An Interview With Singer And Songwriter Alyssa Ruffin, Who Just Released Her New Single “Collateral Damage”
Hi Alyssa, first of all, how has everything been going for you through the quarantine?
Everything has been amazing! The slowdown and quality time with my family has been especially nice. I also had time to focus on my original music and I just released my very first single “Collateral Damage” on March 26th!
I would love to hear about more of your background — when did you first get into music?
My mom would say I’ve been singing since I was a baby. I used to crawl inside her guitar case and sit there singing notes while she sang and played guitar. Not your typical baby talk. I started performing on stage around age 5. My mom put me into any and every singing competition she could find! I started with the Bill Ryley Talent Show at the North Iowa State Fair in Mason City, Iowa, sang in church, and when I was 7, I remember standing on top of a stage made out of Pepsi 12 packs and singing inside the Cashwise Grocery store. There were cardboard cutouts of Ray Charles and backup singers behind me.
My mom took me to most of her performances as early back as I can remember. Any places that would let me in, she would take me with her — karaoke shows, gigs with her band, band practice, her friends gigs (they would always let me get up and sing one or two songs). I went to work with her a few times when she was a radio announcer at KIA FM in Mason City, Iowa. At age 8, I performed on the Tom Slick Show in Denver, Colorado, performing for 5,000 patrons. I performed alongside my mom for the Buddy Holly Memorial Anniversary Event for Maria Holly (Buddy Holly’s wife) in Clear Lake, Iowa when I was 9 years old. Then when I was 10, I auditioned for Star Search.
At 14, I competed in the International Freedom Festival Singing Competition in Windsor, Ontario, Canada, and the Essex Singing and Fiddle Competition in Essex, Ontario, Canada. Growing up, I was always in the choir and honor choir and participated in my school talent shows. In high school, I was in BHS Singers, Honor Choir and I performed the national anthem for most of the basketball games. I was a Cheerleader at Bennett High School in Bennett, Colorado (GO TIGERS!) so, I performed in my cheerleading uniform at every basketball game. As an adult, I performed the national anthem on several occasions for the semi-professional basketball team the Minot Skyrockets while living in Minot, North Dakota.
Additionally, I performed the national anthem for Scott Air Force Base in Belleville, Illinois, and most recently for the Santa Barbara Polo and Racket Club in Santa Barbara, California. While living on the east coast, I started my first cover band. We played the National Harbor and all over Washington DC, Maryland, and Northern Virginia (NOVA), it was a blast while it lasted. I was also in a duo and worked as a hired gun for several local bands. I played gigs often with a drummer on the east coast who toured with Amy Grant. This specific show I was playing with him, I had the honor of playing with Legendary Musician and Lead Guitarist for Wilson Pickett, David Panzer. It was very last minute. We had no set list, no rehearsals, I met them at the venue in Maryland, and we just rolled with it. One of the most fun shows I’ve ever played!
Who were some of your influences growing up?
Mariah Carey, Christina Aguilera, Pink, and Jewel were my biggest influences growing up. I also grew up with country music inspired by Trisha Yearwood, LeAnn Rimes and Shania Twain. So, I think that reflects in my music!
Tell us about your new single “Collateral Damage” and the inspiration behind it:
I was partnered with D.T. Hudson Writing Company. D.T. is a former Police Officer, Military Veteran, and author of “PTS ME”. He was tasked by Veteran Affairs through the Warriors of the North Group, for the Songs For Soldiers program. He was looking to pair music artists with Military Veterans to turn their stories into songs. My husband is active duty Space Force (former Air Force) so being a military wife and Mission 22 Ambassador, I’ve been wanting to do more for the Military community. This was the perfect opportunity. I immediately agreed, not knowing what I was getting myself into. I was expecting war stories and things military related. On my first phone call with the veteran, she told me that she was a survivor of childhood sexual abuse. I had already agreed to this project before knowing her story but when she said that, my heart sunk into my stomach.
I am a survivor of childhood sexual abuse and a survivor of rape and sexual assault as a young adult. When I heard her story and also shared a similar story, I knew I had to write this song. For her, for me, and for all of the survivors out there. Some of my lyrics are inspired by the original poem she wrote entitled “Collateral Damage”. I kept the title and picked out a couple of lines to tell her story “It took me a really long time, but now I’ve got time to rhyme” and “I am a ticking time bomb if you’re in my path” is paraphrased from her poem which reads “A ticking time bomb with those in my path; ’twas hard to pick up the pieces of each aftermath”. A powerful line in her poem “I never meant to hurt any of you; As I found out it is just what sexual assault survivors do” I changed to “I never meant to hurt any of you, that’s just what survivors do” to fit my song structure, timing and phrasing. I intentionally arranged the pause directly after.
I wanted the music to stop so the listener could feel the impact. Audrey and the girls executed that section for me perfectly! Another powerful line paraphrased from her poem, she wrote “My body still aches, as the trauma stayed inside”. This was such a powerful statement that we all feel, in the form of words. I wrote “My body still aches, from the trauma inside”. I had the idea to make it echo so you hear it three times. I really wanted it to resonate with the listener. Audrey did a fabulous job helping me bring my ideas to life! The veteran also wrote in her poem, “Lastly I know it is all my brain could manage; my apologies to those; for you have been my collateral damage”. I wanted to work those words into a chorus. I came up with “This is all my heart can manage, you have been my collateral damage”.
