The Rubens: “We wanted to push ourselves out of our comfort zone”

the rubens

Since their 2012 debut, The Rubens have continued to capture the hearts of Aussie music lovers. On their latest album, however, the boys from Menangle cherish themselves.

Change is one of the hardest things life throws your way. However, the sordid truth lies in its necessity. From change we continue to push our boundaries and find a strength and constant in ourselves. On their new album, The Rubens spin this mantra into a prophecy.

Laced in electronica and introspection, 0202 is a record that fans could only dream of. We caught up with Elliott to hear the full story.

The Rubens
Photo: Cybele Malinowski

HAPPY: Fucking, congrats on the album! You guys must be so stoked to have it out there. 

ELLIOTT: Can not believe it. Yeah it’s weird seeing the date on the calendar and the date approach. Feels surreal! 

HAPPY: From what I’ve heard so far, these songs are really making me reconsider the way I think about you guys because they’re just such a different sound. Could you tell us a bit about writing the album?

ELLIOTT: Yeah, thank you! I don’t know, it‘s weird for us because when we are writing music, we’re always kind of in our own heads and not thinking of how people are going to respond to it. Or trying to push ourselves at all. We’re just doing everything new because it’s a fun way to do it, y’know? 

HAPPY: Yeah totally.

ELLIOTT: If we make the same record again, and again, and again, and again, we would probably hang ourselves by the fourth record because it just wouldn’t be fun anymore. People wouldn’t even be listening to us by the fourth record. We’re always trying new things and trying new sounds and experimenting in the studio for that fact, because it’s fun for us and we want to keep on playing shows live which we love doing. So might as well keep ourselves interested in music as well. 

HAPPY: Yeah absolutely. What drew you toward this new style, in particular? 

ELLIOTT: Honestly, I don’t know. We experiment with things and stuff. If you told us on the first record that’s what we would be doing, we would think you were crazy. Because we started out mainly as a guitar band. But as we developed, you do get interested in other sounds. Growing up, it wasn’t just rock n’ roll that we listened to. When we made the first record it wasn’t just rock n’ roll, it was a lot of hip-hop and we do listen to electronic music and stuff. So there’s always things that are always going to creep in more. I think, for us, it’s just once you get to the fourth record, you feel comfortable experimenting and trying those things, just because you want to have fun, you want to keep it fun for yourself.

HAPPY: Totally. How was self-producing the album in lockdown?

ELLIOTT: Oh, we actually pretty much finished the record before lockdown. 

HAPPY: Oh amazing.

ELLIOTT: Yeah, so we wrote most of the songs in 2019 and then recorded and pretty much finished the record early last year. Probably, just before any crazy lockdowns started happening. We’re lucky that it wasn’t tainted by the experience of Covid.

HAPPY: Yeah, perfect.

The Rubens
Photo: Cybele Malinowski

ELLIOTT: So the memories of making the record for us are happy memories, which is nice. Yeah, but self-producing was fun because, like I said, we’re four records in, had the opportunity to work in studios around the world, lots of different producers. So, that being said, we’ve learnt a lot from eight producers. For us, it was kind of backing ourselves and saying, well alright, this many albums in, we kind of feel like we know what we’re doing, can we experiment and do we feel capable of doing this.

That was the experiment that we did with Living Life, which is the first song we did self-producing in Will’s studio in the bunker. We didn’t think that would actually be a song that would actually be on the record, we just thought, “okay let’s experiment, let’s see if we can record this and put it out and it will be a stand-alone song in between whatever we do for the record eventually, but we’re probably going to get a producer in at some point.” But, for us, we thought about how well people responded to the track and kind of an indicator that we could continue to do it for the rest of the record. 

HAPPY:  Was this the bunker you mentioned, was this the converted one from WW2?

ELLIOTT: It is yeah. So we actually did the last record there.

HAPPY: Nice.

ELLIOTT: But we brought in producers while doing the last album over from Brooklyn. So we brought them over and had them in the bunker in that studio with us. So that was different, but this time it was like, “okay they’re not here, it’s just us band members huddled up in a room.” We kind of had to put the producer hat on and make it happen for ourselves.

HAPPY: Yeah totally. And do you feel like you’ve been able to have a bit more confidence in your skills now that you’ve gone through that process?

ELLIOTT: Yeah, I think so. I mean, everyone has a different role to play in the band. So it’s kind of like, there’s not one person who’s trying to carry the weight of the recording process. We all engineered the record. He kind of takes the reins when it comes to getting the sounds down and getting all that down but when it’s creative ideas it’s all of us. We all have a vote, we all have an opinion. It can be hard work, but it doesn’t become too much of a chore because we love it and we do share the burden.

HAPPY: Yeah absolutely. I know you guys are big fans of heading down to nature whenever you’re writing. Was that the same this time around?

