Record Of The Week: Haiva Ru’s ‘Bloom Baby Bloom’

About The Record

Artist: Haiva Ru
Project: Bloom Baby Bloom

Bloom Baby Bloom is the debut album from California-raised, now-Nashville-based Allie Merrill, who creates conversational, heart-thumping pop music as Haiva Ru. Released in April 2021, the work of this self-sufficient lyricist, multi-instrumentalist and producer is both a time capsule reflecting a period of great upheaval, and a testament to growth, to new life pushing up insistently through the proverbial weeds.

At times breathy but always clear as a bell, Over the course of 10 songs — including the piano ballad title track at the end of Bloom Baby Bloom — Haiva Ru delicately narrates the loss of family and friends, and the fears associated with moving on. (Several years ago, Merrill endured a series of tragedies, the death of her sister followed closely by apocalyptic weather events in Santa Barbara, fatal wildfires and then mudslides.) But these songs also address the unfortunate flipside of staying put: extending a commitment to people or places you can no longer relate to healthily.

“Oh, But Lover” is an upbeat post-break-up tune whose lyrics seem resigned but also warn against revisionist history: “We were broken from the start,” she sings sweetly, if a little sadly, demanding love for herself above all else. During Space, over backing beats and synths, she confesses, “I don’t think you’re the one, but I’m scared to be the first one to go.” And yet go she did, making a cross-country journey from the West Coast mid-pandemic, adopting a dog, and planting herself in Nashville.

In “Work it On Out,” it’s unclear whether Haiva Ru is sincere or sarcastic in singing, “I’m sure I’ll see you later.” But that lyric, and others torn right from journal pages, conjures the “bloom where you’re planted” idea— getting to a new place mentally, and maybe geographically, where you can care for yourself and meet your own needs for once.

Because she utilized her own instruments and limited home studio equipment to define the sound on Bloom Baby Bloom, Merrill admits to being stubborn and protective over this deeply personal work. She has yet to find a producer she trusts as much as she trusts herself to help her get the sound she’s looking for. Though she did collaborate with electronic producer BAYNK on the track “Swim, achieving an almost underwater effect together, she otherwise brought the album to life on her own.

On the Record: A Q&A With Haiva Ru 

Celia Gregory: Did Haiva Ru evolve from being a band project to a solo project?  

Allie Paige: It was kind of always a solo project. When we were playing shows a lot, I did have a band and that’s my ultimate goal: I want to be able to have a band feel when we’re playing live and I want to tour with my band. But I’ve been writing and recording and doing everything solo from the beginning.  

CG: Bloom Baby Bloom strikes me as personal n some ways, but also as pop music that dances dark to light and back again. Can you tell me about the evolution of these songs? 

HR: I started writing this probably four years ago, and I was living in Santa Barbara, California at the time. There were just a lot of really hard things going on in my life. Four years ago, I lost my sister, and after she passed, it was like this domino effect. There were six or seven people that were close to me that passed after her. And at the same time, California had been in a drought for a really long time and there were some fires and then a crazy rainstorm, which we hadn’t had rain in a really long time, and this was two months after I had lost my sister. The fire burned all of the hills in Santa Barbara, then there was this mudslide that took out a bunch of houses. A lot of people died. It was just a really, really tragic time.  
It was kind of like this crazy phenomenon that it would happen in Santa Barbara, because Santa Barbara is like the most perfect place in the world. I think that’s the birthplace of where this whole album and all of these writings came from was processing. I hear about stories like this all the time, but this happened to me. And this is deep and going to take a lot of years to walk through. So, yeah, Bloom Baby Bloom is definitely an extremely deep album, and it came from a lot of pain. But at the same time, I love it because it is dancey. It does make you want to dance. It does make you want to feel good. I want to feel good, you know? 

CG: Some of these songs remind me of a very intimate exchange, almost like a text thread. Was that intentional, the conversational nature of your lyrics?  

HR: I haven’t thought about it like that. I journal every day, and that’s where a lot of my lyrics come from. Maybe that’s just how I write.  

