Thursday, October 29, 1998

OC Weekly - Rich Kane, 1998

Ruby Diver Doesn't Make MTV's The Cut...And that's a very, very good thing

It's Saturday night in a really creepy, industrial-looking part of Burbank. Outside Empire Studios, a crowd of hip-hop and alterna-rock fashioned youths are fluttering around, waiting to go in for a taping of MTV's latest, "hottest" new show, The Cut (it's only hot because MTV says it is, even though the show's Sept. 28 premiere was still two days away at the time). Basically an MTV take on Star Search, with brief, Real World-like vignettes thrown in, each half-hour episode of The Cut features four unsigned, largely unknown artists performing a song, after which they're judged on points by a three-person panel of alleged "experts." The winner of each episode moves on to the next round and so on, until, out of 160 acts, only one is left standing among the carnage. The grand prize after all this is an MTV-financed video, which will air on the network. Probably once. On a Tuesday. At 3 a.m.

I meet up with Kurt Hoffman, manager of Ruby Diver, and the Long Beach band's drummer, Greg Jamison. Both look a bit nervous, since Ruby Diver is competing on the show this night. Well, sorta: weeks earlier, Hoffman saw an ad for the show in one of the trades. He sent in a copy of Ruby Diver's Super RemoteCD, and he got a call back from MTV and an invite to appear. Cool!

Except they didn't want the band, just singer Paula Duke. And they insisted on picking the song she'd do. And on the show, she'd have to sing to a tape with the vocal track removed.

Hmmm. . . . Still, this was MTV, which means exposure. So Hoffman and the band reluctantly agreed to be molded into MTV's image. After passing through a metal detector, Hoffman, Jamison and I grab seats in the studio audience. I make sure my ugly puss avoids any audience-reaction shots, but I've been practicing my middle-finger quick draw just in case. The mostly teenage crowd-many obtained through a casting agency-fills in the stands. A tech armed with rolls of tape eyeballs everybody, covering any unauthorized product endorsements that might errantly appear on camera (a standard, stupid MTV policy), including, oddly, one guy's Oakland Raiders hat. An annoying, unfunny comedian, whose job is to get everybody all excited and hepped up so that it'll look like they actually give a shit, starts offering everybody free T-shirts and CDs. Suckers that these kids are, they screamingly comply.

Here come de judges: R&B crooner Brian McKnight and two label execs, Thornell Jones from Epic and Dominica Johnson of Immortal Records. Then the show's host arrives: Lisa "Left Eye" Lopes of TLC (apparently still in need of dough since her group declared bankruptcy a few years ago), looking very trippy with weird glitter around her eyes. The taping begins. Lopes looks straight into the camera and blurts her greeting: "YO, EVERYBODY, WASSUP?! [The "YO" is actually written on her cue card.] I'm Lisa 'Left Eye' Lopes, and this is MTV's . . . The Cut!" On cue-and because the MTV people say we must-we all leap up, holler, applaud and act like we're having a bitchen time. I clap jadedly but refuse to yell, opting to stand there with my mouth open so it looks like I'm into it. If there wasn't such a thing as scream-synching, there is now.

Hip-hop beats fill the room, and Lopes dances a forced jiggy jig. She then introduces the first act, a Puerto Rican rapper named T-Bone who throws down mile-a-minute rhymes like a mutha-pretty impressive. The judges think so, too, and give him a great score.

Next up: two brothers who call themselves Hillside. Yawn. All I hear are unimpressive vocal gymnastics of the kind you hear on every deathly dull "urban contemporary" station in the land. The judges give them an okay score-but not as good as T-Bone. Hillside will not be making . . . The Cut!

Now it's Duke's turn. First, there's a seconds-long, black-and-white clip of her walking around the grounds of the Long Beach Museum of Art, followed by a few soundbite sentences from Duke on what music means to her.

Um . . . uh-oh . . . the MTV people aren't calling Duke "Paula"; they're calling her Ruby Diver. Hoffman whispers that the switch was his decision, based on future name-recognition potential. This disturbs me: Ruby Diver as a band name is fine, but Ruby Diver as a solo female singer's name makes Duke sound like a porn star or stripper. Still, I can't say I wouldn't have done the same thing.

Duke steps to her stage mic, ready for her closeup. "Broken String," a track from Super Remote, starts playing, minus Duke's vocals. Despite the odd setting-no band working behind her-she still nails it. But the jazzy, mellow song is about the farthest thing from what the heavily funk-and-R&B-influenced band is all about, a ditty that they usually only whip out when someone breaks a string. Duke winds it up and then goes off to an alcove to await her fate.

While the scores are tallied, I notice Jamison looks really, really nervous. Duke seems very calm, though. Judgment time: an insipid comment from one judge about how Duke should "work on her look." Can you tell this is MTV? Another judge says she should go "more organic" with her jazz sound, which would be great if Duke was a jazz person. Duke/Ruby Diver gets a final score of 23 out of 30 possible points.

