Her long-awaited debut album is out next month.
You may not have realised it, but Ireland has produced a world class songwriter in RuthAnne Cunningham.
The Donaghmede native has had a hand in the creation of some enormous pop hits, including Niall Horan’s Slow Hands (plus four more tracks from his album Flicker), and the Britney banger Work Bitch.
She’s spent years crafting songs for other artists, but now, she’s ready to step out in front of the microphone herself with her debut album, Matters of the Heart.
“I’ve been in the industry as a songwriter for other artists. But when I was playing this stuff to people, they were like, this is a body of work. You couldn’t give this away,” RuthAnne tells STELLAR. “It was like I had finally found my own voice, and was making the type of music I wanted to do for myself.”
RuthAnne has primarily written for pop artists, but her solo work is inspired by R&B and soul acts like Lauryn Hill and Alicia Keys – as well as her experiences of being an Irish girl in Los Angeles.
“I feel like when I go in and write for people, I’m trying to pull stories from their lives. When you listen to my album, it’s more the stories of what I went through as an Irish girl in LA, the Hollywood scene, the feckboys… I couldn’t really recreate that for anyone else, the stories of the songs were really my own.”
She got a shock this summer when one of those songs, The Vow, was played on the final episode of Love Island. Her voice soundtracked the pivotal scene in which the four remaining couples spoke their ‘vows’ to each other:
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It’s the @loveisland final & I can’t believe my song #thevow was played for the whole song in such a special scene! I had no idea & am so beyond surprised & happy!!! Congrats to the winners @amberrosegill and fellow Irishmen @gregoshea beautiful couple, possible wedding song for you two 😜 make sure to keep streaming #thevow link is in my story ☘️❤️ thank you @loveisland & @itv2 for believing in the song & having it on the final!! #loveisland
“It was a complete surprise,” says RuthAnne. “I thought someone was playing it from their phone when it came on. I was running around! And in such an important moment in the show, with two Irish contestants… just an amazing, crazy thing.”
Although things are looking very rosy right now for RuthAnne, she reveals that it’s not always been this way. The former Billie Barry kid first broke into the business at 17, when her then-manager flew her to the US to co-write JoJo’s 2006 hit Too Little Too Late.
Since then, she’s seen every side of the industry, and admits that there were many times she felt ‘done’ with music: “I think I’m done with it every few months! But there was this one time when I had so many songs that were meant to come out, and it was taking so long.
My song In The Name Of Love was meant to come out a year before it did. There were about five things like that, that were meant to be happening but kept not happening. Sometimes you’re just waiting. I started getting so frustrated by the business side of everything, and the politics. I wrote a big email to my manager at the time, and I was like, I need to figure out if this is what I want to do anymore. I need to do something other than music for a while.
This ended up being an improv class (“which was fucking terrible”) and a course in vocal production – but a few sage words from a life coach turned things around again.
“I went to my life coach and said, ‘I think I’m done. I actually think this might not be for me.’ She said to give it one more day and the universe will show you a sign, which sounds really cheesy, but this actually happened,” RuthAnne recalls.
“The next day I woke up to ten emails – there was a release date set for In The Name Of Love, I got a vocal feature with [DJ/producer] Zedd that I didn’t think I was going to get, John Legend’s manager wanted to manage me… and within a week, everything had changed. I was like, OK, I’m going to throw my hat in the ring once more. That was four years ago, and now my album’s coming out.”
If anyone’s a testament to the power of perseverance, it’s RuthAnne. But as she says, it’s important to step back every once in a while. “You need to take a break to live. And if you want to be able to write songs, you need to live.”
Matters of the Heart it out on October 4 – RuthAnne plays The Academy, Dublin on October 10