Aussie pop-rockers The Rubens have just released their third album, Lo La Ru. Recorded in a converted WWII bunker on the outskirts of Sydney, Lo La Ru finds the band stretching their collective musical muscle adding dashes of soul and hip hop to their already infectious sound.
Radio 13's Marty Duda spoke with Rubens lead singer Sam Margin just as the long-simmering record was about to make its way out into the world.
MD: The album is out tomorrow [Friday 29th June] if I’m not mistaken.
SM: That’s right.
MD: How are you feeling about it all? Is it a sense of excitement or have you kind of lived with the album for a while and just happy to get it out there?
SD: It’s kind of like that, you know how it is - you make it, you pour your soul into it and then you become detached from it for that whole sort of lead up thing ‘cause you’ve done enough and you’ve listened to every song a million times and you’re kind of just like… I haven’t listened to the record in ages and we actually got the CD delivered to us and I put it in the car and listened to it and I was like “Oh, I remember this!” Yeah, I’m really psyched and I really like it. It’s nice having a bit of time away from it and listening to it again and being like “Yeah, I’m actually really happy with how it turned out.”
I want to send the producers a text and be like “Yeah, I know why we made all those decisions and I think we made the right ones.”
MD: And when you listen to something like after a period of time where you haven’t heard it, what is it that you’re listening to or for? Does something stand out production wise, or is it the songs or the performance, what is it?
SM: I guess ‘cause I’m the vocalist, I’m double-checking that I nailed it and making sure that my performance is good. I also wasn’t listening that critically, I was just trying to listen more like in the shoes of a first listener and hoping that it worked and I really liked the order of songs and the way that it played out in the album, which is important as well. And just hearing it and thinking about the decisions that we made along the way and feeling like we actually made the right decisions is really cool. I want to send the producers a text and be like “Yeah, I know why we made all those decisions and I think we made the right ones.”
MD: Excellent! Now, I’m going to have to ask you one question, which you are probably going to have to answer for everybody – the title of the album. What does that refer to exactly, LO LA RU?
We felt like we made a world and we wanted to name the record after that, and so we decided that we’re going to make up a fake nation.
SM: So LO LA RU is…because we recorded most of it in Australia in our own studio which is like a World War II bunker and it’s this kind of amazing space that we’ve always had parties there and we’ve hung out, and it’s our own little special space and we brought Torbitt and Wilder, our producers from America to this place and we had this kind of little world that we lived in for like four weeks where we just drink wine and made music and, you know, do fourteen hour days and have a lot of fun. And we felt that we did it the way we always wanted to do it. We did it our way without too much outside influence. We had this world we created and we wanted to to reflect that in the album title. We wanted to name the record – basically we felt like we made a world and we wanted to name the record after that, and so we decided that we’re going to make up a fake nation. We wanted to make up a nation that sounds like it could be some paradise in the South Pacific, like a place you may have heard of? Like, “Oh yeah, I’ve heard of that nation!” So LO LA RU kind of is a fake nation that we made up and we’ve got a flag for it – the album cover is the flag. We’ve got our merchandise, like we’ve got a World Cup jersey for it and we’ve kind of gone down this road of representing the album as a fake nation.
MD: What sport would represent this fake nation?
SM: I don't think sports’ represented at all.
MD: Very good! And of course one of your songs could be the national anthem, so there you go.
SM: You know what, we’ve talked about it. We’ve talk about we’re going to be on tour a lot and we’re going to take our laptops and all our writing gear, so maybe when we’re on the road we’re going to make up a national anthem.
MD: Nice, excellent. Yeah, well, everyone should have their own country at some point, I think.
SM: That’s right.
MD: Now the new single is Never Ever, is that right? One featuring Sarah?
SM: Yeah, Never Ever, yup.
MD: And I was hoping that you could tell me a little bit about her and how that track came together and the decisions around that.
The rules that maybe we were constrained by back when we first made our first album, we didn’t really care about them anymore.
SM: Sarah is like an Aussie songwriter that lives in LA now. She’s killing it, I think she’s one of the biggest songwriters in LA. We didn’t know that at the time. We were approached by her management and sort of got sent this email saying, “Hey, I manage this girl called Sarah. She’s doing this, she’s done this. Would you guys want to do a session with her? She’d love to work with you guys.” And we were like, “Yeah, we’d be up for that. We’ll do it when we get back from finishing this album.” At the time I think we were in Brooklyn finishing the album, and we were like “Yeah, we’ll do a session with her when we’re done.” And it was kind of like, Elliott and I were going to go and do a songwriting session with her, not necess– actually, definitely not for The Rubens at the time. We weren’t thinking it was for the band, it was just going to be a songwriting session and we’d write a song and see what happens, and maybe, you know, give it to someone else.
