The glo­be­trot­ting Aussie trio dis­cuss the mak­ing of their new al­bum, So­lace

Computer Music - - Contents -

Rewind 30 years. Rock mu­sic and elec­tronic mu­sic have lit­tle in com­mon. Like bit­ter sib­lings fight­ing over their par­ents’ legacy, they sit on ei­ther side of a great di­vide. Rock mu­sic was real mu­sic be­cause it was… live. Rock bands would earn their stripes – and their al­bum sales – by tour­ing re­lent­lessly; load­ing the gear into the back of a tran­sit van and play­ing ev­ery toi­let and church hall from here to Aus­tralia.

Elec­tronic bands, on the other hand, had lit­tle use for ei­ther the tran­sit van or the front-room sized venues. All they needed, so the story goes, was a hit sin­gle, the right ra­dio playlist and the pen­sion was se­cure. Live per­for­mances might even harm your chances of star­dom. Who, some might ask, wants to watch ses­sion singers mime to back­ing tapes?

Thank­fully, things be­gan to change. And they have con­tin­ued to change. So much so that, for a band like Syd­ney’s Rüfüs Du Sol, it re­ally is the live shows that seem to mat­ter most. OK, they’ve re­leased a cou­ple of ex­cel­lent al­bums too, but, as drum­mer/pro­ducer James Hunt ad­mits, it turned out to be the end­less tour­ing that made the great­est im­pact.

“We lit­er­ally toured for two years solid,” he ex­plains on a crackly tele­phone line from LA. “And a lot of that was in the US. There was def­i­nitely this vibe that peo­ple were com­ing to see us be­cause of the live show. They knew the al­bums and sang along to ev­ery word, but ev­ery­thing seemed to go up a gear when it was us and the au­di­ence.”

Rüfüs Du Sol – Hunt, along with key­boardist, Jon George, and singer/gui­tarist, Tyrone

Lindqvist, all shar­ing pro­duc­tion du­ties – came from Syd­ney, but their US suc­cess more or less forced the move to LA in 2016.

“It’s halfway be­tween Syd­ney and the rest of the world,” laughs Hunt.

Bas­ing them­selves in a Venice Beach house they found on Airbnb, they started work on their re­cently-re­leased third al­bum, So­lace. It was an in­tense ex­pe­ri­ence – the band, girl­friends, man­age­ment and a stu­dio all packed on top of each other – but one that was cen­tral to the sound they cre­ated.

“We re­ally im­mersed our­selves in this al­bum,” says Hunt. “Lit­er­ally, locked away, with no sense of day or night. Los­ing our­selves in all the lit­tle tweaks, dead-ends and mo­ments of beauty that make up a fin­ished col­lec­tion of songs.

“Yeah, it all got a bit ob­ses­sive and our per­sonal lives suf­fered, but… it was worth it!”

Com­puter Mu­sic: Mov­ing 7500 miles, liv­ing to­gether for two years and record­ing an al­bum at the same time. Im­pres­sive! No one hos­pi­talised for drunk­enly hit­ting delete? No smashed key­boards?

James Hunt: “I’m not say­ing it was easy, but we’ve known each other for a long time and we’ve been tour­ing for a long time. When you’re liv­ing out of buses and ho­tel rooms for six months, you get to know a lot about a per­son. What they smell like in the morn­ing. How they eat. Whether they’re go­ing to get an­noyed if you change that bassline.

“But you’ve also got to re­mem­ber how ex­cited we all were. Things were look­ing OK for the band. There was a nice buzz about the mu­sic. And we had the chance to live in LA, right on the beach. It’s what you dream of when you’re a kid. This is your job: record­ing an al­bum. You can dis­ap­pear into the stu­dio for days on end, but that’s OK be­cause what you ul­ti­mately want is to make the best al­bum that you’re ca­pa­ble of mak­ing.

“The whole thing of be­ing in a new city, with a stu­dio – a proper, sound­proofed stu­dio, that was set up and ready to go 24 hours a day, seven days a week – gave us a cre­ative drive that we’d never ex­pe­ri­enced be­fore. It felt eu­phoric!”

cm : So you didn’t just stuff all the gear in the spare room?

JH:“Jon found this place on Airbnb and it said some­thing about hav­ing a stu­dio in the back gar­den. We went to have a look and, sure enough, it came with a de­tached, sound­proofed stu­dio. From what we heard, it’d been used as a record­ing stu­dio in the 80s, but the guy who was rent­ing it out to us only ever used it as a karaoke room.

“It had a nice… dusty feel. Dark­ness. Lit­eral dark­ness. There were no win­dows. It was strange, be­ing so close to the Pa­cific Ocean, but hav­ing no sense of space or time when we were in there. We’d some­times finish work, think­ing it was around mid­night, and it was eight in the morn­ing. Yes, that’s tir­ing, and we all got a bit moany, but then you walk out into the Cal­i­for­nia sun­shine and it just helped us re­set our heads back to zero.”

cm : What was in there? What was the setup?

