Toronto’s Born Ruffians have been playing music together since 2004, but haven’t had a full-length release since 2010’s Say It, are gearing up to release their new record, Birthmarks. While the groups older material is bright, catchy and fun, their new record uses these elements while also embracing a love for louder, more prominent sound. With the help of Roger Leavens at Boombox Sound in Toronto, their new record is gearing up to be the groups best yet. I got a chance to chat with frontman/guitarist Luke Lalonde about some aspects of their new record as well as his recently released solo material. He’s a hardworking man, and an incredibly talented songwriter, but I don’t have to tell you that: read the interview below and find out for yourself! Birthmarks comes out on April 16th.
Pre-Order Born Ruffians’ new record Birthmarks from Paper Bag Records (all pre-orders are signed by the band!)
BG: First off, you guys just started playing at least a couple of the shows for the tour leading up to your album release, is it getting you pumped?
LL: Yeah. Well, the tour starts next Tuesday in Victoria, and we’re in Montreal on April 11th. But yeah, we played a show the other night that wasn’t like a real show, because Andy broke his arm so we had this one-off show in Portland as a 3-piece, and we basically ended up playing a bunch of old songs because we can’t play the new stuff without his keyboard parts. But yeah, we’re practicing a lot, we’ve just been rehearsing every day, and that’s kind of getting me excited, and its because the recording – like most songs we could play, but there were 3 or 4 songs that ended up getting torn apart and rebuilt on the spot because we realized “man, how are we gonna do this one?”. Like, we’ve never played it this way. And that was the point of the record too – we were like “let’s make this record as good as it can be, and we’ll think about live later. Like if we need 3 guitar parts here, do it”. But its been really reassuring hearing what we’ve done in the rehearsal space its like “oh okay! This is the song, it sounds great, it sounds huge, this sounds really exciting”. It’s always nice to play new stuff, and I don’t know why but it always changes. You can rehearse as much as you want, but you get on stage and that added element of adrenaline, and people there, and nerves and things get a little scarier and its like “oh shit”, but that’s what makes it fun too, its that feeling of “this could fall apart at any moment”
BG: Yeah for sure. So Andy is going to be playing with you guys on the dates coming up?
BG: Cool cool. Yeah, I was actually a little surprised to see that you guys weren’t playing SXSW at all since your new singles are receiving so much hype on the internet.
LL: Yeah, we were, we had it booked and everything and we were gonna go down, but then Andy broke his arm, which was now about a month ago we decided to cancel it because it didn’t make sense. We would have had to go down just the 3 of us, or we would have had to go down under-rehearsed so it just didn’t make sense.
BG: Yeah and I guess it’s always good to bring your best to the table at something like that.
LL: Yeah, because it is like one those festivals too where its like its not necessarily true that anyone is going to notice we were there because there are thousands of bands there. Like, if its not gonna make much of an impact anyways we’ll just hold off and do our tour
BG: I know that you worked on a decent amount of the new record on your laptop on your own, and then you guys took the ideas to the farmhouse and finished the songs there, was it a hard transition at all?
LL: Umm, No. I mean, there were a couple of songs that died because of that, because – there were a number of songs I guess actually – I mean in the end we had I think probably 40 or 50 songs that were written along the way, and not all of them made it. I think some I had written on my laptop and I built them with beats and bass parts and everything, then you sit down and try to play them an realize “oh, this doesn’t work” you know? So you leave it alone and we say “maybe we’ll come back to that one” and we just never did. And they’re songs that I do like actually, songs that I would like to revive maybe. Some of them do though, you sit down and try and play them and your like “this is a Ruffians song” – you get it right away, it doesn’t matter if I had the drums on my laptop – Steve plays it and makes it his own thing and its like “okay, this is the song” and that’s a really great thing. A lot comes out of jamming as well. That was kind of the aim for going to that farmhouse, just getting more of the 3 or 4 of us sitting down and playing and feeding off that energy as opposed to sitting at home alone writing songs and hoping they work with the band. Just pooling together a bunch of different ways of writing, and trying to get the best out of all of that to get the best possible record.
