Daugh­ter of rock leg­end Rod, RUBY STE­WART has teamed up with ALYSSA BONAGURA, scion of a coun­try mu­sic dy­nasty, to mix mu­sic – and wardrobes. Here the sassy singing duo talk crazy child­hoods and su­per­star dads

The Mail on Sunday - You - - Editor’s Letter - IN­TER­VIEW JANE MULKERRINS PHO­TO­GRAPHS STEVE ERLE

Be­fore they step out on to the stage each night of their tour, The Sis­ter­hood Band re­cite a short mantra: ‘We are not afraid, we were born to do this.’ It’s a slightly tweaked ver­sion of a Joan of Arc quote, be­cause, ex­plains one half of the duo, Alyssa Bonagura, ‘We are re­ally in­spired by Joan of Arc, by the idea of fe­male em­pow­er­ment and be­ing fear­less.’

The quote, how­ever, has added sig­nif­i­cance for The Sis­ter­hood Band, given their mu­si­cal her­itage. Alyssa’s par­ents, Michael Bonagura and Kathie Bail­lie, are coun­try mu­sic stars in the long-run­ning band Bail­lie & the Boys. Her Sis­ter­hood Band-mate Ruby Ste­wart, mean­while, is the daugh­ter of rock leg­end Rod.

Born to it she may have been, but 31-year-old Ruby freely ad­mits that hers was an un­con­ven­tional childhood. She grew up in Man­hat­tan Beach, Los Angeles, with her mother, 80s su­per­model Kelly Em­berg, from whom Rod split when Ruby was three years old (she is his fourth child of eight, from five dif­fer­ent women). In school hol­i­days, how­ever, Ruby would tour the world with her fa­mous fa­ther, along with her younger sis­ter and brother, Re­nee and Liam, Rod’s chil­dren with model Rachel Hunter.

‘Re­nee, Liam and I grew up on the road to­gether,’ she re­calls. ‘We had pet ham­sters that we would take on tour – they would fly on the pri­vate plane with us. We would dec­o­rate ho­tel rooms and make them look like some­where we could come home to. We cre­ated con­sis­tency in a life full of chaos,’ she says. ‘But I’m so lucky that I got to live that crazy life,’ she en­thuses. ‘Be­ing on the road, meet­ing so many peo­ple and see­ing dif­fer­ent walks of life is the best ed­u­ca­tion that you could ask for.’

And some­how, in Alyssa, she has man­aged to find a mu­si­cal part­ner who un­der­stands ‘that crazy life’. Though Alyssa was born in Nashville, her par­ents de­cided to take their daugh­ter on the road with them af­ter they scored their first top ten hit when she was a baby. ‘We call our­selves “tour ba­bies”, but I grew up on a bus, while Ruby grew up on a plane,’ laughs Alyssa, 30. And hav­ing spent their child­hoods watch­ing from back­stage as their par­ents per­formed

at fes­ti­vals and in sta­di­ums, both girls are uniquely pre­pared for the life they’re liv­ing now – out on the road with their own band.

The day I speak to The Sis­ter­hood Band, via Skype, they’re in Beth­le­hem, Penn­syl­va­nia, sup­port­ing Aero­smith’s Steven Tyler on his solo tour across the US and Europe. In match­ing baker-boy caps, the duo fill the rather non­de­script-look­ing ho­tel room with their up­beat en­ergy. They do ap­pear to have a spe­cial con­nec­tion. The name, The Sis­ter­hood Band, was sug­gested by a friend, who no­ticed this syn­ergy when they were writ­ing and record­ing. ‘When we get in the stu­dio to­gether, it’s like we’re in each other’s minds,’ nods Ruby. ‘Alyssa will start play­ing the gui­tar part that I’m think­ing we should do, with­out us even dis­cussing it – it’s weird.’

Per­haps un­sur­pris­ingly, given that her fa­ther is one of the best­selling mu­sic artists of all time, Ruby knew she wanted to sing from an early age. At 13, she was given a deal with Columbia Records – ‘they sent me to dif­fer­ent singing teach­ers to de­velop my voice’. But she didn’t enjoy it, and con­fessed so to Rod. ‘Are you feel­ing like it’s not fun any more, be­ing a mu­si­cian?’ she re­calls him ask­ing, be­fore telling her: ‘You should never do some­thing that you don’t feel is true to you, or isn’t from your heart, so maybe you shouldn’t sign this con­tract.’

