The Rubens released their third studio album LO LA RU on June 29 and they’ll be looking to pick up right where they left off from 2015 album Hoops, which saw the title track take out #1 in triple J’s hottest 100. Recording of the album saw the band spreading from a WW2 bunker near their their sleepy Menangle hometown in Camden, NSW, to halfway around the world in Brooklyn, New York City. On top of the release, The Rubens have a huge tour around Australia and New Zealand supporting P!nk, as well as a blockbuster ‘homecoming’ show at the civic centre in Camden. CALLUM SYNNOTT caught up with keyboardist Elliot Margin to talk about LO LA RU and what we should expect of the album, as well as supporting P!nk.
What should we expect from the new album, will you be totally changing it up stylistically or will you stick to a similar sound to which gave you so much success with Hoops?
I don’t think we’ve stuck to a particular sound but there’s definitely a progression in our songwriting and in our recording, we’re definitely getting more comfortable with ourselves and with experimenting and trying new ideas. I think that really crept onto this record.
Having done so well with Hoops (the song) and winning the Hottest 100, have you written anything on this new album that you think will rival it to be your most successful track?
I don’t know man, crunching numbers and isn’t really our forte. We kind of just write songs and we love them and then put them out there and see what happens. I think we’d probably stuff our lives up if every song we wrote, we weighed it against that one and wondered whether it would have the same kind of success. We’ve kind of trained ourselves not to think about it.
I see the new album was created in a WW2 bunker in your hometown of Camden, what was your reasoning for choosing this location to create LO LA RU, can you tell us a little about it?
Yeah so it’s in our hometown and obviously there’s an appeal there, in making a record in your hometown and doing it where you grew up. We were just lucky, in that, our friend just lives at this bunker and has for years. He’s been doing it up and making it into a studio with Will, our bassist, for a while now and we were just lucky that it was finished by the time it came around to recording this record and so we were like “sweet, we can try and make this happen”. It’s an amazing space, you can feel secluded even though you’re right pretty much in the town, so you can hunker away and create stuff, have crazy long hours but also have friends and family come round and see what you’re doing which is really cool.
Some artists like to feel at home when recording new music to get a certain feel or atmosphere. Do you feel more comfortable writing or recording in expensive studios and away from home or does the WW2 bunker in Camden hit the nail on the head for you guys?
I think the bunker really hit the nail on the head for us because we have done big expensive studios before like our first few records, we recorded in Avatar Studios in New York and that’s awesome, it’s really cool, as that’s something you dream about doing as a musician. You see pictures of the Rolling Stones and all these massive artists working in a studio like that, but once you get there it can be pretty intimidating and you’re spending the money to be there so you need to get the performance, you need to get it ‘right now’ kind of thing, you have a lot of time constraints, whereas in the studio (Bunker) you’re working on your own time and it’s more relaxed and more “we’ll get the right take when we get the right take, let’s just keep on working and have fun.” I think there are benefits to both sides of it, but it was nice for us to change it up this time and do it so casual and easy.
You flew to Brooklyn and did some recording with producers Wilder Zoby and Little Shalimar. A few months later they then came to Camden to work on LO LA RU with you. Supposedly they fit in very well in Camden. That must be difficult for two New Yorkers so can you tell us a little about what it was like working with them in sleepy Camden?
Funnily enough, they really embraced it, like they went full into Australian culture. They were really cool and it was fun for us to show these guys around somewhere they would never have the chance to see otherwise. They were awesome, we’d take them to the pub and get them drinking VB, and they’d eat lamingtons. They loved the café culture, obviously Australians are known for their awesome cafes so that was great. They just loved it, they were totally happy to be on the other side of the world hanging out and seeing new things whilst making music with us, it was really cool.
On the flip side of the coin, you guys then flew to their backyard of Brooklyn to add some finishing touches to the album, how did that go down? Surely recording in Brooklyn was an invigorating experience that you hope will also transfer a little into the album?
Yeah, it was definitely a very different vibe to Camden in country New South Wales, but it was still kind of like, we showed them our world where we grew up and then we were thrust into their world in Brooklyn. We were recording in Torbitt (studio), that’s Little Shalimar, his basement studio. His family lives upstairs so we were meeting his family and hanging out and meeting their friends, eating at their places and stuff. It was good, it was really good and I think it was nice as well just to have time to do things. We recorded the bulk of the album in Camden and we had the songs sitting there a couple of weeks before we went over to Brooklyn to finish it off. It was nice to have that break in between to listen to the songs and mull them over, sit with them and see what they needed to finish them off. It was really helpful and it was cool to say that we made it in our home and their home as well, it’s nice.
