January may be considered a dumping ground for movies but there are gems to be had. American Folk, the story of two strangers (Amber Rubarth, Joe Purdy) who drive a van cross country in the aftermath of 9/11 is simply unforgettable. My full interview with Rubarth is below, and during our chat she talked about her American Folk journey, crafting her solo album Wildflowers in the Graveyard, and finding a sense of place in KwaZulu-Natal.
Both you and Joe were novice actors, and traveling through 14 states during production must have added to that level of difficulty. But was actually meeting people on the road a benefit to shaping your characters?
They definitely tied in together. I think that because we were traveling on the road, it was better for us because we’re not actors (laughs). It allowed us to be able to take the trip and be feeling the different parts of the country and meeting people along the way.
It was just mind blowing to me how normally people don’t get that full experience. Normally people would be doing things in a studio or if they are driving a car on screen, they’re actually not driving it.
We had the most real experience that we possibly could have had while we were filming. It definitely served Joe and I because we were actually driving a van that actually broke down all the time (laughs). It was almost funny how much the process of filming reflected what the script was in ways that we weren’t actually planning like the van breaking down all the time (laughs).
With your love and passion for songwriting as well as folk music, connecting with people on the road must have been pretty sublime. Was this movie a personal experience for you?
Yeah absolutely. That’s a good catch there because it’s something that I haven’t really thought that much about until just recently. I think music for me just happens to be the thing that I have fallen into doing.
The thing that I connect with is this connection you make with people and meeting people along the way and getting out of your own bubble and seeing how other people live and what other people believe (in). It’s one of the things that I’ve done the most ever since I’ve started touring.
I’ve toured internationally a lot more than in this country because I really like going out and seeing different worlds. The more different, the better almost. The (American Folk experience) was really nice because it was going through these smaller towns while we were on the road and really getting a feel for what that community was, even if it was just spending an afternoon there or passing through and meeting a few locals and interacting with them.
That is what the heart of the script was but it was also the most important part of our experience.
Where do you consider home?
I can’t necessarily say one place. Right now I’m living in Nashville. I was in the Hudson Valley before that and I’ve been spending a lot more time up there as well. I really love it up there – I love the community there and the nature and the land. I also feel within these last couple of years – South Africa, specifically the Eastern region, the KwaZulu-Natal area – I’ve been there four times now in the last couple of years and I have never resonated with somewhere so much. The first time I landed there, I went to do a tour and i didn’t really know anybody there yet or anything, but as soon as I landed I felt like I understood what this word “home” means – finally.
I guess I am a little bit of a wanderer. I definitely travel a lot. Those are the three places that I’ve resonated the most deeply with and have tied myself to in a certain way.
In your song “Wildflowers in the Graveyard,” you sing “my whole life I’ve been working hard at changing, but now I’m just sinking in.” Is that lyric about being content of being on a certain path?
That’s been a big shift for me. Wildflowers in the Graveyard – that album I wrote after getting in a really bad car accident. At that time, it was a real shock.
I didn’t know if I was going to play music again. I had a concussion so I had a lot of brain things that were all of a sudden different. I wasn’t able to do the regular things that I had been able to do before.
Something about that experience really – I think it’s normal for us to try and, at least for me, of trying to please people or trying to be what you’re supposed to be. Just that idea of you’re not perfect however you are. Just this idea that we need to be something different.
Something about that experience helped me to let go of that. It’s still an ongoing process. That was the catalyst of of trying to be something else, I am going to “sink in” to what this is and really discover and appreciate it and honor it. And try to move in that direction, at least.
Can you talk about going on an American Folk tour with Joe Purdy?
I’m actually really excited. We just had our first rehearsal yesterday. It was a challenge. There were a lot of challenging things of going out and creating this film and not knowing how to act and not knowing what that process was and trying to feel our way out to it.
It feels really great to know that we finished this project. We’re now getting to share it with people. At rehearsal yesterday we were just smiling the whole time because we actually really love all of these songs and we’re adding a bunch of other songs that we weren’t able to put into the movie that we also love. Yesterday I felt like I was on a high – we were just running through all of these songs and loving them. I know the tour’s going to be great. It’s a cool thing to be involved with and I love Joe as an artist and he’s a friend. I think it’s going to be really fun. Everything so far with this has been fun as far as the sharing of it.
Random question – can you name a film or two that you can watch over and over again – and what makes this movie so special to you?
Oh goodness. The two films that come to mind would be Into The Wild. I love that movie. I love his struggle – the independence vs. being part of an ecosystem. That struggling of trying to climb your way on to where you belong (whether it’s with) a community or by yourself.
The other film I’ve watched multiple times is Adaptation. I really love that film too. There’s something that I’ve always been intrigued by which is the story within a story within a story. Everything sort of creating each other in the same time. That whole thing – it almost feels like one of those M.C. Escher art pieces where it shouldn’t actually work but it does. Those two films come to mind.
Thank you for your time!
Oh thanks so much Greg, nice talking with you. Thanks for those great questions.
Thank you San Francisco for such a beautiful night!!!! We’re headed up to Seattle, sold out tonight at The Triple Door! 😍 You all are the best, @joepurdyofficial & I are having so much fun touring these songs around the American Folk movie!! 🙏🏽💖🚌 . @americanfolkmovie #supersupergrateful #thisisfun #tourdates #comesayhi . . ‘American Folk’ On Tour ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~ 1/28 SEATTLE @ Triple Door *sold out* 1/30 D.C. @ The Hamilton 1/31 PHILLY @ World Cafe Live 2/1 BOSTON @ Brighton Music Hall 2/2 NYC @ City Winery *sold out* 2/3 DERRY, NH @ Tupelo Music Hall 2/4-11 AT SEA @ Cayamo Cruise 2/15-16 KANSAS CITY @ Folk Alliance TICKETS: AmberRubarth.com/tour SCREENINGS: AmericanFolkMovie.com Thank you @kellymbeach for the 📸
American Folk is now playing in select theaters and is also available On Demand.