After the success of the debut album Atlas, RÜFÜS took time out to head to Berlin to create their sophomore album Bloom. John Goodridge spoke to drummer James Hunt from the band about the making of the album.
How are you feeling about the new album?
I’m really excited. I only feel like I got my head around what it is on the last two weeks. We finished it in Montreal in a hotel room doing the last vocal takes. I think there was a healthy bit of procrastination during the year actually finishing the record, but I’m glad we had that time at the end. I’m stoked that we’ve finally finished and hit on something that we’re really proud of.
Having said that you finished in Montreal, I know you recorded a lot of it in Berlin. Was that a deliberate choice to record in different places?
I guess we had to do it out of necessity. We were touring so much in 2014 on the back of Atlas and we knew we wanted to write the second album overseas somewhere, whether it was London or New York or Berlin. We’d been to Berlin a few times and fell in love with that place; what it was offering artistically or creatively, being inspired by the David August shows or Rampa for example. Then we settled down home for a couple of months before going overseas again in Canada and writing in the US as well, it’s kind of just happened that way.
When you wrote the album, did you have a game plan or something before it started or did it evolve naturally?
I think it just evolved naturally; we wanted a game plan but it didn’t work, but what was working for us was giving ourselves the space to discover and explore music while we were in Berlin. We were just bashing out ideas, as many as we could; we ended up with about 150 ideas which we culled, as opposed to that first record, where we grew it outwards and manicured it. [For] This one, the process was pulling back a lot and I think that was an essential part of the writing process.
After the success of Atlas was there some nervousness about how to approach the second album?
We didn’t really have a chance to think about that and I guess [in] sending ourselves off to Berlin, we were isolated in a way. It was winter at the time so we were stuck in cave, just writing all the time. That helped us to forget that there was any pressure on the stereotypical ‘sophomore’ record. It just felt like we were just three friends hanging out, going out to clubs every night and seeing DJ sets and live music and feeling inspired. I just remember feeling so excited to be writing again, especially after playing the songs from Atlas, touring with them for a long time. Our musical taste has been expanding, so to be able to channel that was fantastic.
Listening to the single, “You Were Right”, at first it seemed quite different but then it grew on me and now looking back on the early songs, they seem quite different.
Yeah, looking back now in hindsight, we have a better perspective to see how we started evolving the writing process and even sonically, that’s where we’ve had the most clarity – sonic landscapes. A lot what we were listening to at the start of the writing process was older samply hip-hop like The Avalanches and things that sounded old and warbly and imperfect, even a bit out of time. I can look back now and see how that shaped the record, as opposed to where we used to write things that were a bit tight or punchy. On this record, we were playing with the idea of having more space and texture and things being ‘wrong’ or sounding a bit off. We were working with analogue synths that would kink out halfway through a take; it’s funny that we weren’t really aware of that at the time, but now I can see that’s the progression that we’ve made.
So when you play live, how much freedom do you give yourselves to interpret the songs?
Recently, we’ve taken steps to put more responsibility on the different parts that we’re playing and giving ourselves that chance that we might fuck up, that’s what gives the live show charm I guess. We’ve been playing more with the live show, in terms of the journey allowing us to enter grooves more and break out of that into the next song. That’s really exciting for us, to develop a live show and we can jam a bit more. Personally I was really excited when I saw Caribou earlier last year, which I think is on a similar trip to what we’re doing, in a sense that it’s influenced by house and tech but being played as a band live; that set climaxing, then pulling back, then climaxing again, we all felt it and we wanted to radicalise what we did in a live show.
I saw a quote from the band about allowing the music to take its time and I really feel you’ve done that with Bloom. It’s got a real summer afternoon chilled vibe, which is quite strange as it was written in a Berlin winter. How much influence did the location have on the music?
Being in Berlin was a big influence in that term of space. The last song on the album, “Innerbloom”, kind of feels like the heart of the record and even though we wrote that song in Australia, it just takes me back to those days in Berlin. We’d go out and they’d play sets where songs require patience. You’re not forcing yourself to be patient, but it would become so quiet and bare, then it would come back again and even just the hi-hat would come in and everyone would lose their shit. We were trying to embody that, particularly on “Innerbloom”, but some of the other songs on the record having a bit of restraint or space or air or something. Some of the other songs have a sonic fullness to contrast.
To me, “Innerbloom”, although it’s a long track, it feels right with no wasted space. It doesn’t feel like a nine-minute song – it’s over before you realise. Have you thought about doing longer tracks in the future?
Even with this record, we were playing with the idea of how can we push ourselves as far as structuring songs goes. We were definitely talking early on about writing an obnoxiously long indulgent burner. When we started that song, the chords came out and we were like, ‘This feels like we should probably have zero restraint.’
