In 1986, his family moved to a farm in Glendale, Arizona, due to repeated bouts of pneumonia Ruess faced as a child. Ruess remained in Arizona throughout his childhood and attended Deer Valley High School, graduating in 2000. During his time in school, Ruess played in punk bands and upon graduation chose to pursue music professionally. In an interview with American Songwriter Ruess states, "I'm not one to take lessons, so I decided that the only way I was going to learn how to sing, if what they were saying was true, was to go in my car and put on any sort of music from a vocalist that might be really hard to mimic, turn it on as loud as possible and try to hit all those notes". He took a job in a law firm as a way to support himself while he pursued his musical ambitions.