CG: You’re talking to yourself and then, with some of these songs, it’s like first-person talking to somebody, whether it’s a lover or a friend.

HR: Yeah, there were a lot of letters that I wrote to my sister. “Wildflowers” is basically a letter to my sister and “Oh, But Lover” is obviously is a letter to a lover.  

CG: You mentioned the California wildfires. Was “Flames” about loved ones affected by that?  

HR: “Flames” was about my sister and the fires that happened in Santa Barbara, both. 

CG: It sounds like you have been compiling these over time. So now my question is about birthing this baby finally and being able hopefully to play these live. What do you think that’s going to be like, to perform them? 

HR: I’m ecstatic to play them live, and I’m starting to get in the headspace of playing them live. It is hard having to go back into old feelings and re-feel them. But I’m also still processing — it takes years and years and years to process things. I feel like my songs help me: “Hey, this is still here. We still need to work through this. Let’s still feel this out and acknowledge that this happened in my life.” It’ll definitely be really emotional, but I’m also in a much different place and I feel a lot healthier and a lot stronger.  

CG: You referenced “a better place.” I mean, you physically relocated — when was that you moved from California to Nashville? 

HR: I moved last year.  

CG: Leaving a known place and people in it is hard enough, but to do it before the release of this record and in the middle of a lockdown, I can’t even imagine what that transition was like.  

HR: Honestly, it was the best thing that could have happened. It could have gone very wrong. But I got a dog, which helped. It has helped everything so much. She makes me get up in the morning. My brother and I drove to from California to Georgia, got my dog, and then drove back to Nashville. I just needed space. I just needed to be alone and I needed a fresh start. There were a lot of things that that I just wanted and needed to get away from. So it was really good.  

It’s really hard because it is starting completely over. But I had my music team. They’re all in Nashville, so they made it really easy for that transition. And I have some family and friends that live in Nashville. So I wasn’t completely alone. But it was it was needed. I needed space and time by myself to process. And I’ve been writing and co-writing with amazing people in Nashville.  

CG: I don’t know how many co-writes are happening in person, or if you connected virtually first, but it sounds like you have found those artistic opportunities for collaboration in the community here.  

HR: Yeah, it’s been cool working with other producers, because we can both—for the virtual writing sessions that I’ve done—be on our own systems. You know, we’re both in our own home studios where we know how to work everything. I did a couple of writes like this where we would be FaceTiming, but I’m cutting my vocals and he’s working on guitar and bass or something. And then I’d send him the tracks and he’d drop them in. And then I’d write a synth part, send it over. So that’s been really cool. I’ve been writing with a lot of people in Nashville, and it’s different than California and I love it. Such a different vibe, at least the writes that I’ve experienced so far.  

CG: That is a great thing to hear. I mean, I’m a transplant to Nashville. A lot of people are. I found it to be a really welcoming city. It’s good to know that that’s still true, especially for music-makers that want to plant. When I first heard the title of your album, Bloom Baby Bloom, I thought of the old phrase “bloom where you’re planted.” So how is that imagery woven through the album?  

HR: When I was living in Santa Barbara, after all the fires happened there, obviously the mountains were black for a long time and it stayed like that for maybe for a couple of seasons. And then all of a sudden I just started seeing all these crazy yellow flowers blooming everywhere. And I was driving down the coast and on the [Highway] 101, and those mountains were covered in yellow flowers. And I was like, “What are those flowers? They’re the first ones to bloom after the fires. I wonder what that means.” I did a bunch of research and I found out that their nickname is fire chasers, and they only bloom after a fire because of the smoke. These wildflowers, the seeds are dormant under the soil for however long, and then when the fire comes and burns away all of the weeds and the smoke gets down into the soil, it wakes up these seeds that have been dormant for years and they can start to bloom.  

CG: Like only once the earth has been charred can they thrive?  