We were referencing artists like David August and other artists that were making like ten or fifteen minute songs and it’s really cool to hear you say that it doesn’t feel like you’re listening to a nine minute song. We were trying to keep that in mind by introducing elements and letting it grow. Also, it happened pretty naturally while writing. It happened pretty organically, which was pretty cool. That song and “You Were Right” both happened really quickly and there wasn’t too much time to think about anything.
You said you spent some time in the clubs; have you ever been in a club and had a RÜFÜS song come on?
Definitely not in Berlin, but it’s happened a few times and it always feels a little surreal. When I think about the writing process, it’s just us hanging out in the studio, playing around and trying to write music that we love, so we’re never really thinking about it being played out or being played on the radio; I still get a little buzz when I hear it out. When I hear “You Were Right” in the club, I’m amazed at how good it sounds because we mixed the whole record with Cassian and we have a pretty good sense of what we want out of a mix; I think it was really smart of us to get Cassian to basically remix the whole thing. He’s so talented at that and understanding sonic space and thinking about how it’s going to sound in the club or in a car stereo.
It has always fascinated me that a song could be heard in so many different environments, yet it still has to sound good.
That’s why the mix is so important. What we’re doing is creating electronic sounds and combining them with live sounds. The record wouldn’t be what it is without us working with Cassian, so that’s important.
You’ve been to the States a few times now; how hard was it breaking into the market originally?
There was definitely a slow period of people getting a buzz or some kind of sense of what you were getting around, but in the last year people have come to the shows and they’re not necessarily all Australian; I think three out the four shows we did in November sold out, which was pretty surprising. The shows have been great in the past, but it reminds us of where were in Australia three or four years ago. It feels really cool and it feels like a lot of the material that we’ve put out from Bloom has been really connecting on a more international scale. Even “Innerbloom”, despite that being a nine-minute song, has had the best response out of anything, particularly on-line.
You had a guest vocalist, Dena Amy on “Hypnotise”. How did that come about?
That song is probably one of the earlier songs that we wrote in Berlin and it was a half-baked idea; we revisited it again in Australia about halfway through the year and sonically, we were referencing David August again, as well as Maribou State with the guitar and the lushness of it. When we started writing the vocals, we started tossing up the idea of a duet and we got Jon’s girlfriend Dena to come in and lay down the vocal and straight away we loved what her voice brought – it’s not like a session vocalist, but it’s just a naked and honest voice.
We loved that because it really worked with Tyrone’s vocal. Throughout the year we explored different singers doing the same part, but in the end that take and that vocal and that voice had meaning for us. We found out through the year that the first thing that you do, the initial spark carries the most weight. We were even finding that in guitar takes, that we’d spend a day doing takes and say that there’s not as much vibe – I mean, maybe there was a bit of electrical noise or it was a bit wrong, but I think that was a really good learning process.
I was also reading that the album was animal themed – there’s the song “Animal” and I heard you had pictures of sea creatures around.
Yeah, definitely. Even at the start we had these screen savers made up, like whales and jellyfish and these irukandji, but for some reason at the start we were into these aquatic vibes. We were also titling all the projects in alphabetical order, so we’d start with “Angel Fish”, then “Beluga Whale”, which kept it fun for ourselves too. It’s like each song had its own identity. I’m pretty sure “Innerbloom” was “Alligator”, actually.
How do you cope with touring so much – do you still enjoy it?
I think it’s become a bit more ingrained in our normal life now. It’s still really exciting for us, especially going overseas and playing, because there are so many places we haven’t been yet. We’ve learned to become tighter as a unit and we realise that it can be hard on your mental wellbeing, it can be pretty gruelling. I’m grateful that there’s three of us to give each other shit or joke around or whatever we need to do to stay sane on the road. I look at other artists that are a solo act, touring by themselves, I’m sure everyone would have their own way of coping with it, everything is relative, but it’s made us tighter as a unit.
Let’s finish on talking about the ARIAs; how did it feel winning Best Dance Release for “You Were Right”?
Yeah, that was totally surreal, that was crazy. We were in London at the time when we found out. We weren’t going to be able to make it back to the ARIAs and everyone in that category in their own way was definitely deserving of winning that award, we weren’t really banking on it. So it was a big surprise and it was nice that people are responding to our music in that way.
It was really funny doing the live cross from a studio in London; the whole thing happened, we did a speech and we could hear in our earpieces the whole room in Australia, the applause, then we walked outside and it was a cold London street with people going to work and walking their dogs and stuff at seven in the morning! We were like, ‘Did that just happen? It feels totally like a dream.’ It was really cool.
Bloom is released on January 22nd.