Words by Phelps
The Ruby Suns, brainchild of pop-conscious Kiwi convert Ryan McPhun, roll into Black Cat tonight on the strength of their 3-week old Fight Softly LP. Touring with Toro y Moi, tickets are, I’m sure just barely, available for the Cat’s Backstage. We caught up with Ryan fresh off of SXSW to discuss the new record, pop music, and the Olympics. On pot.
BYT: Hi, this is Josh from BYT, how are you?
Ryan: Hey, how’s it going? I’m doing well.
BYT: Good, good. Got a couple minutes?
Ryan: Oh, yeah yeah yeah, we’re just driving.
BYT: Alright, well, since you were just there, and closed out the Sub Pop showcase at SXSW, what was your overall experience? You played there before?
Ryan: Yeah, we have played there before but it was a little bit different this time. We played a few times, maybe five times, but I think the last time we were there we played seven or eight times and that seemed like way too much. So, it was good to kinda mellow out a little bit. Didn’t really see a whole lot of music, we saw the bands that were at our shows, but I only ended up going to one show that I chose to see.
BYT: What was that?
Ryan: The Very Best.
BYT: Ah, yea I heard they did a bunch, and were taking busloads of fans back to party.
Ryan: Yeah, yeah they were. Their label was putting on a party at some ranch they were renting. I didn’t end up going though, it was a real bummer, I really wanted to.
BYT: So, with Fight Softly, it sounds like it’s exploring sonic territory that’s different from the first two records.
BYT: Did you record this alone again, or with your band? What prompted the stylistic changes for you?
Ryan: Yea, I did this record all myself like every other thing I’ve ever done. It’s just a logical next step, I guess, for me. I started to reconnect with a lot of music I listened to as a kid, like Michael Jackson, and a lot of electronic stuff. Especially the late 80s, early 90s, and I was getting nostalgic about all that music and really getting into it all again and getting amazed by all the sounds. Getting really inspired by a lot of the sounds and the production, and the songwriting of course. Also, getting into modern pop and R and B and hip-hop over the past 3 or 4 years. It’s been a steady build of appreciation for more modern, commercial music. And also stuff like dance music as well, a lot of different kinds of dance music from all over the place.
BYT: As far as modern and emerging music, what do you find yourself going back to lately?
Ryan: New stuff?
BYT: You mentioned new, modern pop. What’s caught your ear?
Ryan: I really like Kanye West, Jay-Z, Timbaland. Britney Spears, Madonna. I don’t know, it all sounds pretty obvious. Beyonce.
BYT: One element that comes up in a lot of reviews and profiles is how you live and record in New Zealand. As far as that emphasis, do you think it’s relevant to the music you’re making or is that just something you separate?
Ryan: I think with this latest stuff, even though it was all, or most of it recorded in New Zealand, it’s really just influenced by the things I mentioned. It doesn’t have much to do at all with New Zealand. I probably would have made an album like that no matter where I was.
BYT: You’ve done some remix stuff. How do those come to fruition, and what’s your goal when refashioning or reinterpreting other artists’ songs?
Ryan: I mean, I haven’t done one, well, I’m sort of working on one now but I haven’t done too many lately. I guess one of the main things is just wanting to play around with different techniques. I did a cover of an Arthur Russell song and had some sounds I was playing around with, heavily affecting them, and I just wanted to keep playing around with that. It’s an opportunity for me to learn to record better or learn how to use different effects. I see it as an opportunity to try something in a different genre. I’m slowly working on a remix for my friend’s band and with the track and I just thought I wanna do a pretty straight kind of house track with just a steady, kind of heavy, beat to it. Maybe throw in a little bit of the Bmore sound towards the end ‘cause I just figured why not? Just really screw around and do things that I really like. Almost like a guilty pleasure.
BYT: You said Baltimore?
Ryan: Yea, yea, that really common Bmore sort of pattern.
BYT: Yea, living in DC I’ve started to hear more of that stuff too, it’s pretty catchy.
Ryan: Yeah yeah, super catchy!
BYT: I know you have some new artists like Rye Rye putting out old school sounding rap music but backed by the unique Baltimore club sound.
Ryan: Yea, Rye Rye is a good example as far as somebody people have heard of.
BYT: The Wire put out a Baltimore club tape or something I think, HBO put it out.
Ryan: Oh really?
BYT: Yea, there’s tons of mixtapes too.
Ryan: I’ve been trying to find out about it, and was asking Dan Deacon most recently in New Zealand and was asking if he knew where to find stuff but I don’t think he listens to Bmore club music. I was almost surprised by it. If it is a Wire thing, I can probably search for that.
BYT: If you had to get your hands on a song to remix now, is there anything you have your eye on?
Ryan: Gosh, um. Every time I listen to a song, I always think of things, like, “oh this could be more like this,” I always think of ideas to make it more “off” in some ways? I’ve been more trying to get people to remix my own stuff.
BYT: OK, one last question my friend wanted me to ask. The album ends with the track, “Olympics On Pot.” Care to explain that title?
Ryan: Eh (laughing,) it’s pretty self explanatory. It’s a funny song ‘cause half of it was taken from a song I wrote quite a few years ago so none of the lyrics really alk about the title. The title is almost separate. The title was inspired by, I think, it was a couple years ago, the summer Olympics. We just got really stoned at a friend’s house. I’ve never really liked the Olympics that much but we were watching diving, the really high diving, and all the flips and stuff and we were just freaking out at how awesome it was. So, yea basically it was really fun, a great way to watch the Olympics.
BYT: Yea, sounds like it!
Ryan: It gave me new appreciation for the Olympics. I managed to catch some of the games like skiing and a couple other things. The loooong jump. I’m more interested in it than I used to be.
BYT: Mmm hmmm. Well, cool, thanks for taking the time, we really appreciate it.
Ryan: Cool, no problem, thanks a lot!
BYT: Alright dude, take care.
Ryan: OK, cool. See ya later.