Ruel (Ruel Vincent Van Dijk) is an 18-year-old musician from Sydney, Australia who is becoming one of the biggest names in music, not only of his generation, but in the industry. Ruel’s list of collaborations, record breaking awards, Platinum certifications, Elton John approvals and the ambitious RuelVision project (an online television network) seem as though they should belong to a much older artist, with far more years under their belt. Ruel’s voice, however, reveals youthful energy, despite his powerful vocal abilities.
Ruel shared, “I want to get across that this project is another step forward in maturity for me. Free Time was a step up from Ready, and this Bright Lights, Red Eyes EP is a step up again. This project was a stream of consciousness when I was writing it at the time, and I feel like that’s the way all projects and songs are for me. They are moments in time. This project isn’t who I am right now as I wrote these songs last year, but it’s the most mature you’ve ever heard me and it was me, in that moment in time. The songs I’m writing now will be more mature again, and I love that my fans can come on this journey with me as I grow.”
Bright Lights, Red Eyes is not an album, and Ruel is aware of that. He’s currently working on the album under the guidance of long-time collaborators, M-Phazes and THIEF. Ruel explained that he wants his album to be very special, “It’s a lot more layered, I want each project to have more meaning and purpose. I want to reflect on something important in my life, and give across a message that if people are feeling the same way that I am, it’s okay.”
Ruel’s Bright Lights, Red Eyes EP explores the confusion and heartbreak of late teen years, coupled with the difficulties of being in the public eye during such a tumultuous time in one’s life.
As Long As You Care
The opening track also serves as the source for the title of the EP. “As Long As You Care” is an excellent expository single, as it introduces listeners to Ruel’s life. The themes present on this song are central to the entire project: disconnection, heartbreak and feeling utterly worn out.
The listener can sense the crushing weight of a career on the shoulders of someone who is barely eighteen, as he contrasts the flashing lights of cameras and stages to the fingertips bloodied by guitar strings. Ruel sings about red eye flights, as well as eyes red from tears, “Never wake up in my room…But don’t cry, I know that you care…”
Swirling guitar instrumentals and starry percussion accompany Ruel as he expresses his frustrations through his vocals. The track was Ruel’s first solo drop in over a year, after a number of successful collaborations with stars like Denzel Curry (read more here) and Omar Apollo, which contributes to the storyline Ruel spins.
“As Long As You Care” is about exhaustion, which is relatable for teens inside and out of the music industry, alike.
“Distance” is about being emotionally and physically distant. Instead of focusing on being in the throws of heartbreak or a happy relationship, Ruel sings about the quiet after the storm. He croons about resisting to call someone with whom he has many memories and a deep history, as it’s time to leave, this time for good. He’s trying to process the loss of someone’s presence, in his mind and in his life, “Well, I don’t want to say that this was hard, it was/ Tryin’ not to stay, but that just made it worse/I’ve been keepin’ my distance…”
The chorusing vocal layers and the instrumental atmosphere contributes to the surging feeling, like someone is taking off on a flight, paired with the rain noise that’s included for an emotional ambient effect.
Opening with piano instead of guitar, “Courage” immediately has a different sound than the other tracks on Bright Lights, Red Eyes, and his repertoire all together. What’s not all that foreign, is the fact that Ruel is experiencing emotional turmoil. He uses a level of relatability in the details to make the average listener feel a connection. Fidgeting on the couch, ruined papers, insomnia, loss of appetite and locking oneself away are symptoms of struggles every day people face, not just superstars.
“All of my friends back home say I should be happy, maybe,” Ruel sings. Feeling isolated from hometown friends is a common theme in many of Ruel’s songs, including “Free Time” and his smash hit “Painkiller.” Even the lyric, “Sofa’s so uncomfortable,” ties to the similarly themed 2019 song “Hard Sometimes,” where he sings about “just watching the clock from the sofa.” The knowledge that Ruel is pain but alone with his thoughts is what makes the track so painful.
Ruel’s voice is deeply emotional and the dramatic choir accompaniment creates a powerful sound. He cries, “It hurts so good, bad nights feel the same as they did then/I wish someone had told me how it ends/I’m not so good at tryin’ my words, in my defense.”
Say It Over
“Say It Over” is another heartfelt single from the EP, this. Cautious Clay, who is another unique voice of a new generation in music. Ruel sings about losing touch and not being compatible with someone, continuing the general focus of Bright Lights, Red Eyes. He lists the criticisms of he faces from someone, as his annoyance and confusion overflows in the chorus, “I lost my words over you, and I’m sorry/Am I supposed to act worried?/I didn’t mean to be cold, guess it’s just a sore throat.”
Produced by Spencer Stewart, “Say It Over,” has the influence of the creator behind Olivia O’Brien’s “Jocelyn,” Role Model tracks and The Band CAMINO’s album. Spencer also worked on Ruel’s “Unsaid” from his 2019 EP, where the song was similar to “Say It Over” in storyline but not sound.
Cautious Clay’s voice comes in, immediately contrasting Ruel’s. Both singers have distinct voices, and they’re very different. With more age and rasp to his voice, Cautious Clay also sings about feeling lost in a relationship with someone, “We’re lookin’ for the same things at different times…”
Up To Something
Chimes and gentle guitar playing opens the final track on Bright Lights, Red Eyes, “Up To Something.” The instrumentals pick up, as Ruel begins to instigate a fight. He can tell something is amiss. Ruel sings, “Let you hold me, you love me…I’m lucky, but it wasn’t right…Just a taste of kindness, bite down, so bitter” He knows that the dynamic has been broken for long before this confrontation, singing, “But dead leaves don’t wither, oh.”
“Up To Something” is the climax of a fight — perhaps the very fight that the listener witnesses the aftermath of throughout the entirety of Bright Lights, Red Eyes. Ruel shared that he wants his album to tell stories and make people feel less alone, and if this EP — this “taste of kindness” — is any indication, he’s certainly bound for even more great things.