It wasn’t long, how­ever, be­fore she was try­ing her hand at her mother’s pro­fes­sion, mod­el­ling, in­stead. Un­usu­ally for a model, I find Ruby even pret­tier in per­son than in pho­to­graphs, thanks to her en­ergy and warmth. She also seems in­cred­i­bly well ad­justed, given her starry up­bring­ing. ‘The fash­ion in­dus­try is beau­ti­ful, but it’s also very dark,’ she says. ‘I re­mem­ber go­ing to my first Alexan­der Mc­Queen show and be­ing blown away by his raw tal­ent. But then I re­mem­ber my first run­way show, at about 16 or 17. Peo­ple treat you like you’re a doll, like you’re dis­pens­able.’ But there were lots of good times, too. ‘Mod­el­ling took me to Venice, Paris and Mi­lan, and I lived in Lon­don for a few months, in a flat off Abbey Road.’

Some of her most high-pro­file cam­paigns were for lin­gerie brands, in­clud­ing Ul­timo. How does she feel now, I ask, about hav­ing posed for such tit­il­lat­ing images? ‘What both­ered me about the Ul­timo thing was that they en­hanced my breasts,’ she tells me. ‘I was a teenage girl, I didn’t have boobs like that. I still don’t have boobs like that! And it’s an­noy­ing, be­cause it’s the first thing that comes up if you google me.’ But she is san­guine about it all. ‘That was a learn­ing curve for me, to un­der­stand that in a con­tract I need cre­ative con­trol. Things like that I can nav­i­gate now, be­cause they’ve al­ready hap­pened.’

For her part, Alyssa was per­form­ing al­most be­fore she could walk. ‘I used to watch my mum get ready for her shows and be like, ‘Is it my turn now? Can I come out and sing?’ she laughs. When she was two years old they let her – at The Big E fes­ti­val in Min­neapo­lis. Alyssa’s grand­fa­ther had taught her ‘Take Me Out To The Ball Game’, the un­of­fi­cial an­them of US base­ball, which she sang for the 20,000-strong crowd. From then on, she would reg­u­larly join her par­ents on stage. ‘Mak­ing mu­sic is all I ever wanted to do,’ she says.

Per­haps in­con­gru­ously, af­ter high school she moved to the UK, to study sound tech­nol­ogy and pro­duc­tion at the Liver­pool In­sti­tute for Per­form­ing Arts. ‘I had the best three years of my life in Liver­pool,’ she beams, and demon­strates a very pass­able Scouse ac­cent for me. ‘It re­minded me a lot of Nashville. Mu­sic is ev­ery­where and the peo­ple are so friendly – it’s al­most like South­ern hos­pi­tal­ity.’

By 2015, both girls were pur­su­ing solo ca­reers, Alyssa back in Nashville, Ruby in LA, where she’d spent two years singing with the band Re­voltaire. One af­ter­noon, at LA’s Sun­set Mar­quis ho­tel, lo­ca­tion of much rock ’n’ roll ex­cess, Ruby met Tyler Bryant, lead singer of Tyler Bryant & the Shake­down, in which Alyssa’s boyfriend of five years, Gra­ham Whit­ford, plays gui­tar. When she and Alyssa sub­se­quently met in Nashville, it was an im­me­di­ate bond. While the boys jammed down­stairs, they took a bot­tle of wine into the bath­room, sat on the floor and wrote a song in just 30 min­utes. ‘I had writ­ten with peo­ple be­fore, but I’d never ex­pe­ri­enced that thing that I think John Len­non and Paul McCart­ney had, where you get to­gether and the song just pours out of you,’ says Ruby.

They be­gan writ­ing and play­ing to­gether ‘just for fun’, but word spread, and they were soon in­vited to play at Mi­lan Fash­ion Week. ‘We didn’t even have a name at the time,’ laughs Ruby. ‘We’d show up and they’d be like, “here’s Ruby and Alyssa!”’ In the win­ter of 2016/17

the duo were the warm-up act for Rod’s tour, and in the sum­mer of 2017, signed a record deal with Sony.