BG: Cool. I know you released your first solo record last year, and was wondering if it’s easy for you to separate your solo material with the stuff you do with the Ruffians?
LL: Yeah, that record (Rhythymnals) did have its own little influence on the way I went about the new Ruffians record too. Just doing that one alone, and being able to co-produce it with Roger, I still had the feeling of producing it on my own. Like, a number of songs – they were mixed completely on my own and that was a confidence boost like “ I can do this! I know what I want out of this record”, and even if I know I can’t necessarily do it all on my own its nice to know that I can take elements from what I’ve done here and take them into the studio and work with those. It did make it easier in a lot of ways, just knowing where I wanted to take the songs – being the one who has that idea of more production and the direction, it gives you more of a prepared feeling in the studio knowing “this is the song, this is how I want it to sound”. And when I wasn’t feeling that Roger would be like “how about this? How about that?” because he’s great like that – just hearing it and knowing how it should sound.
BG: So I guess it just felt natural to go with Roger and record at Boombox Sound for the new Ruffians record?
LL: Yeah, for sure. Just the way that he works, I mean, the studio operates when its not recording bands. I mean, his passion is producing music for bands, recording different artists, and he always has one artist in there at a time, but the studio itself operates doing advertising stuff so they write songs for commercials. So I think that means that Roger has to be able to adapt to survive, he needs to be able to do whatever they need him to do. If the ad direction is folky and they say they need a “Mumford and Sons vibe”, Roger needs to be able to do that well and execute it in a convincing way. So when you go to Roger with your projects, as an artist if you’re like “I’m really hearing the drums sounding like Fleetwood Mac here, and I kinda want this vibe here, blah blah blah”, Roger is on it right away he’s constantly in that mode of operation where its like “okay! I got this. Lets do this, lets try this”. It becomes more creative when he can take your project and make it exactly what you wanted. That was the basic appeal to work with him.
BG: From “Needle” and “With Her Shadow” it sounds like Birthmarks is going to be a bit louder and more triumphant than the songs in Say It, has the energy that you guys exhibit live worked its way into the music more?
LL: Yeah, I would hope so! That’s one of the classic struggles of a rock band is “how do we sound as big in this recording as we do live?” ironically, this record was recorded ahead of the live show you know? We had practiced the songs and played them together in a room but none of them – maybe 2 – had been played in front of people, and none of them had been toured enough to get so tight. It was all done in the studio. But I think the nature it was recorded was just more isolated, more bigger, sicker sounds. It just kinda sounds bigger, and that’s basically the difference between a live show and a record is like, more present sounding drums, thicker sounding bass, all that stuff which I think is more so what we were going for. The initial broad stroke, the broad outline was that we wanted something bigger, something that sounded more modern of a recording for 2013. I hope that when people hear it they hear that. Some people are saying that it’s more chilled-out while others say different things, which are all good, so I’m excited for it to come out.
BG: So I’m currently based in Ottawa, and I saw the thing you guys did with MuchMusic where you named Ottawa your favourite city to play in. I imagine they wanted a Canadian city?
LL: Umm, no they didn’t really give us any outlines they were just like “what’s a city that you guys have a history in that you could show us around that isn’t your home city?” and Ottawa got thrown into the hat. Then we were like “well it was our first out of town show”, we never had played anywhere until we went there and we played there so much that we figured we had to have some stories of our time in Ottawa so we were like “lets do there”. And the shows we have there are always really fun. We always knew we’d have a good show with a rowdy crowd.
BG: Would you say Ottawa is still your favourite or has your opinion changed since that special was filmed?
LL: Oh, I don’t know. I mean, Ottawa is great; I really do love playing in Ottawa. There are always cities that surprise you too, that you leave and you’re like “that was a really great show”, and there are cities that you can count on having a good crowd. Obviously like the bigger cities like New York, Chicago, LA and San Francisco and Vancouver, but Ottawa is one of those where you’re like “well, this isn’t a huge city” and you cant be sure what the vibe is like, whether or not college students will come out, but yeah its always been a nice surprise in Ottawa whenever we come out.
BG: So, in terms of the new album name, Birthmarks, is there any story behind that? Do any members have birthmarks that may have inspired the name?
