The Ruby Suns have just released their third full-length album, Fight Softly, which finds the band’s sound evolving from their earlier world-pop sound towards a smoother, R&B influenced approach.
Led by frontman and songwriter Ryan McPhun, The Ruby Suns are about to embark on a short New Zealand tour before they head off to the United States.
Salient’s Kim Wheatley gave McPhun a call to discuss the new album, the band’s touring plans and their upcoming show at Mighty Mighty.
Kim: The Ruby Suns lineup seems to change all the time. You played at Campus a Low Hum with Amee Robinson and Bevan Smith—also of Signer—in the band. Will that be the lineup for your upcoming US and New Zealand tours as well?
Ryan: It’s actually going to be completely different because Bevan and Amee aren’t available to tour, so I’ve got two friends, Graham Panther and Alistair Deverick, to come with me.
Kim: Will the set be similar then?
Ryan: It’s mostly new stuff. There will be more songs off Fight Softly than in our set at Campus where we played a few more old songs.
Kim: Where you had ‘Oh Mojave’ recast as a club banger, almost… How did that happen?
Ryan: It just comes from getting bored from playing things over and over again and wanting to present songs differently. We just wanted to make the old songs a bit more fun.
Kim: And hence the balloons and crazy outfits at Campus as well [see picture]. Did you have any other special surprises in mind for this tour, or was that just a Camp special?
Ryan: [Laughs] Our main focus has been on getting the guys to know all the songs. Once that happens, who knows? But we’re pretty much there.
Kim: When I was listening to Fight Softly, I was reminded of the sound of your live sets when you were starting to rework the older material from Sea Lion in early 2009. Was there a conscious effort to take your live approach into the studio?
Ryan: It was probably almost the other way around. Changing the live songs around was more of a reflection of what I was interested in with the direction I was heading. And when I came to create new stuff that was going to be on the album it was just the same kind of thing, I didn’t want to do anything that I’d done before.
Kim: So it was all really one uniform progression?
Ryan: Yeah, and if anything the way songs sounded live was just an indication of the direction the band was already heading.
Kim: You covered ‘Running Up That Hill’ in early 2009, right? That seemed like another pointer to your new direction.
Ryan: Oh yeah, that’s true, we did.
Kim: Can we expect any covers on this tour, or will it all be Ruby Suns material?
Ryan: The only song that we’ve thought of covering is that latest Alicia Keys single, ‘Try Sleeping with a Broken Heart’.
Kim: I don’t think I’ve heard it.
Ryan: Man, it’s really really good. I don’t know if that’s actually going to happen though.
Kim: So we won’t hear it at Mighty Mighty then?
Ryan: Probably not. Well, it depends. But probably not…
Kim: I remember reading somewhere that Mingus (in the song ‘Mingus and Pike’) is a dog. In that case, who or what is ‘Pike’?
Ryan: Pike is a street in Seattle.
Kim: So what’s the story behind that song then?
Ryan: That song is about some of our experiences at this house that we lived at. We were babysitters for this dog because the guys who lived at the house were on tour so we were looking after the dog.
Kim: On the whole was it a good time in Seattle then?
Ryan: We had been touring quite a bit before then so I kind of got this post-tour depression where I felt really lethargic. I spent a lot of time doing nothing, and just feeling kind of crappy.
Kim: Maybe you should play some basketball?
Ryan: [Laughs] Yeah, that could help.
Kim: Your US tour is going to be with Toro Y Moi. How did you hook that up—through the label, or is he an old friend?
Ryan: I got in touch with him just in time because he’s starting to blow up big time. I think the first thing of his that I heard was a Michael Jackson cover that he did.
Kim: Really? Which song?
Ryan: ‘Human Nature’, which is one of my favourite MJ songs, and I really liked the cover. And then I heard some of [Toro Y Moi’s] other stuff, which I thought was cool too, so I just asked him if he wanted to do a tour with us and he said sure.
Kim: I can see that being quite a good love pairing…
Ryan: It’s kind of perfect because he’s a one-person band, and it’s easier to play after a one-person band sound-wise.
Kim: And I guess it makes it easier to tour as well, not having to have loads of gear and people?
Ryan: Yeah he’s just going to be travelling with us and there’s less gear too so it works out nicely.
Kim: This interview is going to hit our website in the middle of Orientation. I imagine there will be some unsuspecting first years stumbling into Mighty Mighty for the first time on Friday. In one or two sentences can you give me a description of what they can expect from your show there?
Ryan: Umm, gosh! It would be some sort of… [long pause] ‘Popical’ dance party.
Kim: [Mishearing Ryan] A tropical dance party? That sounds a little bit like the inside of Mighty Mighty, with all those palms and such.
Ryan: No, no. ‘Popical’! I made up that genre.
Kim: So, the Ruby Suns are the forerunners of the ‘Popical’ genre.
Kim: Ok, now back to Fight Softly, I take it the title is intentionally ambiguous?
Ryan: Yeah it is. I guess I had some sort of weird idea of what fighting softly might mean, but really it was just made up as a joke. It could mean a lot of things, and it’s fun to think of the options.
Kim: Was it easier to record this album? Presumably for Sea Lion you would have had a lot of analogue tracks and instruments, whereas Fight Softly was mostly digital.
Ryan: Well, it was recorded in the exact same way, with the same sort of process. For me it’s a lot easier just to make a whole lot of overdubs of instruments I can physically play. But this time I wasn’t interested in the end result of that kind of approach. There are really so many possibilities with computer recording and digital effects so I wanted to explore that more.
Ryan: Oh shit, one of my chickens got out! [to the chicken] How did you get out. Oi!
Ryan: Sorry about that.
Kim: Why do you have chickens Ryan?
Ryan: Because I like to eat eggs.
The Ruby Suns are playing at Mighty Mighty on Friday the 26th of February with Signer and DJ Shorty K. Door sales are $10.