It is 8 p.m. on a Monday evening and as One prepares to take the stage at Long Wong’s, the band’s guitarist/songwriter, Jamal Ruhe, is extolling the business acumen involved in Fruitopia’s efforts to steal market share from Snapple. He was particularly impressed with what he calls the “Fruitopia Peace Bus” that was handing out free samples at Gibson’s the Friday before. Jamal is happy to offer his perspective on the fruit juice wars, possibly because his sister Shamsi Ruhe, the powerhouse lead vocalist for One, prefers Snapple. It wouldn’t be the first time the two had differing opinions on a topic.
One, the four-member band that caught people’s attention more than two years ago when they began performing during open mic night’s around Phoenix, thrives on diversity. Mixing various styles and rhythms, the band easily slides from a Shawn Colvin cover into a rhythmic take on “One Tadamera,” ending up with a biting original such as “Kick Me,” crossing several genres in the process. With only one homage to grunge in their repetoire and nothing resembling a jangly guitar in any of their tunes, One has managed to carve out a niche for themseles quite unlike any other band in the area.
“We hate to classify ourselves,” says Jamal.
“We don’t hate to do it,” Shamsi corrects. “We just can’t. I would classify [our music] if we had like more than two songs that sounded vaguely similar in any way, but we don’t, so I can’t.”
“Shamsi’s mission in life it to discredit me utterly,” Jamal states.
“That’s not true,” replies Shamsi. “His problem is that he exaggerates and makes statements like, ‘I never touch this side of my nose before I touch that side.’ And like first of all, it doesn’t matter. And second of all, it’s not true.”
All squbbling aside, brother and sister have managed to work well together when it comes to music. After convicing bass player Shahzad to move from Massachussets to join the band, One whent through several other members before settling on John as their drummer. While the band throws in a few covers during their shows, the majority of the music is original. Shamsi’s strong vocals soar over Shahzad’s driving bass lines, Jamal’s screaming guitar licks, and John’s pulsating drums. Her frequent kicks and tosses of her trademark hair punctuate the lyrics. And the crowds keep coming back for more.
Number One Priority
Shamsi never dreamed she would become a singer. Although her parents started her with a voice coach while she was still in preschool, she had terrible stage fright which prevented her from singing in front of people for many years. “I was never in any other band. I probably never even would have become part of a live music scene anywhere if I wasn’t in this band.”
John, on the other hand, has played drums with everyone from punk bands in his native California, to local jazz artists. “I have no other aspirations than to be a musician,” he says. “Whether it’s with this band, or with some other.”
Shahzad also makes music his first priority. “If we’re around here for like another year, until next summer, I’ll be able to complete a premed degree. But if something happens with the band…”
One has been compared to everyone from Janis Joplin to 10,000 Maniacs to Edie Brickell.
“People say Tracy Chapman,” adds Shamsi. “But I think it’s like, you’re a girl, you’re black, so…Tracy Chapman?”
One has covered Tracy Chapman in the past, but finding a cover that all four members like can be tricky. Diversity rears its head again.
“We don’t agree on any music except Paul Simon,” Shamsi comments. “We all like Paul Simon. And the Police. Do you like the Police?”
“I love the Police,” agrees Shahzad. “We all love the Police.”
“I like Bighead Todd. Do you like Bighead Todd, too?” asks Shamsi.
“I don’t,” replies John. “And Jamal sort of doesn’t.”
They may never come to a consensus on their favorite performers, but all are in agreement when it comes to their commitment to the band.
“You know what this is?” Jamal holds up his index finger like Curly from City Slickers. “There’s just one thing, it’s our band. It’s the four of us.”
“As in we are One,” says Shamsi.
“As a band we should be unified,” Shahzad adds. “As a world we should be unified. I have a grand idea that my cynicism has not nullifed yet.” He looks around at his band members and continues.
“My idea is that if we play really diverse music, someday our songs will be on different radio formats. So some metal dude is going to be listening to some hard core station and our song is gonna come on and he’s gonna fall in love with it and buy the album. And because he likes that song so much and has spent so much time liking that song, he can’t totally invalidate a band that doesn’t play one other metal tune on the entire album.”
So far, this grand idea has worked for One. Not only are the weekend club hoppers paying attention, the band has been approached by several record companies, recorded a session on KZON’s Studio Zone, and recently began working with a manager.
“We don’t know what to do with her yet,” says Shamsi.
“We just did a handshake type of thing where she’s going to see if she can help us out,” says Jamal. “If she can help us out, then she’ll start making money off of us.”
“Enough for like a Snapple,” Shamsi adds.
“Fruitopia,” Jamal challenges. “There’s enough Snapple around here.”
This article first appeared in the Southwest Music Monitor, September 1994. Photo by Beth Roetzer.