Still one more act: a trio of singing, dancing teen girls, the youngest of whom keeps sticking her not-very-developed breasts out as if she learned it from one of those extremely disturbing JonBenet Ramsey beauty-contest videos. After they're done, T-Bone gets trotted out and positioned next to them. Their score isn't enough, however: T-Bone wins and moves on to the next round. He's made . . . The Cut! Then-again, just as MTV told them to-some hand-picked members of the audience walk out onto the set and start shaking their booties while the end-credits and canned-applause reels roll. Alas, I am not one of them, too old for the show's obvious target youth market-why else would The Cut air every day at 5 in the afternoon?

Afterward, Hoffman, Jamison and Duke (who, it turns out, was this episode's token white chick) seem relieved that their brush with MTV is over. They came, they tried, they failed, but they'll get over it. In fact, when we all convene outside the studio, they already have. Jim Carrey lost on Star Search, we recall, so what do judges know, anyway?

A few days later, an MTV publicist calls me, wanting to set up an interview with one of the show's producers, apparently thinking I'm writing about what a wonderful show The Cut is. But The Cut isn't wonderful. It's a demeaning, slanted MTV dog-and-pony show-why else would musicians not be allowed to choose which song they'll perform?-that exploits artists by dangling the carrot of fame before their faces.

Ruby Diver didn't win, and it doesn't matter. They're better than MTV. And definitely too good for . . . The Cut!

Friday, September 25, 1998

LA Times Review by Mike Boehm

Rubydiver Tends, Alas, to Cool Its Resources

By Mike Boehm

Los Angeles Times, September 25, 1998 in print edition F-24

There’s an attractive polish on this ruby. The Long Beach funk-rock foursome is skilled, tight and diversified. But when the flame starts flickering, Rubydiver’s tendency is to play it cool instead of pouring on the gasoline.

The singer, Miss Paula Helekunihi Duke, has a flexible and nuanced voice that drawls comfortably to generate funky attitude, or injects a bluesy husk for plaintive effect. Johnette Napolitano of Concrete Blonde and Linda Perry, the former 4 Non Blondes singer, sometimes come to mind, though Duke doesn’t push a song as hard as those two wailers can. Behind her, a sharp bass, drums and guitar trio, with two members doubling on keyboards, manages to be funky yet sleek.

But when Rubydiver comes to the point of getting down, it pulls back. The heated instrumental solo that might kick a song to another level never arrives, and Duke’s clear, full-bodied voice isn’t quite big and sassy enough to do all the cooking on its own.

Solid songwriting makes the album more than a groove exercise. On the opening three songs, Duke sings about various ways of seeking magical escapes: through a band’s close-knit vibe with its audience (“Supernatural”), through mental travel (“Mission to Mars”) and in the communal embrace of a welcoming, unpretentious Long Beach dance club (“Superstar Black”).

It’s a very Southern California album, as the characters always seem to be cruising in search of a better time–whether it be that mission to Mars or, in “Big Light Grinning,” circling fruitlessly around L.A.

A note of yearning and nervousness creeps into some of the songs about magical escapes, and lonely desperation takes over as the album progresses and Davis’ persona shifts to a lonely soul who looks to the bright lights as an escape from the existential blahs or the pain of failed romance.

The collection is varied, with clavinet-driven funk nodding to Stevie Wonder, a smooth, Latin number a la Sade, a flute solo on “Musicblanket 99” echoing Eric Burdon & War’s “Spill the Wine” and “Mission to Mars” done first with cool, Santana-style polyrhythms and dramatic sustained guitar tones, and again as an electronic trip-hop number.

The results are always listenable, but they would have been better if the music were at least occasionally super-insistent rather than semi-remote.

Copyright (c) 1998 Los Angeles Times

Thursday, August 20, 1998

"Everything In Gravity Grows"

'Everything in Gravity Grows'

Just what do those lyrics mean?

By Alison M. Rosen, OC Weekly
published: August 20, 1998

In the fast and exciting world of music fans, there are Lyrics People (LP), and there are Music People (MP). Then there's that rare beast, the Lyrics and Music Combo Person. LP are first attracted to songs based on the words, obviously, while MP often have no idea what their favorite songs are about because it was the beat or the groove that hooked them. I used to be an MP, but I've learned that that's dangerous because you can love a song and then get your hands on the liner notes and find out that your beloved song is about something stupid, like beer. And not even an elegant treatise on beer. (This is hypothetical; no offense to songs about beer.)If fact, I maintain that many Natural-Born Lyrics People are pushed into the MP camp because they can't make out the lyrics because their favorite singers model themselves after Kurt Cobain. I'm here to put an end to the madness. Armed with a phone, some phone numbers and a naturally winning personality, I embarked on a valiant quest to shake things up a bit by making local bands talk about their songs!