SM: And it ended being a song that… We didn’t really think much of the song. We weren’t really sure about it because it was a duet, and you know, we were like “Well, we can’t put that on the album,” because it’s got a feature of someone else. And we didn’t even send it to anyone. We finished the session with Sarah, we had a great time. She’s a legend. We wrote a song, it took us like, five hours, and then we left. And then our management were like, “What happened the other day with that song?” and we were like “Oh, we’ll send it on, but like, you know, whatever.” We send it to our management and they were like “Holy shit, this is good,” and we were like “Really? Ok, cool, well, should we send it to someone else?” They were like “Well, can’t this be a Rubens track?” and there was a big discussion about like… ‘cause obviously having a feature on a band’s album is a big deal, it’s something new for us. But then we were like, “Fuck it.” You can do what you want now, you don't have to – the rules that maybe we were constrained by back when we first made our first album, we didn’t really care about them anymore. And we thought it was something fresh and new and we sort of just changed our perspective on it and we were like, “Actually yeah, it doesn’t matter that we’ve got a feature. It’s kind of cool to hear it.” Also just like to hear a female perspective on the album, I think it’s really cool. Because you’re hearing your male vocal on the whole album, and you’re hearing songs about heartbreak and you’re hearing songs about love and this and that, but we figured that, actually, we’re going to give people a female picture – a woman’s perspective – in this whole album. And I thought that – once I realized that – that’s actually really cool to hear the other side of things, ‘cause it’s obviously just coming from me.
MD: Yup, very cool. Now, I noticed that the next two tracks after Never Ever, Freak Out and God Forgot, they both kind of begin a capella and then you guys come in from there. In fact, I remember when you guys were in my studio here there was some a capella singing going on as well. Is that something that is close to your heart that you do to warm up, what is the reason why you do that?
We’d always had the element of R&B sort of melody and I guess we just embraced it more this time.
SM: I think that we are super influenced by soul music and R&B and that is obviously a big part of them, that’s our music. We really wanted to make something that's like… when we first set out to write our album we thought we were going to make something that would be like that, that would be more stripped back. We had a rule that we weren’t going to put any cymbals on the album, you know what I mean? Its just going to be like, kick and snare, you know. We got past that eventually. We wanted it to feel like in certain parts of the album that everyone was standing in the room singing around a microphone, and that was why that sort of ended up like that.
MD: Maybe we will look forward to The Rubens doo-wop album at some point, huh?
MD: I love doo-wop music, it’ll be great. And the track Mary is definitely very R&B, a very different sounding thing than the other ones. Was that something that you gave some thought about, or wanted to go in that direction specifically?
SM: That was one of the first songs we wrote, actually. I wrote that song just after we finished the last album and I was just – it was like once I was ready to sort of go back to songwriting. It wasn’t considered, it just sort of came out of nowhere and then it kind of helped set the tone, I guess. I guess Elliott and I, who write the vocals and stuff, we were both in that space of writing R&B melodies – and we always had. We’ve definitely gone in the whole rock n’ roll direction for a while, but we’d always had the element of R&B sort of melody and I guess we just embraced it more this time.
We just left the interlude in there and we threw on a bonus track, basically a secret track at the end of the album.
MD: Mm-hm, okay. And the final track – at least the way it was presented to me – looked like it was going to be like seven-and-a-half minutes long, but as it turned out, there was all this wild stuff in the middle and then another tune that kind of popped up at the end. What’s going on there?
SM: So, um, basically we had a twelve or eleven-song album, I think it was, and then we wrote Never Ever. We were mixing the album at the time and then we wrote Never Ever and it was like, spanner in the works, like, wow, we’ve got this song we got to add to the record but we don't want to cut anything, but we wanted to keep it to that many songs so we decided that we were going to chuck in – keep the song in there at the end and have it as a secret track. So we broke it up. We had those kind of like interludes, and we just left the interlude in there and we threw on a bonus track, basically a secret track at the end of the album.
MD: And its got kind of a drum machine thing happening instead of the usual full kit.
SM: Yeah, yeah. We were okay with that. We used drum samples and loops and stuff throughout the album and we actually thought, if we put this song on the album we kind of need to make sure that it has some kind of modern element because it was such a stripped back kind of song. So we wanted to make sure that… I think when I wrote the demo I think I had put a drum machine sample on there and then the producers helped make it sound way cooler in the end, yeah.