JH: “It felt like a proper stu­dio. After you walked inside, there were glass doors that made it feel like we were go­ing into a space­ship. First you hit the con­trol room, which had the lap­top and the Min­i­moog D. We’d al­ways used soft­ware ver­sions of the Moog in the past, so it was nice to fi­nally get our hands on the real thing. Well, al­most the real thing.

“The lap­top – it was a MacBook Pro – was only meant to be a tem­po­rary mea­sure. We fig­ured that, once we started do­ing some se­ri­ous record­ing, we’d need a desk­top com­puter, but it never missed a beat. That’s one of the strange things about sud­denly hav­ing your own stu­dio. You au­to­mat­i­cally as­sume that ev­ery­thing needs to be big­ger and more pow­er­ful. But lap­tops have come a long, long way. A de­cent one will have more than enough mus­cle.

“As well as bring­ing over ev­ery­thing from Syd­ney – all the live stuff, like gui­tars, drums, per­cus­sion, mics – we in­vested in a whole bunch of new toys. I’ve al­ways liked the Roland Bou­tique synths, so we got a Jupiter and a Juno. The cen­tre­piece synths were a cou­ple of Dave Smith Prophet-6s and the OB-6. They pro­vided the vast ma­jor­ity of sounds on the al­bum.

“They were ac­tu­ally set up next to the gui­tars and the drums in the live room, but, in the end, the ma­chines kind of took over.”

cm : No live gui­tars or drums at all?

JH: “There are bits and pieces, but nowhere near as much as we had on the first two al­bums. The Prophets seemed to open so many melodic doors that we never re­ally both­ered with the gui­tar. My back­ground is drum­ming, so I sup­pose that is my area, but, again, it only played a mi­nor role. We’d record a bit of live snare or per­cus­sion, just to give the beats a hu­man groove.”

cm : Maybe an ob­vi­ous ques­tion… but does be­ing a drum­mer ac­tu­ally help you when it comes to pro­gram­ming beats? Or does it tech­ni­cally sti­fle the chance of those happy rhyth­mic ac­ci­dents?

JH: “In re­al­ity, it’s a bit of both. In my teens, I got deep into jazz drum­ming, and that seems to al­low me to re­ally see into the heart of a beat. I can im­me­di­ately lis­ten to a loop and work out

“In my teens, I got deep into jazz drum­ming and that seems to al­low me to re­ally see into the heart of a beat”

“‘Wonky’ mu­sic is get­ting a lot more at­ten­tion: mu­sic that doesn’t fit into the usual blue­print”

what’s push­ing it for­ward and what might feel bet­ter if it was be­hind the beat. You can un­der­stand where the ac­cents need to be. All those lit­tle bits that bring a loop to life.

“But there were also some late-night jam ses­sions where we were just throw­ing things into the com­puter with­out wor­ry­ing too much about rules and tech­nique. Like you say, you hear it the next morn­ing and you think, ‘That’s wrong, but it works’.

“I ac­tu­ally think that’s one of the ar­eas where elec­tronic mu­sic has be­come much more in­ter­est­ing over the last year or two. For want of a bet­ter word, ‘wonky’ mu­sic is get­ting a lot more at­ten­tion now than it did: mu­sic that doesn’t fit into the usual blue­print. It’s not ex­actly new – I’ve been a fan of artists like Fly­ing Lo­tus, Burial and Cari­bou for a long time – but I do think that it’s be­com­ing more ac­cept­able in the main­stream.

“I won­der if it’s some kind of re­ac­tion to the whole EDM thing. Ev­ery­thing was overquan­tised and over-pro­duced. The sound had to be big and shiny. Maybe you don’t need all that. Son­i­cally it can be a bit fuzzy, and the groove keeps fall­ing apart, but it’s a great tune. And it feels real. It’s made by ma­chines, but it has that im­per­fect hu­man el­e­ment.”

cm : Was it Fly­ing Lo­tus that pro­vided the link from jazz drum­ming to elec­tronic mu­sic? He cer­tainly has the jazz cre­den­tials… isn’t he re­lated to John Coltrane?

JH: “The way I dis­cov­ered elec­tronic mu­sic was kinda weird. My mum had one of those Jane Fonda work­out tapes, and ev­ery time she played it, I would tune in to the mu­sic. It was kinda housey… disco. But I was play­ing jazz, so noth­ing re­ally fell into place un­til I heard Boards of Canada in my late teens. I be­gan in­ves­ti­gat­ing how they made this mu­sic and fell in love with their dark ma­nip­u­la­tion of sound. How they could take this sound and make it into some­thing com­pletely dif­fer­ent. As if they had a power over sound.