HR: Exactly. It’s so metaphorical that only through something tragic like a fire can these specific flowers bloom, you know? So I was driving home after work one day and I got out of my car and there was this one yellow flower that was blooming in my yard. And I saw and I heard the melody in the line and everything: “And then I saw yellow flowers start to bloom.” And I was like, “Oh, that’s something.” I dropped all my groceries and went into my studio, wrote that whole section of “Bloom Baby Bloom.” What they represented to me at the time definitely set the stage for this album for me. This is the theme. This is the message that I want to talk about: that after tragedy, there’s something that comes out of us that would have never otherwise been able to come out before.

CG: I feel that so hard. There’s so much here that speaks to personal growth, evolution and rebirth. What does the self-love in “Oh, But Lover” look like to you now?  

HR: That’s a good question. I wrote “Oh, But Lover” and I thought it was just a post-break-up song, just a love song. And then we put it out and I started listening to it more and people started sending me these amazing messages and I was like, “This song is actually a lot deeper than even I thought it was.” And the more I listened to it, the more I’m affected by it, which is really cool.  

It’s made me realize that even this breakup, it was so much more about me needing to grow than anything. It was so much more about me needing to become this person that I need to become. It’s hard to love somebody else when you don’t know how to love yourself. As simple as that sounds, it’s a very real process that I think we all have to go through, and it’s harder for some of us than others, especially when there’s been a lot of tragedy happening. I’ve just learned so much about self-care. I think moving to Nashville and being completely isolated played a huge part in me learning how to get my own needs met, how to wake up in the morning. When I’m feeling depressed, what do I do to make myself feel happy?

CG: I want to pivot back to the production, because you had the vision not only for the songs, but the entire album. For instance, “Swim,” to me suggests being submerged underwater, like quite literally swimming and feeling weightless. How did you guide the production of each song to make this album cohesive and make it sound the way you wanted? 

HR:  I didn’t know that all of these songs would be on Bloom Baby Bloom. I think the way that I create is I’m constantly writing. I have 20 songs that I’m working on right now. And we’re talking about releasing an EP, but part of me is like, “It could be another album.” I don’t think I know until the final stages.  
With “Swim,” I co-produced it with BAYNK — his real name is Jock — and my manager kind of just put us in a room together. But if you listen to his stuff on Spotify, it’s so much more electronic and dance than any of my stuff. That’s always the challenge with co-writers, is, “How do we make this sound like the both of us?” It came so naturally with Jock. That was my first co-write, like, legit session. And I walked into the room and I was like, “What percentage of songs do you write and release?” And he was like, “Hmm, I don’t want to discourage you, but like maybe 20 percent.” And in my head I was like, “OK, cool, we’re going to be that 20 percent.”   

I had written the chorus the night before and I showed it to him. I think if as long as the core is coming from me, then I can control the rest of the sound. It was a really cool balance with me and Jock; he brought in his production and I brought in my production elements. And it was a cool blend. But I just haven’t found a producer that I feel like portrays the emotion and the feel that I want to portray in music yet. I’m still looking for that, which is why I love doing collabs, because it stretches me and it gets me outside of my sound a little bit. But to make my own album, I’ve just always felt the only way that I can do this and be happy with it is if I’m controlling the sound, if I’m doing everything.  

CG: You were talking about the journey to self-love, but it sounds like you’ve always trusted yourself with your own work, right?  

HR: Right. I think even my parents would say I’m the most stubborn person that they know. I like things doing things the way I like to do them. That’s why I started playing music. My parents put me in piano when I was five and then my dad bought me my first recording equipment when I was 15. So I’ve always just kind of done it myself.  
I helped co-produce an album with my friends when I was 20. They believed in me as a producer, and I had never viewed myself as a producer before. I viewed myself as a pianist. I would have never said that I’m a vocalist. I would have never said that I’m a guitarist. When my friends started believing in me as a producer and a musician and all these other things, then I started exploring that more. And we had this studio at our church. Somebody gave us $20,000 to deck out this studio. Then we made this album and it became a really, really big Christian worship album, and that definitely gave me a lot of confidence. I went away from that and I made my own self-titled album under Allie Paige, and the feedback on that just gave me so much more confidence. And then I was like, “OK, it’s time to do a pop album.” Then I started Haiva Ru.