Listen to the combustible songs making up her 2018 album “Don’t Talk About It” and you would think Bex Chilcott — better known in performance as Ruby Boots — had been making music in the United States since childhood.
The opening “It’s So Cruel” comes blasting at you with the kind of fuzzy electric abandon that brings Kentucky rockers Cage the Elephant to mind. Later on, “Somebody Else” puts Chilcott’s pining, country-accented vocals, which recalls Maria McKee’s vintage records with Lone Justice, over a rolling combo rhythm that suggests early R.E.M. And on the record’s highlight tune, “I Am a Woman,” Chilcott’s recites an affirmation of personal identity and purpose over an eerie, ambient chill.
Then there is the company she keeps. Chilcott frequently tours with indie country renegade Nikki Lane (the artist she last shared a bill with in Lexington), while last month, she found herself onstage in the desert terrain of Indio, Calif. as part of the heavily mainstream country festival known as Stagecoach.
Pretty American, yes? But there’s a catch. The Ruby Boots that has been rocking stateside audiences is actually from Australia. Not only that, she didn’t fully move to these shores (well, Nashville) until late 2017.
“I moved to America in December 2017 and then put ‘Don’t Talk About It’ out in February 2018,” Chilcott said. “I wasn’t planning on all these adjustments at the same time we were releasing a record. Releasing a record is such a challenging time as it is because you’re very vulnerable. You’re releasing this thing you’ve worked on probably for a year or two years. But now you’re in a brand new country.
“You don’t really have community around you that you’ve built over the last 10 years in your homeland. You don’t have the audience base or support, the champions that have come to love you in Australia. So I felt very alone last year putting the record out. It was a really strange feeling, and maybe not one that I would have hoped for. But at the same time, people have been getting used to hearing my name, and that doesn’t happen overnight. Not that I’ve had any expectations of it happening overnight. It was just a really quick skip from having almost all of that in Australia to having none of that in the U.S. Everything was so sudden. It was quite jolting. That’s why the loneliness kicked in. But on a recent West Coast tour, in some of the major markets, there were audiences where people were singing the words. I got to relive that feeling I got when I started in Australia. I’m going, ‘Okay, now I’m starting to feel really good.’”
A year on, the Americanized Ruby Boots is making the most of her new home and the musical compadres that inhabit it. Her return to The Burl this week is a co-billed show with Indianola, a Nashville band led by songsmith Owen Beverly who Chicott crossed paths with while both were on the road last year with Nicole Atkins (Chicott as show opener, Beverly as an Atkins band member). The two have just issued a collaborative, crunchy, power chord savvy pop single called “Might Be Losing My Mind.”
“Owen and I kind of bonded over music and just from being on the road. We planned to do some touring together because we thought we were a really good fit for each other. Then I said, ‘Why don’t we get creative and do something together? Why don’t we just see how it works writing a song together?’ That was because we shared so much interest. And so we did. It all came together really easily and we had great fun, so I think we’re going to do more.”
As for fitting in to life in America, Chilcott admits that despite the massive geographical shift, the adjustments she has made have been largely incremental.
“There are very small nuances. It’s not like moving to Asia or somewhere like that. There are a lot of similarities that run through the cultures. Humor is a big thing. I feel like Australians are a little more crass, a bit more on the nose. Like in America, it’s like, ‘Did she just say that?’ But it’s just in the nuances, and maybe in the way people carry themselves. Little things.
“Sometimes it doesn’t hit you how much things have changed until you’re six months down the track. It’s in the little moments, I think. The thing that has been the biggest adjustment has been the music community. It takes a minute to build that community up. Really, when you’re doing heavy touring on the indie side, your community is everything.”
When: 8 p.m. May 12
Where: The Burl, 375 Thompson Rd.