Before speaking to Sam, a little birdie in the form of a helpful PR assistant mentioned jokingly that he was a “charmer”. Of course, I was immediately intrigued. But the image of a smooth John Mayer type character was quickly replaced by a chilled, down-to-earth 23-year-old who really loves what he does. That happens to be making music and, luckily, he and his band The Rubens are pretty damn good at it. “Yeah it’s been a bit of a roller coaster” were the first words to leave the lead singer and guitarist’s mouth. We can only imagine.
After forming just last year, the four-piece band from country New South Wales hasn’t missed a beat. Made up of three brothers and a childhood friend- Sam (lead vocals/guitar), Zaac (lead guitar), Elliott (keys/vocal), and Scott Baldwin (drums)- The Rubens used to make music in a bedroom before they got a break with single ‘Lay It Down’. The song might ring a few bells since it did break a few hearts with its slow blues sound and achingly soulful lyrics. It’s the kind of song you’d want to fall in love to, to put it simply.
The single came #57 in the Triple J Hottest 100 chart last year and since then the boys have managed to release two new singles (most recently ‘My Gun’), filmed a couple of video clips, toured Australia with some sell-out shows, and played Splendour In The Grass and its little sister, Spin-Off festival:
“It’s just been a series of new experiences really and it’s been ridiculously fun. Playing Splendour was just insane. It’s a really weird feeling having 6000 people stare at you.”
Did I mention all the hype was before The Rubens had even released their first album? It’s coming out next month and was recorded in New York City with Producer David Kahne; a big name in the business who’s worked with the likes of Paul McCartney, The Strokes and Regina Spektor. Sam reminisced about the learning curve:
“It was just an amazing experience. We went there for three months and it was a bit intimidating at first meeting someone with such a high profile. It was kind of scary, but we realised very quickly [Kahne] was just such a cool dude and we got along really well.
“We learnt a lot about ourselves and how to be a band. How to play live, record, write songs and rewrite songs, write hooks and what’s important. We pretty much became a band when we went to America.”
According to Sam, some of their influences include Cold War Kids, Coldplay, and The Black Keys. With the band’s organ melodies, deep throaty vocals and heavy bass, it’s easy to see what he’s getting at. Although he describes the self-titled album as diverse, fans are assured they’ll still get The Rubens’ signature sound:
“I think they can expect the soul of Lay It Down, but just much bigger. I think it’s just nice to listen to and we put so much effort into it.
“We recorded it in a big studio so the drums are huge and lots of effort was put into guitar chords and choosing the right organs that Elliott plays.”
Having seen The Rubens play a couple of live gigs likes pros now, I find it difficult to believe they’re really just starting out. Only when Sam mentions his weariness at being in-front of a camera do I remember how new it all must be:
“I pretty much hate that kind of stuff; being in-front of the camera and film clips. But it was an interesting experience doing it in a studio with professional cameras and lots of people involved. It was fun.”
Coming from the small town of Menangle with a population of less than one thousand people, I couldn’t resist asking what it was like for Sam and the other band members being recognised and asked for photos by complete strangers (especially of the female variety). Sam just shrugged it off as a compliment:
“It’s weird. It’s really flattering, but the only way you can keep sane and not get cocky is to think of it as flattering and that they like our music.
“It’s really weird when you’re out at a club and not playing a show and being recognised though. It’s an experience you kind of think you’d never have.”
The Rubens are going on their National Album Tour with special guest Bertie Blackman next month, and it’s pretty guaranteed there’ll be a few more sold-out shows. Until then, what to do?
“I dunno. I’ll probably go down and hang out with my girlfriend in Melbourne. Kill some time. We need to get some hobbies. We keep talking about fishing and I think I might also take up golfing!”
As for the imaginary, idealistic future of The Rubens? Sam was ready to dream, but in a keeping-it-real kind of way:
“I’d pick something that’s possible, like going on a tour with Band of Skulls or another bunch of dudes you just get along with. Anything that would involve playing in front of a ridiculous amount of people. Maybe Coachella Festival.”
Looks like that roller coaster won’t be slowing down anytime soon then.
The Rubens self-titled album is out 14 September. National Tour from 13 September.