MD: And these kind of new musical introductions and drums machines, there’s kind of some hip hop influences on some of it and R&B, does that affect the live performance and how you are presenting yourself on stage these days?
SM: I mean, we use triggers so we will trigger certain samples from the record, say like if there’s an interesting 808 snare or 808 kick drum, or something like that, we will actually trigger that off the live kick drum. We’ve been doing that since the last record as well, so, we make sure that we use some of the stuff that we put on the record, like sample-wise, we introduce it to our live set.
MD: Uh huh. So what are the plans for the band now that the record is out tomorrow? Are you just, like, touring constantly or talking to people or taking a few weeks off? What’s the plan?
SM: Yeah, yeah, a lot of that. Yeah, no. No time, no time. We’re back into it now everyday, our days are full which is good. We are touring with Pink, actually for forty dates.
MD: Oh, that's right, yeah! I almost forgot that.
SM: Yeah, so we start that next week so that sort of takes up our time until September. Then we go out on the road again and do our own solo shows. Yeah, we’re busy all year, its great. And hopefully we get back to (the States) as well.
MD: Opening for somebody like P!nk – I would imagine a different audience than what you’re used to playing to, is it? And how do you address that?
SM: Yeah, I’m working out how to address it now. I think there will be a cross over. We’re on commercial radio here as well so I’m sure we’ll have some of the P!nk fans already knowing who we are and a lot of who might have heard of us and wind up listening to our songs or might recognize a song from the radio. But it’s just going to be us trying to firstly get everyone up and ready and warm up the crowd for P!nk, which is a big part of supporting, and then also trying to win over the fans and trying to make them our fans. You know, the ultimate goal, to hopefully win them over. And I reckon we’ve got a good shot at it, and I guess I’m just going to have to work out how to do that as we do the tour.
MD: Has the band been in this position before, opening for somebody stadium-sized? Have you guys ever done this?
I kind of regret not meeting him, but at the time I was probably too nervous.
MD: He’s pretty big, yeah.
SD: Yeah, very hard to support. Very hard to do a show and then have him come on afterwards.
[Lady interrupts on phone] Excuse me, sorry for the interruption. Just advising that you have a minute remaining.
MD: Okay, thank you.
SM: Um, we’re fine, we can go a lot longer if you want. So, Springsteen was interesting. I guess, we’ve done it before, but we’ve never done it forty three times.
MD: Forty – yeah, well, I would imagine that at some point you have to have some kind of connection with the headliner in order for doing that many times to work. Is that something that’s on the back of your mind?
SM: It is, for sure. I guess, with Springsteen we were the first support, we opened the show the first time. But then he came back a year later and then he got us as a main support. So that was like a nice little… like, that made us feel like, okay, he was happy with what we did, and gave us that kind of confidence like, alright, we’re good enough to be the main support and now we’re doing that for Pink. I hope that we nail the first one and then get good reviews from Pink’s people that they are happy with how we warmed the crowd, that’s the vibe, I guess.
MD: So, did you get to hang with Bruce?
SM: We didn’t, actually. I think we got asked after the last time we supported him, like, “Do you want to go back and meet him?” and I was like, “Uh… nah it’s okay.” I was like, I don’t know what I’m going to say to the guy. I don’t know, I didn’t feel like… it’s not that I didn't feel worthy but I just felt like I don’t have anything, like, I’m just going to suck up to this guy. Let’s just leave it there, he thanked us on stage and I was like… I kind of regret not meeting him, but at the time I was probably too nervous.
MD: Yeah, I understand. I think I’ll be that way about Bob Dylan. It’ll be like, what do you say to the guy? And obviously, you…
SM: Totally! There’s nothing you can say, it’s like,
MD: It’s like meeting God, “Uh, you’re really cool!”
SM: Exactly, yeah, that’s exactly the vibe.
MD: Fantastic… well hopefully you’ll do some more of your own shows here as well at some point, here in Auckland and around New Zealand. But the Pink thing is going to be pretty exciting so the folks will get a chance to see you and the record is out tomorrow. It’s all happening, man!
SM: Yeah, we did The Black Keys thing in Auckland at – what’s it called, that arena there…
MD: It used to be the Vector and now it’s Spark Arena.
SM: Vector! Yeah, right, so we did the same venue. So, we’re going back there which is going to be awesome. The crowd was actually really welcoming of us with The Black Keys. Like, the house lights went down, and no one knew who the hell we were and the Auckland crowd was so up for it, so hopefully – I think that P!nk will be maybe even more so a really welcoming crowd.
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Released: 29 Jun 2018