You’ll Never Forget Your First: The Rubens

ELLIOTT MARGIN from Menangle four-piece The Rubens shares the stories behind the band’s self-titled debut – from recording in New York with David Kahne to a skateboarding accident that nearly derailed the process.

In the beginning…

We were all brought up on different instruments: Sam [Margin] on guitar, Zaac [Margin] on bass and me on piano. Looking back it does seem like our parents were grooming us to become a family band, we just didn’t realise it until February last year when we formed The Rubens. It was Sam’s idea to start playing together when he and Zaac were sitting around bored at home. They jammed and asked me if I wanted to join, I was of course happy to, so we started mucking around on Sam’s laptop recording a few ideas. These ideas turned into the demos we first put up on [triple j] “Unearthed”. We soon realised that to play these songs live we would need a drummer, so turned to our friend Scott Baldwin who lived just up the road. Our first gig came not too long after that. We played early on a Thursday night in Candy’s Apartment in Sydney to about 30 of our friends and family, not quite the rock’n’roll experience we were hoping for, but it was certainly a start.

Our sound

Our sound is a mixture of rock, soul, blues and pop. We never sat down with each other and said “let’s sound this way”, it just happened to turn out that way when we recorded our first demos. We all listen to the same music and know what sounds we love and hate, so it was very easy when we started to write together. We understood what sounded like “us” from the start.

Our heroes

People like to make the comparison between us and The Black Keys, which is fine, but there’s definitely more there than that. We love The Black Keys but there’s so many other bands we listened to which have influenced us from a young age: Van Morrison, Tracey Chapman and Pink Floyd are all artists our parents played for us on those clichéd long car trips in the Kombi van. On a subconscious level they probably influenced us from an early age. We all love hip-hop as well, which is something we thought about and brought into the album during the recording process. Big fat live drums with sneaky sub kicks underneath to give it that extra hip-hop “oompf”.

Our debut

Our new album is the first official full exhibition of The Rubens, which is partly why it’s self-titled (the other reason is because we couldn’t think of anything good enough). It’s been a long time coming, and we’re all very excited because it’s our first chance to show the public our complete sound. We were lucky enough to record it in New York in Avatar Studios with David Kahne producing. Knowing the people David had worked with in the past (Paul McCartney, Regina Spector, The Strokes) we were all a little nervous when we first met him. However, we realised almost straight away that he was just a really down to earth guy who loves music and loves to have a joke around. He helped us feel comfortable right away, which was a big help considering the only recording experience we had before New York was in Sam’s bedroom.

Before we set off for New York we had about 15 songs already written, so we were pretty confident in our material and had a good idea of how we wanted the album to sound. It was just a matter of conversing with David and making sure we were working towards the same goal. We saw eye-to-eye so it was just a matter of using his genius to take our songs to the next level – from bedroom recordings and into a more professional setting. We learnt so much from him about both writing and recording, we came back a much more mature and focused band.

I think being overseas helped immensely because we didn’t have the distractions of home life. We didn’t have the money to do anything touristy, which I guess was a blessing in disguise. The album was all we ever talked about, it was our life everyday for two months.

We bought skateboards while we were over there to get us to and from the studio quickly everyday. Not long after we bought them, however, Zaac fell off on the way to get beer to celebrate signing with [Sydney indie] Ivy League, rupturing his spleen. We were all pretty worried, not for his spleen but for his wicked guitar lines on the album. Everything turned out OK in the end, however, as the album sounds awesome – his guitar included.

Our favourite track off the album

We tracked the drums in three consecutive days downstairs in studio A – an enormous timber room with a dome shaped roof. On the last day of the three, Sam was mucking around on David’s piano upstairs when he came up with a chord progression and some lyrics out of the blue. He showed the rest of us and we all agreed it needed to be on the album so tracked the drums a little less than a week before we were scheduled to leave New York. We all knew exactly where the song was going to go dynamically and how it needed to sound, so it wasn’t a struggle. We managed to finish the song in time and it became ‘Never Be The Same Again’ – one of our favourites off the album. Not because it was the most fresh but because everything about it works perfectly. That was definitely a nice way to finish the recording process.

Our artwork

We were shown some of the work by Debaser, a design studio in Sydney. We liked a lot of what they had done with other bands so we met Aaron and Dave from the company. We spoke about what styles and album covers we liked; they listened to the album and sent us a bunch of concepts. We chose a couple that we felt were possibilities and then it was a matter of back and forth until we found the right one. They worked so hard and fast it was amazing. Before long we had settled on the dud flower bomb in the desert. There’s something about it that struck us as the perfect way to represent the album. It’s vibrant and feels timeless, probably how we subconsciously see the album. It’s our baby and we only see it in the most flattering light.

Our favourite debut of all time

It would have to be Parachutes by Coldplay. I loved that album when I first heard it as a kid, and I still love it now. It feels so established and well done; a good type of pop. It was Chris Martin who made me want to play piano. Mum tried to get me onto it when I was in primary school but I hated it. I heard ‘Everything’s Not Lost’ and my mind was changed. I can’t say I feel the same way about their new album Mylo Xyloto.

The one artist we hope likes it…

Andre 3000. Or Mos Def. Then they would ask to do a collaboration album and we would become the best of friends.

FasterLouder presents The Rubens:

Thursday, September 20 – Uni Bar, Wollongong

Friday, September 21 – Metro Theatre, Sydney

Thursday, September 27 – Republic Bar, Hobart

Friday, September 28 – Hotel New York, Launceston

Saturday, September 29 – The Gov, Adelaide

Friday, October 5 – Capitol Theatre, Perth

Saturday, October 6 – Prince Of Wales, Bunbury

Sunday, October 7 – Newport Hotel, Fremantle

Wednesday, October 10 – Hoey Moey, Coffs Harbour

Thursday, October 11 – Coolangatta Hotel, Gold Coast

Friday, October 12 – Hi-Fi, Brisbane

Saturday, October 13 – Great Northern, Byron Bay