Rocks Off almost never gets a bad recording out of the Red Tree Recording Studio, so when producer Harold Reubens sent us his latest project, he had to jump a bar he'd already set pretty high.
Little did we know that not only would Alyssa Rubich's C'est La Vie clear the hurdle, she would keep rising with terminal velocity.
Rubich is a 19-year-old Florida transplant now studying at Sam Houston State. She's been writing songs since age nine and playing guitar since 11. C'est La Vie is her debut EP, and if it's any indication of what she's capable of, it's only a matter of time until she sets the whole friggin' music industry ablaze.
Listening to the EP takes a little dedication if you're going to discover exactly what makes it groundbreaking instead of merely pleasing. You'll hear the Regina Spektor and Poe influences right off the bat, but the first listening may lull you into believing that Rubich is defiling the legacy of those Valkyries with a set of fairly generic love songs.
However, her melodies are so catchy, her voice so sinisterly sexual, that we couldn't help but spin the five-track EP again, and that was a good thing. You start to notice things lyrically in C'est la Vie on the second go-round.
You realize that "Blindness" isn't some bad-boyfriend/breakup bullshit, it's a study in deep, dark pathological obsession between friends. You realize "Little King" isn't some saccharine, sugar-coated ode to a failed love affair, it's a heart-rending cry to a sibling who apparently just went missing one day.
In fact, as you surf down the audio pouring out, you wipe out on the rocks of Rubich's beautiful but damaged soul, a journey horrifying in its baldness and sincerity. Her autobiographical audacity, linked in with a true poet's gift and Rueben's flawless engineering, has turned a survivor's tale into a battle cry.
With no shame at all, we have to admit that Rubich has recorded our favorite local album ever. We sat down with her to get some answers questioned.
Rocks Off: We want to know who your main influences are. We hear some Regina Spektor, some Poe, maybe a bit of Alanis and the Replacements. What artists turned you from listener to rock star?
Alyssa Rubich: You were pretty on the mark with the influences there. I am a huge Alanis fan. I also listened to a ton of the Cranberries growing up, so I tend to do a little Dolores O'Riordan on occasion. As far as songwriting goes, I'm definitely inspired by Jewel's stuff from the '90s, just her ability to tell detailed stories without sounding like she's reading a book in song. I think there's some Sheryl Crow in there too.
RO: We're amazed at the intensity of the non-romantic relationships you seem to sing about, and please correct us if we're understanding the lyrics wrong. "Blindness" seems to come across as very Single White Female. Is that in the ballpark? Are you jealous over a friend's romantic relationship, or what?
AR: You are absolutely correct about "Blindness." It's a song about this girl I knew, who in no uncertain terms was a watered-down version of myself in every way. She started sleeping with my ex less than a week after he dumped me, then for reasons I'm still unsure of, decided that she was to become my best friend and/or clone.
Me, being a dumbass, I somehow let her into my life, to the point where she asked me for advice about my shitty ex and I obliged. I know, most batshit thing you've ever heard. The craziest part? This girl was, and is, completely and utterly obsessed with me. I'm not being egomaniacal, she's had parties that are "Alyssa" themed, she listens to my music day and night, and probably has locks of my hair in a secret compartment somewhere.
I'm not exaggerating at all, and while it's oh so flattering, it's also creepy as hell.
RO: And what exactly happened with the brother you sing about in "Little King?" Did he just up and go like that guy in Into the Wild?
AR: This is probably the coolest thing that has ever happened to me. First, my brother had some issues involving drugs and the law, so in January '08, he took off towards Austin and we heard nothing from him for two years.
My brother was probably the biggest influence in my life, he's an insanely amazing guitarist, and probably the reason I got into music in the first place. Anyway, at the end of '09, I recorded a rough cut of "Little King" using Garageband and posted it on my music MySpace.
Apparently, one of his friends who was trying to push my brother, Ryan, into contacting us, searched on the Internet and wound up hearing my song. Ryan then listened to it, and soon after called our family. I finally saw my brother in late February, and he actually went on spring break with the family a mere two weeks later.
Ever since, we've remained in contact and have visited each other several times. Coolest. Thing. Ever.
RO: Are you exaggerating your own mental instabilities in your songs, or do you honestly feel you might drive someone insane?
AR: I do not exaggerate my instabilities at all. I was diagnosed with clinical depression at age nine, and was put on anti-depressants, which made me gain a lot of weight. Getting fat while going through puberty sucks ass, and of course I was tormented relentlessly for not only my weight, but just the fact that I was so different from everyone else.
I've basically been a 30-year-old living in a child's body my entire life. Anyway, during eighth grade, I had a mental breakdown and missed a month of school, so I had to transfer to a private Christian school, which wasn't as terrible as it sounds. I still got bullied all the time, and it wasn't until my senior year that I gave up and camouflaged into the popular kids.
It was actually a really good year, I miss it a lot. In summary, yes, "I am one of those melodramatic fools, neurotic to the bone, no doubt about it."
RO: Stylistically, you're all over the place. Are the final versions of these tunes how you heard them in your head, or is that more Ruebens' work?
AR: Stylistically, I am all over the place. It is very hard for me to separate the music I love listening to from the music I want to sing. A lot of the time, I love just singing with my acoustic guitar, doing stripped down versions of everything from Lady Gaga to Nirvana.
But I've always dreamed of hearing my music with a full backing band. I love the way the songs turned out, and if I ever made a full length album, it would probably feature a number of different styles while keeping cohesive. I am very ADD, I like to change things up and try new things, if I played music the same way all the time I'd probably die of boredom.
C'est La Vie is currently available from iTunes.
Keep the Houston Press Free... Since we started the Houston Press, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Houston, and we would like to keep it that way. Offering our readers free access to incisive coverage of local news, food and culture. Producing stories on everything from political scandals to the hottest new bands, with gutsy reporting, stylish writing, and staffers who've won everything from the Society of Professional Journalists' Sigma Delta Chi feature-writing award to the Casey Medal for Meritorious Journalism. But with local journalism's existence under siege and advertising revenue setbacks having a larger impact, it is important now more than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" membership program, allowing us to keep covering Houston with no paywalls.