Ruby, 6 - Joyce Kwon
Joyce Kwon - singer, composer & gayageum player making folk music for folks of the diaspora
Joyce Kwon, voicekwon, gayageum, Asian American, Korean American, New American Folk
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Ruby, 6

I’m publishing a blog post every Friday on a track from my album Dream of Home. If you haven’t read it already, my post on the title track from last week is a good place to start to get properly introduced to the series.

The portrait used as the backdrop in the “Ruby, 6” lyric video above is by Gianina Ferreyra, an exceptional photographer/artist I know from high school, and the translucent layer covering half of my face is 모시 ramie fabric that’s over a hundred years old, passed down from my 외할머니 grandmother.

Slippers and dogs

“Ruby” in the title refers to the ruby slippers from the 1939 film The Wizard of Oz, the quintessential American tale featuring Judy Garland. The “6” is for my shoe size and also the meter that the song begins in. I was sort of thinking of this as my spin on the musical, à la Wicked, only from the viewpoint of Toto. I got to thinking that I’d like to do a revue, all from the viewpoint of dogs (excluding musicals that are already told from the snouts of canines).

Speaking of dogs, Keith, Ross and I were in the control room as usual during our mixing days when the chihuahua started yapping outside and Ross looked over and said, “What’s that, Joyce?” I could see Keith shaking trying to suppress his laughter but I wasn’t offended per se. I do have a tendency to bark here and there.  

Anyhow, after we finished recording, it occurred to me that my reference to the slippers and use of the phrase “There’s no place like home” in the lyrics might be seen as copyright infringement. While the L. Frank Baum book that the film is based on is in the public domain, the ruby slippers were an adaption made for the film (they were originally silver) and the phrase is used in both the movie and the book. I didn’t know what to do but thankfully, I stumbled onto New Media Rights, a wonderful nonprofit based in Southern California that provides legal services and advocates for creators at no to low cost. The affable attorneys there talked me through the risks and gave me their opinion on how to proceed. I highly recommend them for artists and other people making stuff.

Below is the key phrase we kept in mind throughout the recording and mixing process for “Ruby, 6.”

New dog learns old tricks

I used to be in an indie rock band in a former life and I applied something I learned from that recording project to “Ruby, 6.” To make it sound full and slightly eerie, I doubled the lead vocal at the octave. I didn’t want the double sounding Minnie-Mouse high but the octave down was too low for my range so I had to sing it an octave up on my mockup. Keith found a way around this limitation by doubling it at an octave lower artificially (via plugin?) for the actual recording.

My baby sister listened to one of the mockups and said it was creepy. What can I say? I adore creepy music! Doubling an octave down, instead of up, toned down the creep factor by a lot though, which is good. You can listen to my initial Garageband mockup in the video below (and the first solo sketch here for the bare bones of it).

By the time we got to working on this song, I got with the program/Ross and I had a clearer idea of what kind of album we were making, so my mockup feels similar to the final in a number of ways though producer/co-arranger Ross as well as audio engineer Keith had a crucial role in finessing and shaping the song (for the most obvious example, listen to the sweeping background vocals on the last B section). And check out that trombone solo from Nick! 🔥

I arranged to have clusters of twinkling overtones on the gayageum strings come in at the beginning with the song but between my mouth clicking noises obscuring the pizzicato and the delicate nature of the overtones, it was not sounding entirely intentional so we added an organ sounding in reverse at the intro and brought in the drops of sound before the A section kicked in. Doesn’t it sound like a foggy, rainy day?

My lip smacking was a minor but annoying issue in all of the songs. The combination of closely microphoned soft singing and my penchant for clear/crisp enunciation (I love Carmen McRae for it) may have led to the incessant and noticeable mouth noises, which was exacerbated by the fact that we doubled all of my vocals and added layers of harmony—producing many times the already abundant clicking sounds. (Ross had suggested doubling vocals for a track and we decided we liked it for all the tracks on this album.)  We heard there’s a plugin to mitigate such noise and would like to try that in the future because the lip smacking was a pain to try to remove.

Modern love

I wrote “Ruby, 6” in a stream of consciousness after returning to the States from Korea, with the intention of adding it to the album in progress. I didn’t set out to write an odd meter song but the words and melody just came out that way. We ended up with no love songs on the album, but this actually started as one then morphed into an anthem for the homeless as I got to the heart of the song and its natural musical characteristics were brought out.

Losing my sense of home was the greatest heartbreak I’ve experienced in my young-ish life and depending on how you look at it, my album either has no love songs or is made up of love songs.


Read my post on “Nililiya” next.

Find Dream of Home on YouTube Music, Bandcamp, Apple Music, Amazon, and Spotify.

  • zebulah baldwin
    Posted at 19:28h, 14 October Reply

    One of my favorites on the album. I instantly loved this song for the vocal harmonies, but it’s the haunting (creepy?) evocations of a longing that might never be fulfilled that have pulled me back to it again and again. “I’m ready to go home now, but I can’t seem to find the way” is one of the most heartbreaking lyrics I know. Sometimes, as I’m listening to the song’s final minute, I find myself wishing the exultant tones of that trombone solo would just keep playing, keep making what sounds to me to be a sonic plea for something strong and passionate in the midst of all the melancholy…..

    • voicekwon
      Posted at 21:59h, 16 October Reply

      Thanks Zeb as always for your thoughtfulness. Once the trombone was added, it really made it anthemic and it makes my heart feel like it’ll burst!

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