The Rubens are one of the most celebrated young Aussie rock bands from the past few years. With a triple J-loved, ARIA-winning debut under their belt, we discuss with frontman Sam Margin the infamous second album pressure, writing in a party beach house and all the ins and outs of Hoops.
This sweet illustration of The Rubens comes from the talented Zac Grenfell.
HAPPY: How’s it going Sam?
SAM: Good good man, thanks for taking the time to have a chat to me.
HAPPY: Pleasure, man. I’ve got nothing on this arvo so I’m all yours. Where are you guys now?
SAM: I’m in Melbourne at the moment, I’m living there right now. The rest of the boys are up in Sydney but I’m just chilling at home.
HAPPY: You guys were all up here for your album showcase a few weeks ago right? How did that go?
SAM: Yeah it went really well. We had a good show but it was kind of nerve racking playing the new songs. We had like half fans, half media there which was good. The fans were a bit more excited… or excitable. They treated the show more like a real show rather than just a media launch. And the new songs went down really well.
HAPPY: Was the set, just new songs? Did you play the whole album?
SAM: Nah we played a few old ones, because we had a few fans there. But it was mostly the new stuff, about 7 or 8 of them I think it was.
HAPPY: And how has it been rearranging the new tracks, was there much to work on?
SAM: Oh it was awesome. It’s so bloody nice to have two albums to choose from. This new record is much more rhythmic so we can choose some of the older ballads to kind of push the set in the way we want it to go. But mostly it’s nice to have too many songs rather than not enough.
HAPPY: Have you guys been rehearsing the new tracks pretty hard?
SAM: We have changed a few little things with the new tracks. The start of one songs called The Night Is On My Side we start it with just me singing and a guitar and then we sort of build it. We obviously don’t want it to sounds exactly like the record, but a alot of the arrangements on the new songs like Hoops and Hallelujah they just work the way they’re record, we just belt them out and they sound really good. Everything is feeling pretty tight, we’ve rehearsed a lot this time. It’s feeling good.
HAPPY: Were a lot of the tracks recorded live, is that we way you approached it this around?
SAM: We always record in separate rooms to a click and try to capture that live sound. Then we take that and fill in stuff over the top like extra guitar tracks, vocals, backing vocals. But we try and keep as much of that live sound, like an old band playing in a room, as possible.
HAPPY: This time going into the studio you had about 40 tracks or demos to work with. What was the process of elimination like?
SAM: Tough. It’s easier when you first start, that kind of ‘first cull’ is always much easier than the last. Getting past the first 15 is alright, it’s like that last 15 that is really hard. Having to cut like 4 or 5 was really hard because we’d worked on them and we felt like they were really strong. But we just kept telling ourselves that if something was going on the record it could always be released in another capacity, in a deluxe or on the third record.
HAPPY: I read that you guys went down the South Coast (of NSW) for a few months to write the record. Were you guys down there chilling out or were you working pretty hard the whole time?
SAM: It was a bit of both. We sort of started off just chilling – a bit too much I think (laughs). It was hard because we had been writing already so we already had some songs written so we felt like we’d already been working for ages, so coming in to a nice house, well not a nice house, a nice area, with the beach and beers , I think we made the most of that a but too much. And then we realised after a month or so that we needed to make a deadline for ourselves and a bit more of a working schedule. We started to get up early-ish and work until the evening, but it was a bit of a slow process trying to make it all work. It was a bit of a party house as well you know. But it was awesome, the vibes were good and it ended up working for us.It was that change of scenery that was important I think.
HAPPY: Did that influence the sound of the record?
SAM: I wouldn’t say the actual scenery did. There aren’t really any beach vibes on the record. I think just being in a place that that helps you write music. Going from the countryside to beach to city just really helped get the juices flowing.
HAPPY: And going from the South Coast into the studio in New York, did you guys have a pretty clear direction of what you wanted to do, or did the ideas blossom when you got there?
SAM: I mean, development does happen as soon as you get into the studio, but this time around we had a really clear idea of what we wanted and we knew how we could achieve it as well. We knew exactly what we wanted to get out of each song so it made the studio process much quicker. Last time we were nutting everything out in the studio, work songs out and trying things. This time around we were super prepared.
HAPPY: Cool. Did that help with your working relationship with David (Kahne) this time around?
SAM: I think so. It think it was easier because we all know what we are doing a little more, we’re all probably a bit more mature and as a band we are better at playing our instruments. We also have a relationship with David, we know how he likes to work, we know how to approach him about different situations and if we aren’t agreeing on something we know how to work it out. I guess the diplomacy overall was much smoother. And luckily David really likes the record, so that helps. It was all worth it.
HAPPY: How did you guys deal with that infamous second record pressure? Did you feel it or was the whole thing a natural sort of progession?
SAM: At times we felt it. It wasn’t like we ignored it, you know, people do bring up those words infamous second and we did think about it. But what are you gonna do about it you know? It’s not going to affect anything. You just move on and keep writing, in the end it doesn’t really change anything. So yeah, it didn’t stress us out too much. At times, I guess wanting to keep fans happy might stress us out a bit, but it was mostly just an enjoyable experience. It was just nice to be back writing music. I guess after we’d finished writing the record, all the waiting – for it to get mixed and for labels to get it out and for radio to play singles – that was stressful. All that waiting you start to thing about “Have we done the right record and are people going to like it?” But while writing, we knew what we wanted to do and we just did it.
HAPPY: Well you sound pretty stoked with the record.
SAM: Yeah I am, I really like it. It’s good.
HAPPY: And what’s the plan for the next few weeks and months?
SAM: I think we’ll have a little bit of a party when it’s released. We’ve got some promo stuff, a couple of in-store things happening in Sydney. And then touring throughout September, October and November. It’s looking pretty busy, but we wanna be busy.
HAPPY: I guess after all that waiting time you’d be pretty keen to get it out to the people and get on the road again.
SAM: I can’t wait.
HAPPY: We’ve gotta wrap it up man but like always we finish off our interviews with a last question. What makes you Happy?
SAM: Should I do something serious, or just that’s unique to me. I dunno. Being hungover, with absolutely nothing to do, by myself, with all the movies I wanna watch. That’s what makes me happy.
Hoops is out now via Ivy League Records