Ruby Boots: Alt-Country with a Kick

Ruby Boots, a.k.a. Bex Chilcott

Australia has always had a lively country music scene, with artists such as Olivia Newton-John and Keith Urban becoming major international stars. But Australia also has been the home of some of the best alt-country stars.

One of Americana’s brightest young singers is Perth native Rebecca Louise “Bex” Chilcott, who performs under the name Ruby Boots. She declined to explain her choice of moniker, but presumably picked it because of her fiery red hair and proclivity for traveling.

She recently released her second album of alt-country music, Don’t Talk About It, on an American label (Bloodshot) and will be touring the states, including a June 29 stop at the Triple Crown Whisky Bar & Raccoon Motel in Davenport. Chilcott now has a place in Nashville and plans to commute between the states and Down Under according to the season. Many of the songs on the new release were inspired by her experiences in this country.

“The songs came from conversations with friends,” Chilcott said. “The whole album was written in Nashville, a city that is populated with songwriters, so a lot of those topics covered in conversations with friends were naturally turned into songs. I collaborate a lot on songs these days—I want to make sure that I am not seeing the world through a singular lens.”

A good example of this is the title song of her new album. “Don’t Talk About It” was co-written by rockabilly filly Nikki Lane and addresses the general topic of desire. The narrator wavers back and forth between confessing what she wants and repressing her longings. The tension between the two poles keeps the song taut and compelling.

That doesn’t mean Chilcott doesn’t take a stand. She says she’s careful to wholeheartedly believe in what she writes. “I have grown a lot, so my view on the world is a lot different . . . I’ve broken down a lot of my own walls and have embraced the vulnerability and fragility in life as well as the resilience and defiance I used to use as my guide.”

The best illustration of this can be found on “I Am a Woman,” a song that in many ways serves as the fulcrum for Chilcott’s latest album. She proclaims that she’s “a river,” “a mountain,” a believer,” and “a giver” to her lover. Her strength allows her to carry the load in a relationship, as long as the other person will stay honest and true.

Chilcott is bringing her full band on this tour because the new album material demands it. While she is always in front, the other players create the atmosphere that lets her be the center of attention.

In many ways this album resembles the work of Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers, of whom she is a big fan. “Tom Petty’s songs had a magic to them, an unexplainable magic. When you think about them long enough—how can you say so much in such a small space? Jackson Browne once said tongue-in-cheek that he hates Tom Petty ’cause it takes him two pages to say what Petty can say in eight words! I love artists like Petty and Lucinda Williams who don’t sit inside a box, who do whatever they want and make music that can span from a whisper and an acoustic guitar to an all-out rock song.”

While Petty and Williams have influenced Chilcott, she said her biggest musical influences were originally Australian. “Australian music has its own uniqueness to it. . . . There is an Aussie band called the Waifs who initially inspired me to pick up the guitar and start singing. I actually learnt to play guitar by learning their first three albums whilst I was working on pearling boats!” Chilcott toured the U.S. with the Waifs in 2016, and she has co-written several songs with her idol Vikki Thorn from the band.

Chilcott kicked smoking cigarettes seven months ago and hasn’t had an alcoholic drink in almost two years. While she enjoys the obvious health benefits, she’s especially thrilled about how it has changed her voice. “The shit that I can do with my voice compared to what I was limited to doing before is so exciting to me, to hear the change and open up new doors with how I sing,” she said.

Chilcott can’t wait to show audiences what she can do. “It’s a whole new world again, so I am super inspired by that right now.”