Interview: The Ruby Suns
Lindsarella, JudyJams, and DevoLT were very excited to catch the Ruby Suns play a headlining set at Brooklyn Bowl a few weeks back, and they did not disappoint (opener Toro Y Moi was fantastic too). They played a number of stand-out tracks from the new record, Fight Softly, including personal favorite “Cinco,” which incorporates the band‘s Latin melodies with blips and synths. Favorite among the three of us are “Closet Astrologer,” a hazy pop tune, and “Cranberry,” which starts off with spare drumbeats and then builds into an electronic Calypso dance party. The instrumentation and synth layering on the album are beautiful—though a different approach from their last album, 2008’s Sea Lion, which was a cheery blend of psychedelia, tropicalia, and pop.
The group leader and only continuous member is vocalist Ryan McPhun, who has a hell of a voice, and he uses it to add another dimension to the already trippy sound. JudyJams and Lindsarella were lucky enough to score an interview with Ryan, who shared with us his musical influences, all-time-high bowling score, and favorite New Zealand breakfast.
TNJ: We had a blast seeing you at Brooklyn Bowl. Did you like the venue? I remember you saying that you bowled a top score that night, correct? How did everyone else do?
Ryan: Yeah the venue was rad! And yes, I did bowl a lifetime high score of 131. Apparently this is a shit score but I was pretty chuffed about it. Everyone else bowled like me, only worse.
TNJ: The new album, Fight Softly, is a bit of a departure from your older stuff: much dancier and more synth-laden, especially “Haunted House,” one of our favorites on the record. What inspired you this go-round when writing/recording?
Ryan: Bunch of different things. Reconnecting with the music I listened to when I was a kid: Michael Jackson, Phil Collins, Hall and Oates. Lots of 80s/90s pop stuff. Also getting more into dance music really made me want to make some more straightforward beats. I was also really inspired by the stuff one of my close friends, Bevan Smith, was doing with Signer, and he helped me with production on the record. He does pop/techno/house-y kind of stuff.
TNJ: We really love the flow of the songs on the record. How did you decide on song order? Do you see the record as a story, or a series of smaller vignettes?
Ryan: I had different goals and inspirations for each song, so to me they feel quite different from each other. Some of the songs were started years apart from each other, so I suppose I would go with the latter description. At the end of it, I had a few go’s with the track order until one stuck.
TNJ: You often play with a rotating cast of musicians. How do you connect with them and what defines your choices?
Ryan: My choices are often more practical than anything else. It’s really a matter of who doesn’t have a full-time job right now, or who really wants to quit their job and go overseas to tour. It’s a funny one coming from NZ cause it’s such a huge ordeal. Costs like 10k to do anything and because of that we try to stay out for as long as possible, so that means people have to move out of their flats and stuff like that. But I usually just think of friends and friends of friends that might be able to tour. In the case of Alistair and Graham, they’re both in an NZ band called Panther and the Zoo, Graham’s main project.
TNJ: Can you hip us to some cool New Zealand musicians you’re digging these days?
Ryan: My fave is also one of my best friends and conspirators, Bevan Smith. His main thing is Signer. I’m in the live band, and in the last couple years have started to contribute to the recordings. Just hearing some new demos lately and they’re fucking amazing. Any of my friends’ bands. . . the Sneaks, Lawrence Arabia, Panther and the Zoo, Orchestra of Spheres, the Mint Chicks, Liam Finn, Bachelorette. All really varied stuff.
TNJ: You’re touring extensively right now. What are your go-to traveling jams? Any artist in particular for planes, trains, automobiles, scooters, etc.?
Ryan: I can still listen to Calling Out of Context by Arthur Russell. That became my fave travel album in ’06 and for some reason I’m not sick of it. Same goes with other albums of his, the track “Springfield” blows me away every time. The album for this past tour though was Tongue and Cheek by Dizzee Rascal. So good. But for driving we keep going back to Radioclit remixes, Buraka Som Sistema, various Mad Decent stuff, ZZK artists like Chancha Via Circuito, Douster, and El Remolón, and other euro dudes like Myd, Aeroplane, Bullion. AND U.S. Top 40 R&B and hip hop, perhaps the real go-to for us. Drake, Timbo, Jay-Z, Kanye, Lil Wayne, Trey Songz, Chris Brown, Usher, etc. . .
TNJ: The Toast N Jams blog combines our love of music with our love of breakfast. What are your favorite breakfast items? What are some New Zealand breakfast options? Any specific morning or breakfast music you like?
Ryan: I don’t actually eat big breakfasts. Usually just a bit of toast or some muesli or cereal, along with coffee. BUT I love all things Mexican and often when we’re in the States, for lunch I’ll get huevos rancheros or veggie migas, if available, or huevos a la Mexicana. Anything Mexican with eggs basically. NZ has some of the best cafes around I reckon. It’s very easy to get a delicious, almost fancy meal. The standard is eggs benedict, but I’ll often go with a veggie big breakfast, which would have fried tomato, often baked beans, avocado, feta, poached eggs, good toast. The cafe near my old flat had a tofu & haloumi sandwich which makes me very very happy. Really good ciabatta bun, pesto, spinach, tomato, avocado, slab of tofu, few slices of haloumi, and piccilili. Beautiful!
TNJ: Tell us the truth. What’s better: pancakes, French toast, or waffles? Veggie sausage or veggie bacon?
Ryan: French toast. Veggie sausage, or veggie bacon, shit, both are delicious.