve avenue), but if you got a good thing going, why not! who would have wanted to hear tony bennett follow up “I left my heart in san francisco” with “I’ll see you in oakland—next time!” and “down and out in redwood city?” I would have!
you’ve always been more of a mod than a rocker. is it easier to be a mod in 2013 than it was in the mid 1990s?
no, it’s easier to be a mod when you’re in your late teens or early 20s, no matter what year it is. even bradley wiggins (winner of last year’s tour de france) seems just too old to pull off the mod look. at some point you reach the “aging mod dude” status. of course when I look in the mirror I think “hey mod!” but luckily people around here just look at me and think “preppy.”
last time I saw you, I noticed your volkswagen vanagon had a decidedly non-stock color scheme. would you care to describe this? how many paint jobs has your famous van had during its lifetime?
the vanagon has only had two paint schemes but many brush coats. as you probably know, car rust is an inevitable fact of life in minnesota. luckily as a child I painted many model airplanes, mostly from WWII. I didn’t suspect I would later use that skill on my car, the transition was a natural and easy one.
what’s the best thing about playing a chickfactor show?
just being asked kind of blows my mind. in london gail bestowed on us the title of “chickfactor band.” it wasn’t a public ceremony, and it didn’t come with a little statue, but it’s a moment I’ll never forget and will always treasure.