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Interview with Rebekah Higgs

November 2, 2011

Canada native Rebekah Higgs, frontwoman of the electronic group Ruby Jean and the Thoughtful Bees, released her second solo album, Odd Fellowship, this year. It is at first listen gentle and whimsical, made up of songs about heartbreak, tattoos and being charmed out of your clothes. Listen to it again, though, and you will find  it is subtly punctuated by sharp lyrics and smart orchestration that are both complex and catchy.

Higgs recently talked to Girl Germs intern Emma Nelson about everything from the evolving music business and the festival she co-founded, to Nirvana, Chernobyl and Paul McCartney. Behold, 10 things you need to know about Rebekah Higgs, arranged by the song titles from Odd Fellowship.

1. STICK AND POKE

When she was young, Higgs crisscrossed the globe with her missionary parents. In Belarus, she got nitrate poisoning – a remnant of Chernobyl. For a while she had a heart murmur, and even now, there are times when her kidneys hurt.

2. LAZY MORNING

Higgs grew up playing classical violin and piano, and when she was 19 a friend who was moving offered her his old guitar, She taught herself to play (the first song she learned was Nirvana’s “Come As You Are”).

3. GIVE YOU WHAT YOU WANT

“It’s hard to be artistic in a family that’s religious,” she says. “I’ve had to tap-dance a bit around my parents.”

4. SHOOP

In 2006, Higgs recorded her first, self-titled solo album. While waiting to record a second, she passed the time with a new, electronic project. This became a band of its own (The Thoughtful Bees), led by her alter ego, Ruby Jean.

5. GOSH, DARN, DAMN

While on tour with Ruby Jean and the Thoughtful Bees, Rebekah began writing new songs, fueled by recent relationship troubles. These eventually became the 10 tracks that make up Odd Fellowship.

6. MISERABLY TOGETHER

She likes the juxtaposition between sad lyrics and happy music, or happy lyrics and sad music. “This allows the listener to create what they want from the songs,” she says. “It is mysterious but at the same time personal.”

7. DRUNK LOVE

On her first night in the recording studio for Odd Fellowship, Higgs and her bandmates huddled in an unheated building. It was the middle of January. They turned on the oven and a flock of space heaters, smoked, drank and listened to Paul and Linda McCartney’s Ram.

8. LITTLE VOICE

Higgs’s three-year-old nephew, Easton, sings on Odd Fellowship. He’s really into music, she says. When he was a baby, he already had a beautiful voice and a sense of harmony and pitch. “He would sing the harmony to ‘Wheels on the Bus’,” she laughs.

9. GIRL IN THE SWEATER

Higgs is also a painter, actor and jewelry maker. When asked which art form she identifies most with, though, she says music. “I have friends that are actually painters and artists,” she says. “I don’t know if they’d like it if I called myself an artist.”

10. YOUTH AND BEAUTY

Twice now, Higgs has organized a music festival in her community of North Halifax, one that she co-founded with her best friend. It’s called Long Live the Queen, and is open to all ages. It’s important to make music accessible to young people, she explains, because they will make up a long-term fan base.

Being on the organizational side of the music business is overwhelming, Higgs says, but when she sees the result – beautiful music, enjoyed by a crowd of people in a warm, inviting space – she is moved to tears. “There are certain things,” she says, “that you can’t download for free.”

–Emma Nelson

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