Cliché question but always interesting to hear if there are any direct artistic influences for this new album?
It’s hard, it’s really hard. I think maybe before we went in to make a record, I personally was listening to Chance the Rapper’s new album at the time Colouring Book. That album was really cool and I liked those gospel elements, so that might have crept into demos but apart from that, once we’re in demo writing stage and recording in the studio, we don’t really listen to anything else, like you don’t have time. All your free time is spent listening to what it is you’re creating right now, so it’s like you’re stuck in the studio for ‘x’ amount of weeks or months and then you come out and try to catch up on all of the music you missed out on.
Is there any sort of theme you guys are centering the new album around, either in the lyrics or elsewhere in the music?
There’s no central theme really, we usually just write fictional stories for the music that we make. I think just for us, personally, our lives aren’t interesting enough to get material all the time so for us it’s about creating a story or a mood and telling that in each song and seeing where it goes. I mean, it’s always been that way for us; it’s just the best way we write.
You’re currently preparing for a massive Aus and NZ tour with Pink. I feel this seems like an odd pairing as yourselves and Pink are of very different styles, how are you guys feeling about it? Are you fans of her music or do you know her personally?
We don’t know her personally, no. I mean obviously we’ve grown up and P!nk has been famous all of our lives which is a funny thing, so we know her music but we’ve never met her. For us it’s just exciting to be able to play in front of her crowd. She’s playing a huge amount of shows, like 40+ from Australia to New Zealand and we’re going to get to play in front of all of those people and learn how to command that kind of audience which is something… We’ve played a lot of big shows before but not really enough to flex that muscle enough and get that practice down and win people over, it’s going to be really exciting, we’re looking forward to it.
Your new track Never Ever features APRA breakthrough songwriter of the year Sarah Aarons. For many she is, as of yet, an unheard of name so could you tell us a little about how her inclusion came about?
So we were heading over to Brooklyn to Torbitt Studios to finish the record when we got an email from her manager saying that she wanted to write with us and we said “awesome yeah that would be great but we’re going to go and finish our record now so it’s probably not going to be a Rubens thing” so for Sam (Margin) and I, it was just something we were really going to do because we wanted to learn about songwriting and how songwriting for other people works and we’d see how that goes, kind of thing. So we got back from Brooklyn and met up with her in Sydney and just had like a 5 hour session and wrote this track and didn’t really think it was going to be a Rubens track, as it’s a duet and that’s something we’ve never really done before. Then we sat with the song and showed other people and they were like “why can’t it be a Rubens song, you guys like it right?” and we’re like “yeah we love it, we love the song, fair enough, it’s going to be a Rubens track then” so it was really all serendipitous really, there was no “alright we need another song for the record” it was just writing with Sarah for fun as we like the other songs she’s been on and yeah, it worked, and it was natural. The reason it became a duet originally was because we were in a studio playing with this melody and it sounded like it was a back and forth thing, so we tried that out and it happened and yeah it was just unforced. It was only around 5 hours that we were in the studio with her for, so there was no ‘faffing about’ or anything, it was just hammer it out and done.
You’re soon to be playing an all ages gig in your hometown of Camden and encourage all locals and people from Sydney to come along. After selling out big cities all around the world, would you say you’re more excited to perform back in Camden than anywhere else?
To be honest, for us right now, this is the show of the year really. We’ve never done a hometown show specifically in our hometown, we’ve always spoken about doing it but the opportunity’s never come up or we’ve been away or whatever. It’s something we’ve looked forward to pretty much since the band started and now its happening and yeah, it’s going to be wild, going to be awesome. It’s in the Camden Civic Centre which is kind of like the local hall where most of us had our high school formals and everything so it’s a weird kind of ‘coming home’ sensation that’s going to be really, really funny, standing on stage and playing these songs as an adult is going to be really weird. And then we have friends and family so it’s going to be a big hang, a big get together.
So after touring with Pink and releasing LO LA RU, what’s next? What does the future hold?
We have plenty more news in the year after the Pink tour but we’ll keep it all vague for now…