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Ruth Merenda, Mike & Ruthy

Photo of Ruth Merenda, Mike & RuthyCassandra Jenkins

How would you describe your music?

Americana songwriter folk? The new record is the most pop-rock of any of our recordings but there's still the fiddle, banjo, and vocal harmonies that give it the folk flavor. This record has drums, bass, piano and pedal steel to fill it out more.

What is your role in your band? In the studio? In business or marketing decisions?

"Mike and I performed in The Mammals for about 7 years. I was co-manager of the band and did all of the bookkeeping. These days Mike and I try to split the work down the middle but he is the more prolific songwriter and I am the more compulsive business head and I still do all the numbers. On stage we share the musical roles more evenly.

Mike's studio knowledge has really grown over the years and now we have a great home studio. I like to do some editing, but he's more knowledgeable about the whole set-up.

We're also sharing the parenting at the same time, so it's a very interesting puzzle. "

Describe your gear.

As a duo, Mike and I sometimes perform in a very acoustic style around a condenser mic. But sometimes I play electric guitar and fiddle thru his old Ampeg tube amp and he plays kick drum and hi-hat while strumming his plugged-in acoustic. That's more of a big sound.

Related Themes: Gear

Do you think being a woman and a musician is different from being a man and a musician? If so, how? Was there a moment that made a difference clear to you?

"I have always been proud to be a woman on stage who can do more than just sing and play a tambourine. (Not that there's anything wrong with that!)

When I see a band with one or more women I am instantly more interested in what they are doing. As an actress it was brought to my attention that the ratio is 5 to 1 female actors looking for work and the reverse is true for female roles available.

Why is it so common for a play to be written with many male characters and only one female voice? Maybe there aren't enough women playwrights?

In music the field is more wide open for us to write our own play and raise our own voice. That's what drew me back to music.

In addition to playing in ""Mike & Ruthy"" I have a collaboration with two women (Aoife O'Donovan and Kristin Andreassen) in a vocal trio called Sometymes Why. There is something very special about that project which is hard to put into words. "

Related Themes: Behind The Music

Do you see differences between generations of women musicians?

"Yes! My mom had a band in the 80's called Rude Girls. They were fun, irreverent folkies who sang bawdy safe-sex ditties, real-life love songs, and the occasional role-reversal murder ballad. These days I don't think we have as much to prove.

In my ""all-girl band"" we don't really make a big deal about our gender and our freedom from oppression. I think we were raised as empowered women and we took that confidence and ran with it. Sometimes I think that translates as the confidence to be vulnerable. Together we create a comfort zone on stage where we can be pretty real. "

Related Themes: Off The Clock

Did anyone ever give you any valuable advice about making your way in the music industry? What advice would you give to a woman musician just starting out?

"Hmmmm. Because my parents and most of their friends are in the music business I received plenty of advice good and bad.

I think the best advice I got was in my theater training where I learned to breathe and be in the room in an audition setting. I know that sounds pretty basic, but it's easy to forget when you start playing high-profile shows and feeling like you have to impress everyone.

It's the same advice I'd give to anybody. Be present. Don't forget to breathe . . .

. . . and maybe a couple of tips I got from my Dad over the years, like: Don't burn a bridge if you can help it. Make sure you're still having fun!

There will always be high-paying gigs that are no fun low-paying gigs that feed your soul! Get a good balance going and you'll be alright. "

Related Themes: Advice

Why did you choose to play the instrument you play?

"My Dad plays the fiddle. His name is Jay Ungar and most people know his tune, ""Ashokan Farewell,"" from the PBS Civil War series by Ken Burns. I grew up at square dances on the weekends and folk festivals in the summer, so the traditional roots music scene is where I sprouted. Our 2-year old son is now starting to play the little fiddle that I started playing at 4. I say I've only been playing for 12 years professionally, but before that I was a kid with a fiddle who loved to sing. My mom, folk-singer, Lyn Hardy, is now a skilled luthier and lives nearby. We still sing together whenever we can. You might say that I didn't have much of a choice about playing the fiddle and making songs.

I chose to be an actress in college and for a couple of years after that in NYC, but I came away from the city with a renewed love for music instead, and a lifelong musical collaborator too!"

Related Themes: The First Time