Interview: Born Ruffians
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Their forthcoming single ‘Hummingbird’ is full of insect-scuttling, rim-tapping on the drum kit while joint vocals bark ahead in jabbering ‘ohs’ and ‘heys’.
Singer and guitarist Luke LaLonde and his bass-snapping cousin Mitch DeRosier met their drummer Steve Hamelin in high school when they were all learning to play the trombone and listening to Puff Daddy (“he was amazing, I still have those records”) and Weird Al Yankovic (“he’s a parody song writer and he’s really bad”).
Originally named Mornington Drive, after Luke’s Dad’s band, they changed their name before they got too attached to it, to Born Ruffians.
They’ve already recorded an appearance for a forthcoming episode of Skins and they’re set to release their debut album Red, Yellow & Blue at the end of May. That’s a pretty hefty score for a bunch of freshers.
Except they released an EP in 2006, so why is it that 2008 is becoming the year for them? “Sincere is one word for it,” says Mitch, juggling a tortilla wrap and a cup of tea. “Genuine. We keep it simple but still try and write complex pop songs.” Or perhaps it’s how accessible their music is for everyone.
“We’ve just tried to put out a record we would want to hear instead of anticipating what the trend is gonna be. Luckily people caught on,” smiles Steve.
“Obviously there are a hundred bands to watch for the year but it’s nice to be one of those hundred.”
For their forthcoming album, which varies in old and new songs, the band worked with Animal Collective producer, Rusty Santos, in order to bring out a certain style within the music that he manages to draw from all the records he produces. “The EP came out in October 2006 and we wrote ‘Hedonistic Me’ in 2005, so a song as old as three years will be making it onto a 2008 record. It’s a pretty big gap,” says Mitch as Luke leans back into the sofa, happy to let Mitch and Steve do all the talking.
“He [Rusty] re-recorded the song and he did such a nice original mix to it that it felt like a brand new song,” says Steve.
“It fits in with all the other songs on the album. It’s his style. A lot of the effects and production techniques were Rusty’s idea. We had demoed the album so the songs themselves didn’t really change that much, but all the effects and quirky things on the record is Rusty, and that’s what we wanted.”
Starting off as a rockier Strokes or White Stripes, Born Ruffians have taken on a hillbilly tint, with lots of layered harmonies and raw drums in the style of Mystery Jets. They now draw influences from bands such as the Animal Collective and the Beach Boys.
“I think that’s why our music started shifting,” Steve recalls, visibly thinking back to the first days of the band.
“Instead of listening to a streamlined genre, we started listening to lots of different kinds of music and it started to show, obviously through osmosis.” Their choice of pairing Pixies-esque riffs and yelps with a sped up marching band has worked out to be a winning formula for them, but is it just on their merits that they’re becoming so hyped?
“I think any band today can credit the internet to boosting their success. It’s just changed the way entirely that any band can get popular,” says Mitch, cradling a cup of English Breakfast.
“Especially bands that don’t get played on the radio or MTV often. Even major websites like MTV will cater more to independent acts. It levels the playing field a bit,” states Steve, before opening a packet of Lemsip flu tablets and asking around the table how many he should take.
“I’ve got a bit of a cold,” he sniffs.
“The internet is almost like a big word of mouth,” Mitch cuts in. “It’s word of mouth but on a massive scale. And people with blogs that’s exactly the same as telling your friend ‘Hey I saw this band and they’re great’. A blog on the internet is like saying “Hey I saw this band and they’re great’ but ten fold.”
Since signing to Warp the band have started on some extensive touring, visiting France and Germany for the first time, not to mention a tour with British beat masters Hot Chip.
“Touring with Hot Chip was really fun,” beams Mitch.
“We played with them before we toured with them and that’s how we got to know them.” But were Hot Chip fans responsive?
“The reactions can really go either way. We never got a terrible reaction but we got some of those cold reactions…” he says while glancing towards the table. “Just [people] waiting for Hot Chip,” says Steve.
“But you can get that a lot when you’re playing on different bills like that. We’re gonna be touring with Cadence Weapon too, who’s a rapper in Canada. You just play through it. If you get pissed off [and] you show it, it’s even worse because they’re going to see you’re pissed off and think ‘Why are they being babies about it? We just don’t like you’,” Steve quips.
“When you’re supporting, they didn’t come to see you so you can’t expect them to like you. But yeah we’ve had some bad shows, we had some ice thrown at us once,” he laughs, despite the fact that it probably hurt at the time. “Oh, I don’t know it hit Luke.” Then they all laugh and Luke finally sits up with a knowing grin on his face.
“It just hurt emotionally,” he says sincerely, trying to act serious and suppress his laughter.
For Born Ruffians, a band at the onset of success, it’s not always as exciting as they’d like it to be, and sometimes there are doubts over whether to throw the towel in. Luke mentions the stress of touring getting “a little overwhelming” and Mitch jokes about, “Jared from the Subway ads came to one of our shows.”
But Steve points out that the truly awful times are playing individual shows in the early hours of the morning to two people, with broken equipment. “Those are my biggest lowlights,” he states.
“We even put a hole in our gas tank on tour and were leaking gas and that didn’t seem as bad as this one show we played in New York at 3:30 in the morning with one microphone instead of three, no bass amp and a half assed drum kit and no sound guy. Sometimes shows like that, where the crowd are really crazy, you think ‘Oh wow that was a really punk show’ but this was not that. There were like 10 people sitting down, passing out.”
Born Ruffians will be heading back to tour the US and Canada until April, but be sure to catch them on the festival circuit this summer.
“Actually,” says Mitch, bringing up a highlight of the tour before leaving the comfy confines of the sofa.
“This trip over, we played Berlin and we’ve never been to Germany, never been to Europe even, just to the UK. We showed up at the venue and when doors opened we saw two people sitting inside and they recognised us because they came to see us because they were super fans almost and they knew our names and were really excited, which is crazy for us to think about because I don’t think our record came out in Germany,” he says, almost exhausted with excitement.
“I’ve never been there, so to see two people who were really excited to see us and knew the songs. That’s one of my favourite things.”