“Oooh, fans or trophies. That’s a hard one,” Sam laughs. “Good for different reasons. The idea of reaching people, having some kind of effect is great. Hearing stories about people in tough times being helped out by our music, that’s nice. And yeah, having the plaque to put on the wall is pretty cool, the kind of thing you always hope to be able to do as a musician, but it’s definitely secondary to why we do it. You’ll find when you go into some producer’s studio, they’ve got them still in the plastic wrapping propped against a wall, or they’ll have awards sitting on the toilet, that kind of thing. Another Grammy? Oh, just put it wherever.” Elliot laughs.
“I hung mine straight up. No waiting,” he deadpans. “Zaac [Margin, guitar] used his to hold a window open for ages. He saw it was the perfect size and wedged it in. Job done! You really hope no one comes along and steals it now, ‘cause it’s just sitting there. Someone would snatch it and he’d be left there crying, ‘Oh no, my breeze!’”
Unsurprisingly, the brothers have some of the most relaxed banter you’re likely to find. Our conversation is peppered with thoughts and anecdotes that start at one side of the table and finish at the other, and while they are quick to poke fun at each other it’s immediately apparent that their musical raison d’etre comes from a very serious place.
“I think no matter what the songs already mean to us,” Sam continues, “they can end up meaning much more because of the way fans respond to them. A track you might not have thought that much of, fans might really connect and you’ll end up loving it too. Or stories of people saying they walked down the aisle to this song, that they proposed to someone with a certain song or that it helped them through some dark time. Those songs get added meaning. Obviously we haven’t had the chance to see that yet with the new record, but it’s kind of exciting because you just never know.”
“The only new song we’ve been able to road test like that is ‘Cut Me Loose’,” Elliot agrees. “The way we write, it doesn’t happen together. It all comes together in the studio, we make it happen then and record it there. The first time we’ll play it live is when we’re actually rehearsing it for the album. We don’t really know how any song is going to develop, or how an audience is going to respond to something. It’s all guesswork really. We won’t know until we’re on the road.”
That opportunity is not too far away now, with a barrage of gigs stretching off into the weeks ahead. Kicking off from Splendour, the band is touring well into November, and their set is almost guaranteed to evolve with each passing performance. It’s a far cry from the frantic, hit-the-ground-running experiences of their first national tour, when their sound was still new and their stagecraft still developing.
“We’re in a much better live position now, since we have two records to choose from,” Sam says. “We’ve never done rehearsals like this before. Last time we came straight off the back of that record into our first tours, and we probably weren’t that great then. We were still learning. You’d sometimes see in older gigs we’d have too many slower songs and we’d have to work out how to kick that lull. This time, we want to make things move, and this record is more up tempo. We’ve got a good mix to choose from, so it gives us more options.”
Even more striking is that with so much material to now choose from, there remain many songs that didn’t quite make the cut for Hoops. They are still floating around in the ether, patiently biding their time. Though these near-misses are unlikely to feature in the upcoming tour, both fans and the band alike can remain optimistic that they’ll raise their heads somewhere down the line.
“We went in with thirty five songs,” Elliot recalls, shaking his head. “The first cull was easy, because you can tell which songs are too similar, which really stand out. Then you get down to maybe seventeen, and that’s when it gets hard. You need to sit with the songs for a while and work out what the album means to you. We needed to make sure we would never have any regrets listening to it down the road. But it was hard. Knowing that no one can hear these songs yet that we think are really, really good. The idea of them not being released at all would just be too sad.”
The Rubens are touring nationally from September 16, for more information visit www.therubens.com. Hoops is out August 7 via Ivy League Records.