[...] 26-year-old Erik Hanson-guitarist/music writer/lyric co-writer from Long Beach's groovy, funky, whatever-y Ruby Diver [...] receives his life-altering call. There's something suspicious about bands from the LBC. Everything's "deep" and "groovy" and "beautiful" and full of "good vibes." I say, "Can the mystical mumbo-jumbo!" Hello. I've been to Long Beach! I don't get it! Make me understand! Song: "Superstar Black" from Superremote (Turftone Records) Erik Hanson: We wrote the song on an afternoon in Long Beach, and it's about positive summer vibes and a couple of shows we had been to, and it ended up evolving into a song about music and its effect on us. What are some of the lyrics? "Got an old car painted superstar black for the Sunday-afternoon drive/Got some Marvin giving me a soundtrack for the drift down to the East side." What is "superstar black"? It's literally the color of the car. It's painted a real shiny black, and it's an old Cadillac. Metaphorically, it was just that feeling that we had in Long Beach of going to gigs in classic cars and feeling like a star even if it is for that night only. Is there something star-ish about the color black? In a trashy limo, '80s way and in just a modern cool, refined way, yeah. What are some other lyrics? The chorus is: "And as the music plays/Oh, the groove gets so spiritual/Hours become days, and everything in gravity grows/The boys become amazed/To see the girls dance like angels/We're in the perfect place as everything in gravity grows." What does that mean, "everything in gravity grows"? It was something that grew out of the process of just feeling deeper and not necessarily partying, but having good times with good friends.

00 Soul plays a monthly gig at the Foothill called La Conga, and when it first started out, it'd be like 500 people, and everyone there was all about pulling up in their classic cars, coming and dancing. No bad vibes. Never any bad fights. People would toke up on the dance floor. It's just about the process of getting deeper through dancing and a community experience with friends and getting into the music. What do you mean by "getting deeper"? I think-for us, anyway-it's the process of growing up. It's a mid-20s kind of thing. You party in a different way, and you dance in a different way. When you're 18, you go get fucked-up and trashed at a party, and it's cool. But as you grow older, you look for different ways to celebrate. I guess the experience with the soul music and everyone feeling cleansed and just dancing your ass off like no one's watching, you feel like you're getting deeper and seeking out experiences that are more love-filled than just a crashing at a keg kind of thing. It's still a good vibe at the Foothill once a month. Describe how this song sounds? It's a groovy song, like most of our songs, but it's very single-y. It's our single on this album if there is one. Ruby Diver play an acoustic set at the Long Beach Art Museum, 2300 E. Ocean Blvd., Long Beach, (562) 426-7601. Aug. 23 (1998), 7 p.m. Free. All ages.

[So] are you a lyrics person or a music person? Well, I'm a melding of both. The music and the words have to match or else it doesn't work for me. It can't just be cool words and shitty music, and it can't just be cool music and crappy lyrics, you know? They've got to both be there.

Thursday, July 9, 1998

Rubydiver CD Review by Holly Watson

Ruby Diver's debut album mixes exciting generational sounds


By Holly Watson, On-line Forty-Niner
July 9,1998

"In Long Beach, there's a place you can go where you'll never want to come down," and local-sensation band, Ruby Diver, can take one there - via its dynamo debut album, "Super Remote."

"Super Remote," is delicious groove-rock confection dripping with brilliant melodies and lyrics and topped with smoothly-whipped vocals and instru-mentals.

The album's tightly-stacked tracks mingle grooving sixties and seventies freedom-band sounds with nineties tech-notronic-alterna-rock edges.

The melodies are hip and exciting and the lyrics are focused and intelligent. Moreover, musically and vocally, "Super Remote" is extremely well-executed.

Between Miss Paula Helek-unihi Duke's cooing voice, Cal State Long Beach English Department graduate, Erik Hanson's energy-packed guitar, Todd Sanders' grooving bass and Greg Jamison's jamming drums, "Super Remote" pleases and teases, providing mood elevation, dance inspiration and energetic ambiance.

Track one, "Supernatural" rocks from the go, featuring vocalist, Duke, "scatting," as she calls it, tricky phrases to a techno-aided groove-rock melody. The song has a Jefferson Starship feel in which Duke even sounds like Grace Slick.

Track two, "Mission to Mars," envelops a sinewy, soul-tingling approach, easing in seductively with soft, almost lullaby-vocals from Duke. The lyrics are lilting mind-teasers hinting at space travel and sexual eroticism; the melody is deep and appealing.

Track three, "Superstar Black" begins with the "In Long Beach" lyrics, written by Hanson. It is a local color song that streamlines from a smooth taunt into an energy-rush. Easily the most up-beat song on the album, it is packed with crisp phrasing such as "Everything in gravity grows" and "Tonight I'm flowing deeper on the inside."