ELLIOTT: Not really no. A lot of the songs were just recorded at home in our bedrooms, or in our makeshift little studios just on our laptops or just by ourselves. Then a lot of it is actually for this record, which we hadn’t done before. We did a writing trip just out to LA and did two weeks of just meeting up with different writers and experimenting. Because, for us, we felt like four records in, most of the time, with Sam and I who are the main guitarists of the band, we would write a song by ourselves and then kind of bring it to each other and show the band. Because we were super shy in creating something, you feel like you don’t know whether it’s good, it could be shit. It’s kind of scary to then show that idea to someone and be vulnerable that way.

HAPPY: Yeah.

ELLIOTT: But we knew that we wanted to kind of push ourselves out of that comfort zone so we took that writing trip to LA to experiment and push ourselves a little more and also just try and learn from other writers and see what we could gain from them. It’s kind of a half and half record really. Half us writing alone in our bedrooms and half the opposite, like meeting strangers and just trying to come up with stuff. 

The Rubens
Photo: Giulia McGauran

HAPPY: Yeah amazing. That would have been such a great experience.

ELLIOTT: It was fun. It’s tiring. Something that we had never done before. It’s almost like being on a date, you just meet someone for the first time and then you have a chat, and then all of a sudden you have to come up with something and then, however many hours later, you walk out of the room with a song that didn’t exist before. It’s super weird. It’s a good way to kind of force yourself out of your comfort zone and think creatively. 

HAPPY: I’d love to chat about a Time Of My Life for a little bit cause it feels like such a quintessential, Covid album. What was the inspiration behind the track?

ELLIOTT: The song was written a long time ago. Like most of the songs, they’re not written about the time that they come out, so for us we wrote that song a while ago and we loved it. We loved the feeling behind it and the sentiment and then when it came to releasing the track and talking about a video for the track we, like you said, we did have a lot of students and teachers reaching out to us about their experience during Covid and not being able to be in school and not having those milestones, especially senior years, getting that graduation and formals and whatever. 

ELLIOTT: We shared a lot of sad stories from a lot of students, a lot of personal stories. So we thought the song, while it’s not actually about that, it’s about that kind of sentiment where you should be having the time of your life but you’re not able to and then kind of reflecting on that and that kind of happy sad feeling. A good time might also be a shitty time in your life. We thought we could replicate that, or represent them at least in a video somehow. 

HAPPY: Yeah amazing. Were you getting lots of fans reaching out to you during that time just telling their stories?

ELLIOTT: Yeah, yeah and like to be honest a lot of them were pretty dark stories. So it was eye opening because we were so lucky. We graduated years ago and we got to have all these experiences. We got to enjoy it, especially graduation for what it was. And then hearing directly from these kids who are missing out on all of that and then hearing about the repercussions and the mental health side of it as well, it was kind of eye opening. Alright so we’re just some stupid band group who writes songs and plays them for a living. While we can’t have a super important impact we can at least you know just kind of represent it through this little video that we put out. And hope that connects with some people.

HAPPY: Yeah absolutely, definitely. Well you guys have got a regional tour coming up. Will you be giving the full album a test out during that set list? 

ELLIOTT: Not the full album, just because we haven’t had time to learn them all. 

HAPPY: Fair enough.

ELLIOTT: But we are going through, and we’re cherry picking our favourites at the moment. We’ve been in rehearsals this last week and we had a couple more before things kick off next week. We are going through and finding songs that we really, really off the record and then crafting a set of obviously these songs from the other three records as well. Picking our faves and trying to pick what we think other people’s faves will be and just crafting a set around that.

The Rubens
Photo: Giulia McGauran

HAPPY: Well, now that you’ve got the tour in the bag, the album is dropping, are you guys back in writing?

ELLIOTT: Yeah, we’re always trying to write when we’re not on the road, just because it’s a good habit to be in. Obviously we’ve been stuck at home a lot so behind the scenes that’s what we’ve been doing. We’ve been writing a lot for ourselves and also we’ve been writing for other artists. 

HAPPY: Oh perfect.

ELLIOTT: Y’know, keeping up with other young artists who might need help in the studio and that kind of songcrafting. Yeah, it’s been fun for us. We’ve realised that, “oh we’re four albums in and we kind of know-how to write a song now.” Even though you do often have that imposter syndrome feeling where it’s like I’m just faking this. I’m just writing this stupid, dumb song in my bedroom, who’s going to like this? And then all of a sudden people do connect with us so you do recognise that there is something there and maybe you could help other young artists do the same. We have been busy writing music for ourselves and also trying to use those skills to help other young artists as well, which has been cool.

HAPPY: Yeah amazing. Oh, I’m excited to hear some of those. Yeah well thanks so much for the chat. It was lovely to talk to you.

ELLIOTT: Thanks very much appreciated. 

0202 is available now on all platforms. Grab your copy here.