What a year it’s been for The Rubens. The four-piece was only hatched in early 2011, yet they’ve already scored a #57 spot in triple j’s 2011 Hottest 100, jetted across to New York to record their debut album with big-shot producer David Kahne, and now they’re getting ready to play a host of sold out shows and massive festivals around the country.
Now they’ve returned to their hometown of Menangle, New South Wales, the three brothers, Sam, Elliott and Zaac Margin, along with good mate Scott Baldwin, have had some time to reflect on how they rocketed onto our radars. However, they’re still coming to terms with the sheer rate that things kicked off.
“I don’t know what the hell just happened dude. The whole triple j Unearthed thing just came out of nowhere and since then it’s been the busiest and most intense seven or eight months of my life,” says frontman Sam Margin.
“One day my mate called me up and said that Lay It Down was being played on the radio. Soon it was on high rotation and then there just seemed to be an amazing series of events that led to us actually having people at our shows. Before that it was pretty dire, but all of a sudden we had a crowd. It was awesome,” says Margin.
Although much of the band’s progression can be attributed to the triple j airplay they received, Sam explains that jetting off to New York to record was something the band hooked up independently. “We sorted that out before triple j picked us up. A friend of ours is a mixing engineer and was over in France doing a workshop with producer David Kahne. He just dropped our track on the fly in the studio; David really liked it and agreed to produce us.”
Grammy-winning Kahne has a mouth-watering credit list, producing everybody from Paul McCartney, to The Strokes, Regina Spektor, Tony Bennett and Sublime. With this in mind, it was inevitable that there would be some initial nerves for The Rubens.
“When I first met David I was a bit intimidated, until I realised he’s really laid back guy. When it comes to music he’s pretty full-on – he’s kind of like a mad scientist. We had to work the same hours he worked, so that could be anywhere from midday until the early hours of the next morning. He can be pretty intense, but he balances it out by being a really funny dude.
“New York was an amazing experience for us. David taught us so much about the industry and what it really means to write music and consider every little part of a song. We did a lot of pre-production where he basically tore apart our songs with us, put them back together and tweaked things here and there. The changes weren’t massive, but now we’ve listened back to the final masters we really notice the little things he did and we can understand why he was so pedantic about certain things. It all comes down to the fact that he truly gave a shit about our music,” says Margin.
Working with David enabled the band to pursuit the much bigger sound that they were unable to achieve from bedroom demos. “The album is probably going to be much bigger than people are expecting. Most people reference Lay It Down as The Rubens as that was the song that gets played on the radio. It’s quite a stylised song, but not all of our songs are like that. There are some more gospel-sounding soul songs on there as well.
“All the instrumentation is similar, because that’s our style. There’s always going to be organ and twangy reverb-y guitars, but we made sure we used David for all he was worth. We didn’t go to New York to make a thin-sounding basic album; we could’ve just done that in my bedroom like we did with the original demos. Instead, we used everything we could to make it sound full and big. You’ll be surprised – there are strings on some parts and we even got a horn section in for one song.”
However, if latest single, Don’t Ever Want To Be Found is anything to go by, it shows that the rawness and rich, bluesy tones that attracted most to The Rubens in the first place isn’t going anywhere anytime soon.
“We originally had to work out how raw we wanted to stay so that we didn’t piss off people in Australia who had heard Lay It Down and liked it for its rawness. But we also wanted the album to sound more beautiful, which created a constant struggle for us. We made sure we kept it rough and ‘human’, because we wanted to sound like a band – not just a bunch of overdubs playing,” Margin says.
“To be honest, the hardest thing about making the record was having Lay It Down hanging over us the whole time.”
Now, the band is about to embark on its Don’t Ever Want To Be Found tour, and has already sold out shows at The Corner and Sydney’s Oxford Art Factory. However Sam says that the lads are in no danger of letting it get to their heads.
“We’ve gotten used to people coming to our shows which is really weird. Now and again we have to remind ourselves how horrible it was to have to call up mates on the day of the show just to try and get 20 people in the room and make sure it wasn’t completely empty. It was soul-destroying stuff. Now, to hear that we’ve got nights sold-out, where everybody is there just to see us…it’s the best thing you can hope for when you’re in a band.”
BY CALLUM FITZPATRICK
THE RUBENS debut album is set to be released in September through Ivy League and the band play the Corner Hotel on Tuesday July 10 (sold-out) and Thursday July 12 (sold-out). They also play the sold-out Splendour In The Grass.