“Some­where in my head, I must have put that to­gether with the Jane Fonda tape. And it didn’t take long for me to re­alise that I wasn’t the only one with these ideas. Both Jon and Tyrone were in the same cir­cle as me and, after school, we de­cided to have a go at mak­ing mu­sic.

“We started lis­ten­ing to a lot of dif­fer­ent stuff. Booka Shade, Trentemøller, Chem­i­cal Broth­ers…

but the com­mon thread was this un­der­cur­rent of dark­ness. It was emo­tional, but not over-thetop happy. It had soul. We had no idea how to make mu­sic that sounded like that, so we lit­er­ally sat down and tried to copy the stuff that we lis­tened to. How did they do that? Why does that bit work?”

cm : Ob­vi­ously, at some point you have to start search­ing for your own sound, but there’s noth­ing wrong with try­ing to ‘copy’ stuff when you’re first learn­ing how to be a pro­ducer. We’ve all done it.

JH: “Any­one who can just load up Able­ton and cre­ate a fully-formed, orig­i­nal and dis­tinc­tive song straight from the get-go is very lucky. Or they’re ly­ing. Per­son­ally, I think that pro­duc­tion is a les­son that never ends. The more you work at it, the bet­ter you get, and the closer you get to the sound that you’re search­ing for.

“We could def­i­nitely feel that when we were work­ing on this al­bum. Ev­ery­thing we did was more in­tense. We spent way more time on the tech­ni­cal side of mak­ing this al­bum. As if we were look­ing for some­thing dif­fer­ent.

“As well as the new synths, we had a load of pro­duc­tion tools to play with, in­clud­ing ev­ery­thing from Soundtoys. We were send­ing per­cus­sion or lit­tle riffs through EchoBoy, turn­ing these ba­sic bits of mu­sic into some­thing com­plex and multi-lay­ered. All of that was get­ting laid on top of the song, adding a level of sheen that we’d never both­ered with be­fore. Well, it wasn’t that we never both­ered – it just wasn’t on our hori­zon.”

cm : I seem to re­call you be­ing Pro Tools users on the first al­bum. You’ve moved over to Able­ton Live now?

JH: “We did a lot of the early record­ing with Pro Tools, but we started to get is­sues with pro­cess­ing, and Able­ton Live seemed like the best al­ter­na­tive. As it turned out, Able­ton has been far more use­ful as a plat­form. The mu­sic we record – es­pe­cially on this al­bum – makes far more sense on Able­ton. And it al­lowed us to make mu­sic faster than we’ve ever done be­fore.

“This was also the first time we’d ex­per­i­mented with mak­ing mu­sic ‘on the move’. In the past, ev­ery­thing had to be seg­mented. If we wanted to do some record­ing, we had to be in the stu­dio be­cause of the whole Pro Tools setup. With Able­ton, we had more free­dom.”

cm : Didn’t you record some of the al­bum out in Joshua Tree Na­tional Park?

JH:“Yeah, that was one of our grand vi­sions for this al­bum. We planned this whole road trip and went out there with the sole in­ten­tion of record­ing a track. Writ­ing and record­ing the whole thing while we were in this amaz­ing place.

“We took the Prophets, a cou­ple of mics, a lit­tle Yamaha mixer and some of the other gear. We had a start­ing point, which was a very sim­ple arpeg­gio line we’d been work­ing on. You can guess what hap­pened. As soon as we got there… noth­ing. We hit a com­plete block.

“Ini­tially, we got se­ri­ously de­pressed. We were in this won­der­ful sit­u­a­tion, but noth­ing was hap­pen­ing. Like we were star­ing at a brick wall. Out of nowhere, we started throw­ing a cou­ple of new ideas around and, that’s when it hap­pened. A song called LostInMyMind. All in about two hours.”

cm : Maybe it’s be­cause I know about how it was put to­gether, but when you lis­ten to that song, it does ac­tu­ally sound as if it was recorded in Joshua Tree. Could it have been recorded any­where? If you’d been based on a petrol sta­tion fore­court in Cardiff, would it have sounded the same?

JH:“Ha! That’s an in­ter­est­ing ques­tion. And who knows the an­swer. But it cer­tainly felt like one of those times when the place be­came part of the song. The sky, the smells in the air, the hu­mid­ity… the way it looked. When you looked out the win­dow, it was like be­ing on Mars.

“If we ever get the chance to record on Mars, I’ll let you know how it turns out!”

Rüfüs Du Sol’s new al­bum, So­lace, is out now. As part of their world tour, they’ll be play­ing four UK dates, start­ing at Lon­don Print­works on Novem­ber 29

Vo­cal­ist Tyrone Lindqvist is cen­tre-stage at Austin City Lim­its fes­ti­val in 2017

A Mel­lotron, the Nord Elec­tro 5… and some in­tensely psy­che­delic wall­pa­per!

Pro­duc­tion by com­mit­tee in Rüfüs Du Sol’s LA beach­front stu­dio

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