Canadian indie rockers Born Ruffians have notched up a decade together (although they began as Mornington Drive), and with each album has come a host of musical metamorphoses.
Singer and guitarist Luke LaLonde has always been the primary songwriter for the band, and as Born Ruffians go through perhaps their biggest state of change thus far, he remains their unrelenting driving force both creatively and psychologically. Their most recent release, Birthmarks (etched out of a dude ranch-style escape that LaLonde concocted for the creative process), saw the band bob just a little higher in the indie ocean, with their audience growing and their reviews ever-more favourable. If they can hold on long enough to weather the slings and arrows on the music industry ladder, it might all just get a little smoother for them at last.
“I really wanted to get out of the city to work on the album, I didn’t want to go into rehearsal spaces and I really wanted somewhere we could sleep, too,” LaLonde says of their rugged country escape for Birthmarks. “I kind of lived there the whole time because I didn’t have an apartment at the time – the guys would go back on weekends occasionally – but it was just great to be away. The environment was great; we could shoot bows and arrows, light a fire and have dinners together, and we could also play whenever we felt like it and not be tied down to being there for specific hours. But also that rural environment just felt like a dude hangout.”
LaLonde is doing his best to keep the studio momentum up with an EP almost on its way. “We’re working on an EP of B-sides of stuff that didn’t make it onto the record. We’ve been working on a song today that’s new, but I really wanna put it on the EP anyway.” Why does a song that’s worthy of an EP get relegated to a B-side in the first place? “Well, so many songs get cut along the way anyway that by the time you make it into the studio you’re really only left with the good ones,” says LaLonde. “Some just get cut from there just because they don’t really resonate with the whole record, or in this case, we wanted to keep the record fairly trim; we didn’t want it 16 songs long.”
The concept of an album, a story told through many songs and not just a playlist, is something that LaLonde is eager to explore as the band grows. While the death of the album has been loudly proclaimed in certain circles for more than a decade, it’s still alive and well. After all, the novel survived the introduction of ‘talkies’. “It’s something that I struggle with – trying to avoid the album just being a collection of songs, and it having an overarching theme or purpose – and it’s something that I really want even stronger on the next record,” he says. “I think I want to start with the concept, instead of just writing, writing, writing and then going, ‘OK, well what are the best songs and what go together?’ For someone like Katy Perry, I think her job is to make singles; I don’t think she really needs to worry about making an album that speaks as a whole album, and I don’t think that’s bad thing. But when you’re playing rock music and you’re gonna put a record out, that’s a pretty old format so it should be a good record. It’s such a nice thing when a record flows with one feeling throughout.”
LaLonde seems a bit of a traditionalist in this sense – he isn’t even convinced that YouTube-friendly film clips, positioned to go viral, are a good idea for young bands. “Music videos are important but it’s really hard when you’re approaching a deadline,” he says. “You’re talking to directors and you’re thinking of themes; you’re waiting for money and then money doesn’t come through; suddenly you hit deadline and you don’t have a video. For me, I like a good video but I don’t think a band should be discarded or hailed for having a good video – there’s no way it should be make or break. If it is a ‘make’ thing it should be just to draw attention to their music.”
Apart from the recording of the EP, LaLonde remains concerned about what the future of Born Ruffians will look like. “For us it’s a case of wanting the usual things – always wanting to tour more places, play to bigger audiences and reach more people – that has never changed and probably won’t ever change. Musically, though, things change constantly from record to record. Over time, if anything, I’ve become the leader. I’ve always been the songwriter, but as time’s gone on it has fallen to me to dictate or take charge of the creative ideas behind the songs, the sounds and the production. The band is kinda in a weird position now because Steve [Hamelin], our drummer, has gone back to school and he’s not touring with us, it’s really just me and Mitch [Derosier] as the core members of the band. It’s a weird place to be at – I’m still keen to work on new material but I really just don’t know how that’s gonna happen, and it’s gonna be interesting to see how this next record changes or sounds because of all these personnel changes.”
BY KRISSI WEISS
Born Ruffians play Oxford Art Factory on Friday January 3. Also appearing alongside The Roots, MGMT, The Wombats, !!! (Chk Chk Chk), London Grammar and more at The Falls Music & Arts Festivals, Marion Bay, Byron Bay and Lorne, December 28 – January 3. Birthmarks out now through Yep Roc/MGM.