Finding the inspiration to tell my own story in this song was a bit more challenging. For the first time, writing about my personal life experience did not come easy. This has been my deepest, darkest secret for most of my life. I wrote “You took a piece of me, and made me believe” because they took multiple pieces of me. Innocence, confidence, security, trust in others and left me with a lifetime of struggles within. Which is where the next line “Will I learn to love myself, that’s still my biggest fear” comes into play. This was something I asked myself often because as a survivor you feel shame even though it’s not your fault. They sometimes make you believe it’s your fault or make you feel like it’s your fault. So I sat down and decided to make this a POWER ANTHEM. Something to inspire faith, courage, finding your voice and empowering survivors to keep climbing.
In the first chorus I wrote “I have faith, I’ll find my voice one day, and I’ll be strong, when I find the words to say”. The second chorus changes to empower survivors. It says “I have faith, I found my voice within, and I AM strong, I’ll keep climbing”. The bridge says “I know that life goes on, God give me strength to carry on” and talking to the predators “I don’t need you, I’ll speak my truth”. I am a firm believer that there is power in words, especially when YOU believe them. My favorite and most delicate line in the song was something I wrote to myself. “It took me a really long time, so many years I tried to find that little girl inside, and let her know it’s going to be alright”.
Moving on to the music portion of this song was an amazing journey. I am a PBG Brand Artist, so I reached out to Produced By A Girl and told Mary that I wanted an all-female collaboration. Musicians, producers, the whole SHEbang. She connected me to Audrey Martinovich. Audrey is a Grammy voting member, producer, engineer and co-owner at Audio For the Arts in Madison, Wisconsin. I sent Audrey my lyrics and melody, she put together the chords, produced, mixed, and mastered like a true lady boss. Jules Quaas from Jules & The Howl out of Los Angeles, California plays Keys/Synth, Jenna Joanis out of Madison, Wisconsin plays Drums, Bass, and Guitar, and Allison Lenz also out of Madison, Wisconsin plays Cello.
I also had a dear friend in Colorado Matt Meacham, design a special edition: Survivor merch line for me. It was inspired by the unofficial sexual assault survivor tattoo that was first displayed by Lady Gaga and 50 other survivors. I wanted something for us, that we can be proud of. I did one with survivor on it and one without in case some aren’t ready to say it loud. “Collateral Damage” is “Dedicated to all survivors and victims of sexual assault. To the stories we know, and to those untold”. This is for all of us! You are not alone! #METOO #SAAM #MUSICANDTHEMISSION
What has been one of the biggest highlights/achievements of your career so far?
Performing with my mom on the original Music Row in Nashville, when we lived there. We’d set up in front of the Country Music Hall of Fame Souvenir and Gift Shop. I loved it. As an adult, opening for Sawyer Brown in Valley City, North Dakota performing for 30,000, opening for Firehouse at The Venue in Denver, Colorado in 2018. That day was a twofer. I also played the Highland Street Fair in Denver early that afternoon. We had just enough time to tear down and get to the venue in time for sound check. In 2019, I guest performed with Scott Wilson at Herman’s Hideaway in Denver, Colorado. Opening for J.R. Richards of Dishwalla with my original, not yet released single “Pretty Boy Blues”. While opening for J.R, my husband Chuck Ruffin, drove me into Sunshine Studios Live in a 1959 Ford Fairlane (courtesy of Touch of Shade in Colorado Springs). It was quite the grand entrance.
I was the direct support and “Sunshine” was totally cool with it, so we drove a car into the venue. It was so epic! I would love to recreate it for the official “Pretty Boy Blues” music video when I release it! Opening for Coolio (with Pretty Vague), and opening for Hinder also at Sunshine Studios Live in Colorado Springs and seeing my name on the SSL marque next to major artists was equally awesome! Performing at some of the local jams in LA and Hollywood like the State Social House on the iconic Sunset Strip in Hollywood, California, Skinny’s Lounge in NOHO and with Gritty In Pink (founded by Shiragirl) at The Satellite in Los Angeles. In 2020 I had the honor of opening for Country Music artist Confederate Railroad at the A.B.A.T.E. of Iowa Freedom Rally in Algona, Iowa. Releasing my very first single “Collateral Damage” on major music platforms this week is definitely a moment in time that I will remember forever. All absolutely incredible moments in my career!
If you had a chance to work alongside anybody who would that be?
I would love to work with Mariah Carey, Christina Aguilera, Pink, Trisha Yearwood, LeAnn Rimes, Jewel and Shania Twain because they all had such a huge impact on my music! I would also love to work with Maren Morris, Taylor Swift, Carly Pearce, Dua Lipa, and Lady Gaga.
What other projects do you have coming up?
In addition to my single, I have a Behind the Scenes — Making of “Collateral Damage” video coming out, along with an Official “Collateral Damage” Music Video, both produced by M.O.D. Media Productions out of Madison Wisconsin as well as a “Collateral Damage” Lyric Video produced by BSquared Management out of Nashville, Tennessee. I am recording my singles “Enough” and “Where I Need You Now” with Scott Wilson of Saving Abel at Sunshine Recording Studio in Colorado.
Those tracks feature Kent Slucher (drummer for Luke Bryan) on drums, Scott Wilson (bassist for Saving Abel) on bass and guitar, and Nashville Pro Steve Hinson on steel guitar. Steve has worked with everyone from Carrie Underwood, Dolly Parton & Kenny Chesney to Josh Turner, Luke Bryan, and Chris LeDoux. Additionally, I am featured on an upcoming song with my friends Ozonic called “Future Bright” and have a few other things in the works but I can’t share all of the goods at once. You’ll just have to wait and see what else is in store.
What is your best piece of advice for aspiring artists?
You can do anything you set your mind to! Believe in yourself and work hard! There is no reward without risk, so take chances on yourself! Perseverance is key! Always stay humble and kind. Don’t take every opportunity just because it sounds good and remember the four R’s. Re-center. Re-focus. Re-adjust. Re-start.
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