Sure, you’ve heard of Britney Spears, One Direction, Grace Potter, Rob Thomas, JoJo; but have you heard of Ruth-Anne Cunningham? If you know a song like “Work Bitch” or “No Control,” the answer is yes. The Irish-born, L.A.-based songwriter and producer co-wrote both tracks, along with countless others for some of the biggest recording artists today.
ARTISTdirect Interviews’ Gwendolyn Elliott recently spoke with Cunningham—who also records her solo work as Rooty—about the many accomplishments of her songwriting career, gleaning some behind the scenes facts about the process, along with a closer look at a professional approach that has made her one of the most sought-after songwriters in the business.
Gwendolyn Elliott: Ruth Anne is an uncommon name, but it’s lovely. Talking to you reminds me of the only other Ruth Anne I’ve heard of, from Northern Exposure.
Ruth Anne Cunningham: I’m glad you like it! I’ve heard there’s a lot of Ruth Annes in Kansas but I’ve never met another one. Maybe the name will become popular again.
GE: It’s also a name that’s shared credits on songs for some really big artists and bands, names like Britney Spears and One Direction. How did you get started in the business?
RAC: Well, I wrote my first song when I was seven actually, by myself. I was in choir when I was young, in church, and was singing. We would get the sheets with the verse and chorus and stuff that, so I kind of knew song structure from a very young age and I just was writing songs in my head and would sing them to my parents.
My mom and dad would sing and play in church so they had a little tape recorder, like a two track tape recorder with a microphone and I would sing the songs that I was writing into this tape recorder. When I was 12, I started teaching myself the piano; my mom had a piano and I just sat down and wrote my first song on piano, and then I formed a girl group out of my best friends from my stage school. I would teach them harmonies and I would teach them songs.
So all of the songs I was writing I was able to hear back to me with a few different voices and I was able to have harmonies; I was just always so set on making music. From literally when I was seven, I wrote tons and tons of songs and then my band, the girl band that I was in, we met a manager and we got some recording time and started recording around 13 or 14. My dad actually entered one of my songs that was written, when I was 17, in this songwriting competition that was in Ireland and I won the “Songwriter of the Year” award with it.
A manager [saw me in the paper] who was working with the Script at the time, [though] they weren’t the Script then though. He said “I want to bring you to L.A.” and the usual “I want to make you a star.” So at 17, I had just finished my exams, and my parents allowed me to not go to college and go to L.A. and just do songwriting and singing as an artist.
So, I went with him to L.A., it was my first time in America, and the third day I was here he set me up with a GRAMMY-winning songwriter named Billy Steinberg who’s written “Like A Virgin,” “True Colors,” he’s written some of the biggest songs. I walked in and they’d started this song called “Too Little Too Late” and then I wrote it with them, and Josh Alexander, and [about] two years later it became like a massive worldwide hit.