Track four, "Drinkin'," features a catchy drum lead followed by an inviting bass jam and guitar session before Duke's voice takes flight into a Mama Cass sounding coo, "Now you got me drinkin' everything in sight," followed by "gonna find me a place; gonna make you all mine."

Track five, "Broken String" features an entire song full of Duke's scatting. Here, intelligent, saucy phrasing drives the song into a Latin groove. Partners on guitar, bass, keyboards, drums and drum machine sway in sultry samba style as well.

Track six, "Big Light Grinner," a lyrical stand-out, showcases mighty fast lip-work by Duke. Her vocal tone and texture sound a bit Alannis Morrissette-like here, albeit with quicker phrasing.

Track seven "Super Remote Control" features the clever line,

"Bring me inner vision just like Stevie Wonder," highlighting a pretty showy flute solo and a creative melody.

Track nine, "Mission to Mars (Station MIR Mix)" is a groovier, more technologically-aided version of track two, emitting an out-of-this world dance club feel, equipped with warbling, mysterious voices backing the vocals. This track has received airplay on Y107 recently.

Overall, Ruby Diver's sound on "Super Remote" is rocking enough - to energize one all day and grooving enough - to keep one swaying all night. The album, released on the TurfTone label under executive production and management of Long Beach native, Kurt Hoffman - is available at Tower Records on PCH in Long Beach and Fingerprints on 2nd Street in Belmont Shore.

Additionally, Ruby Diver, which has already played such venues as Los Angeles' The Mint, The Dragonfly, Luna Park, Martini Lounge, and The Gig, Long Beach's Blue Cafe and the Foothill, Orange County's Glasshouse and San Diego's Belly-Up Tavern and opened for Common Sense, Reel Big Fish, Ozomatli and the Untouchables - boasts a few upcoming venues.

This month the band returns to the The Mint in Los Angeles, July 9 and 16, 1998 at 10 p.m. and performs at Hollywood Park, July 10 and 17, 1998 at 10 p.m.

For more information, one may visit

Sunday, May 31, 1998

Rubydiver Impresses with New Album

Concert Direct Music News and Information
May 31, 1998
By Evan Zelig

Turftone Records might not be one of the biggest record companies around, but they sure have something to be proud of with Ruby Diver's latest release. The band has been creating quite a buzz around Long Beach and surrounding communities with their often very crowded live shows. However, it wasn't until we received the album in the mail that we fully began to realize why Ruby Diver was creating such a buzz.

Superremote, Ruby Diver's release, grabbed my attention right from the first song, "Supernatural," and didn't let us go until their "Mission to Mars" was over. But after the album was over, it grabbed my attention again because I started the CD over! With nine fantasic songs, Superremote puts you in a mood undescribable by words alone. With stunning lead vocals by Paula Helekunihi Duke, the synthesizers and guitar rhythms of Erik Hanson, the steady beats of drummer Greg Jamison, and the bass guitar, keyboard, and sampled sounds provided by Todd Sanders, this album can make even the most uptight person feel relaxed.

Long Beach has been known for being the home town of many local bands, but Ruby Diver is one the city may actually be proud of! Their regular live shows is only one example of this. Upcoming shows are [ . . . ]. If you have a chance, get out to one of their shows. If their album is any indication of what you will see, you will not be disappointed!

Ruby Diver describes themselves as a young band from Long Beach on a modern groove mission. By the looks and sounds of it, their mission has been accomplished!

Friday, April 24, 1998

Itchy Grooves by Rich Kane

OC Weekly Concert Review
"Locals Only" by Rich Kane
April 24, 1998

at Taxi's, Huntington Beach, CA
Sat. April 11

We came to Taxi's to see Long Beach's Ruby Diver, whom we heard were getting wildly popular. But we had also heard rumors that they were nothing more than a lame 70's cover band, which had scared us away from their shows for a while. On that count, we were wrong, though we thought our worst fears had been realized when glamorous lead warbler Miss Paula not only come out looking like Patti LaBelle circa "Lady Marmalade" with all that glitter stuff on her face, but then she also started moaning the ultra-schmaltzy ballad "The Rose," which we despised even back in sixth grade, when it was happening.

Looks like Patti, perhaps, but Paula sounds more like Grace Slick, with her big-bottomed throat, which got the attention of even the most ignorant chattering assholes in the room. Then the rest of RD started pouring this wickedly itchy groove concoction of funk and R&B (were those extra fingers we saw on the nimble bass player's right hand?), and within seconds, our minds were free, and our asses followed. We don't remember much after that--we were too busy gettin' up on the down stroke, baybeh--so Ruby Diver must be great. Any band that can make us forget our [IRS] 1040 turmoil is hall-of-fame bound as for as we're concerned.

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