Arts & Entertainment

Press Pass: Amber Rubarth

presspassFor Amber Rubarth, writing songs is a lot like carving wooden sculptures with a chainsaw. No, that may not be the most usual example, but the free-spirited, Brooklyn-based, California-bred singer-songwriter certainly knows what she’s talking about. After all, she did spend three years sawing stumps into statues before beginning her music career.

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Amber Rubarth (Courtesy Photo)

For Amber Rubarth, writing songs is a lot like carving wooden sculptures with a chainsaw. No, that may not be the most usual example, but the free-spirited, Brooklyn-based, California-bred singer-songwriter certainly knows what she’s talking about. After all, she did spend three years sawing stumps into statues before beginning her music career.

Years before leaping feet first into songwriting, Rubarth ditched her college plans to apprentice with Matt Welter, a sculptor in Reno, Nev. While Rubarth enjoyed indulging in the art, she eventually decided to pursue a different calling. In fact, it was her mentor, Welter, who started her on her current path.

“After spending three years as an apprentice, I think he felt I was getting to the point where I needed to do something different and change things up a little. He really encouraged me to find one thing I loved and throw myself into it full force,” recalls Rubarth of her time with Welter in his studio in Reno. So she bought her first guitar, learned a few chords and started taking slots at open-mic shows in local coffee houses.

What makes the music composition career course correction a little odd is that Rubarth never liked music growing up, a fact she blames on her parents’ record collection of Kenny G, Michael Bolton and “The Bodyguard” soundtrack. It wasn’t until her time in Reno that she began to embrace it and, even then, it wasn’t through mainstream radio or music videos. Rather it was local live acts that turned Rubarth on.

“I didn’t go to concerts growing up,” Rubarth says. “But there were two songwriters, they’re not famous or anything, but they’re two of the first people whose music really hit me and made me feel like it’s something I wanted to do. “

The unusual intro to the art may explain Rubarth’s unique sound. By playing with rhythms, twisting lyrics and banking on a healthy dose of natural charm, Rubarth stands apart from the standard coffee-house singer-songwriter, sweetly singing of her latest tormented relationship or self-esteem issue. And that package has carried her a very long way.

Despite some early growing pains, such as learning an instrument and navigating cash concerns after her sculpture savings ran out, she never looked back. And since that conversation with Welter, she’s never held a job outside of songwriting.

“Yeah, I wouldn’t say I eased into songwriting,” Rubarth jokes. “I definitely lived in my car at times at the very beginning, but I kept at it.”

And now her persistence is paying off, with accolades seemingly multiplying by the month. The Huffington Post applauded her as part of the “new old-soul generation,” when it included her in its Dog Ears Music post for music that “deserves to be heard.” Bob Boilen featured her on NPR’s “All Things Considered.” And her song “Washing Day” won the “Lyrics Only” division of the 2006 International Songwriting competition.

Biding her time by touring with some acquaintances from L.A.’s Hotel Café music scene (Gary Jules, Joshua Radin) and working on a side project in Brooklyn (Paper Raincoat), she’s waiting for that big boost to propel her to the next level. In the meantime, she’s perfectly happy with her ascent.

“It’s always felt like it’s been a gradual thing,” Rubarth says. “Some people have big jumps in their career where all of the sudden there are fireworks. For me it’s more like a blossoming thing. And that’s fine. I like flowers better than fireworks.”

• Amber Rubarth performs with Adam Levy on Oct. 20 at Jammin’ Java. Tickets are $15. The show starts at 7:30 p.m. For more on Amber Rubarth, visit myspace.com/amberrubarth.