They de­lib­er­ately es­chew cat­e­gori­sa­tion as coun­try mu­si­cians, com­bin­ing Alyssa’s coun­try roots with Ruby’s rock, blues and R&B in­flu­ences. ‘Alyssa didn’t know a lot about The Rolling Stones, so I’m teach­ing her about them, and she’s teach­ing me about Reba [McEn­tire, a coun­try icon],’ says Ruby. They have other com­ple­men­tary at­tributes too. ‘She’s the only per­son I’ve ever met who loves hats as much as I do and we’re the same size in pretty much ev­ery­thing,’ says Alyssa. ‘Her jeans are a lit­tle bit tighter than mine – I have a bum and she’s got the Rod Ste­wart body – but it’s re­ally fun when we’re on tour be­cause we just share clothes. ‘Fash­ion is im­por­tant to both of us,’ she con­tin­ues. ‘I’m a bit more hippy, I love Ste­vie Nicks’s bo­hemian vibe, and Ruby brings this edgy, rock ’n’ roll el­e­ment. And be­cause she has been a model, she’s got great de­signer stuff – it’s fun to try on her Chanel shirts.’

Long the cen­tre of the coun­try mu­sic scene, in re­cent years Nashville has drawn mu­si­cians from across the gen­res, as well as Hol­ly­wood stars – it’s home to ac­tresses Reese Wither­spoon, Evan Rachel Wood and Ni­cole Kid­man. Ruby has now de­camped to live there full-time too. ‘I even bought a house,’ she cries, ex­cit­edly. ‘It’s like I’m a real adult. I never thought I’d own a house.’

Hav­ing grown up steeped in the world of live mu­sic, it’s hardly sur­pris­ing that both girls have boyfriends sim­i­larly in­clined. As men­tioned be­fore, Alyssa’s boyfriend Gra­ham is a gui­tarist, and his fa­ther is Brad Whit­ford, gui­tarist for Aero­smith. ‘I’ve dated peo­ple who didn’t get what I did, and that was hard,’ says Alyssa. ‘You can be on the road, in dif­fer­ent time zones, so you don’t get to speak for days, and you might not see each other for weeks. You have to re­ally un­der­stand that lifestyle.’ Ruby’s boyfriend, Lee Foster, co-owns Jimi Hen­drix’s for­mer stu­dio, the Elec­tric Lady, in New York. ‘As a mu­si­cian you’re al­ways dat­ing some­one long-dis­tance. When he comes to town, we’ll have two weeks to­gether, and ev­ery mo­ment mat­ters. I think we re­spect our love dif­fer­ently than if we lived in the same place.’ And their boyfriends, it seems, need not be con­cerned about late-night ben­ders with male groupies. ‘You can’t get blast­ing drunk the night be­fore and then per­form,’ says Ruby, firmly. ‘I’ve watched my dad’s tour regime my whole life. He’ll have one Bac­ardi and Coke be­fore he goes on stage, and then a glass of wine or two with din­ner on the plane com­ing home…un­less there’s a foot­ball game on [Rod is an avid Celtic fan] or friends are in town.’

‘Watch­ing Steven [Tyler] and my dad per­form­ing as they do at their age [Steven is 70, Rod 73] is mind-blow­ing,’ she adds. ‘I’m still try­ing to fig­ure out how they do it. They were def­i­nitely par­ty­ing when they were our age, but they seem to have got away with it.’

Be­yond this sum­mer’s tour, there’s a full Sis­ter­hood Band al­bum on its way soon, and the duo are ex­cited about writ­ing again. ‘There’s some­thing that hap­pens when Ruby and I write to­gether, some­thing that I can’t ac­com­plish on my own,’ says Alyssa. ‘I felt like we were both try­ing to find it on our own, but we weren’t able to open a big enough door. We weren’t able to step up on to a big­ger stage un­til we did it to­gether.’

The Sis­ter­hood Band will per­form at the O2 Ken­tish Town Fo­rum, Lon­don, on Tues­day; the­sister­hood­


Left: Nashville-born Alyssa draws on her coun­try roots, while Ruby pro­vides the rock ’n’ roll

From top: Ruby as a child with ‘three pow­er­ful gen­er­a­tions of Em­bergs’ in­clud­ing model mum Kelly (cen­tre); with her mum and dad Rod in 1989, and with Rod to­day. Right: the West Coast rock chick wears it well

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