LL: Well, I guess initially it just came from one of the lyrics in the songs, is kind of a love song. “We’ve got matching birthmarks” is the line of the song, and I do have a birthmark on my back, its not a big one or anything and my girlfriend has one on her stomach in the same spot, and I guess that’s where that line came from. But then we started playing around with record names and I think I threw out “Birthmarks”, or somebody did, and it just kind of made sense. We were like “this feels like a new step”, like a lateral and forward step at the same time. Like, it’s a different sounding thing, its been 3 years since we put a record out almost, and it all feels kind of new, there’s enough of a break between touring as well that it really feels like we’ve gone away and we’re coming back with this thing that were like “okay here’s my new thing”. Also, Born Ruffians and Birthmarks, it’s kind of like a poetic alliteration type thing too.
BG: Awesome. Are there any new bands or artists that you hope to play with this year?
LL: Well we’re touring with Moon King in the states, who I really like and have been a fan of for a while. Him and his brother used to do Spiral Beach and now Airick from Spiral Beach is doing Doldrums and Daniel who played drums for Spiral Beach is now doing Moon King and so we’re taking them on tour. They’re really great and I’m excited to play with them. The only other new guy that I’ve heard that’s coming to mind right now is that guy King Krule, the young guy from England. I really like his stuff, its really cool. I haven’t head anything new in a while but the first time I heard it I was like “woah, what’s this? This sounds really interesting” it’s just got this really cool vibe.
BG: Yeah, it’s that thick accent!
LL: Yeah, he sounds like a fifty-year-old man who’s been smoking two packs a day for thirty years, but he’s like a twenty year old scrawny redheaded kid. But yeah, he’s great. I really like his songs.
BG: I watched the farmhouse edits that you guys put on your YouTube page, is there any chance that Mitch is going to be doing any documentaries or filmmaking for your live material in the future?
LL: Yeah yeah, well, he filmed a lot of stuff in the studio, and really wants to put out more. He’s going to be putting out a lot more of those ‘in the studio’ videos and like 5 minutes video blogs and stuff and I’m hoping that we’ll get a better camera that we can use for shooting on tour and stuff because that’s where some of the stupidest stuff happens. I mean, those things are just fun to do – they’re kind of nice even just for us, they’re good for the fans and stuff but its nice to have these as photo albums kind of. Mitch has gotten really good with IMovie, and has a knack for editing, as well as a crazy memory bank too. So yeah, he’s going to keep doing that for sure.
BG: Who would you name as the musician that has inspired you the most? Or songwriter, band, etc?
LL: Umm, that’s a hard one. I have – I wouldn’t call it a philosophy, but I can never really name a favourite anything, its really hard for me. I know I’ve been reflecting on this, because doing interviews makes you reflect but lyrically I know that Randy Newman is one of my all time favourites, I think he’s one of the greatest American songwriters that have ever lived, his work astounds me all the time. Its just so, so good. So depressingly good. Harry Nilsson is another as well as David Bowie, he’s always had a large influence. Also the Talking Heads, David Byrne and the Beatles are always there. Every rock band will name the Beatles but its just something I grew up with, its on par with the English language, and I know their discography as well as I know the alphabet. And I guess there’s some newer stuff, stuff I’ve been loving for the past couple years like LCD Soundsystem, like all three of his records on constant rotation. I just think that James Murphy is fucking great. I mean, those records are the ones that are going to hold up over the next 30 years as a solid representation of what music was like this past decade.
BG: Alright last question: Being a Canadian band, with all the time you guys spend away from home do you think you’ll ever grow tired of Canadian foods like Poutine?
LL: (laughs) No No. Especially when you’re gone for a bit and you come back and see the Tim Horton’s sign after being in the States for 6 weeks and you just think “oh man I want some Tim Horton’s”. Sometimes it doesn’t matter if you like it, it just tastes like home. But yeah, Poutine and stuff, don’t get me started on Mitch and Poutine. That guy loves his Poutine. You could have done an entire hour with him on Poutine.
Pre-Order Birthmarks from Paper Bag Records