PHOTO CREDIT: Connor Fyfe
THE incredible RubēHill reveals the story behind…
his new single, Apartment, and how he manages to create his own style. There are shades of Gorillaz and LCD Soundsystem in his work – the Canadian songwriter talks about those artists. I ask whether there is going to be any more material soon; what tour plans he has up his sleeve – if we might see him in the U.K. at some point.
I ask how his career got started and which musicians made an impression; the new artists he recommends we check out; some albums that have been influential in his life – and whether the name, ‘RubēHill’ signifies a unique personality and persona.
Hi, RubēHill. How are you? How has your week been?
Hello! My week has been great; thanks for asking. It’s been pretty cold, overall - but I got to put a new song into the world early in the week and I’ve been buzzing since. How has your week been?
For those new to your music; can you introduce yourself, please?
Hello, new listener! I hope you like the music…
It seems like ‘RubēHill’ is a persona and reinvention. Where does that name come from?
It’s definitely a persona. I did musical theatre in high-school and always felt more comfortable playing a character. I never liked the idea of my personal self being the main representation of the music I made. Using a different name was the easiest way to avoid that. I just happened to be reading Flannery O’Connor’s A Stroke of Good Fortune at the time when I was trying to come up with an alias and, sure enough; I really resonated with the main character, whose name happened to be Ruby Hill.
You are making leaps to create your own style and sound. Is it important you break from the expected and provide something unexpected?!
Perhaps all too stubbornly, yes. Confronting existentialism for the first time in grade-eleven Philosophy class kind of turned the blender in my brain on for a little bit – and, since then, I haven’t been able to make music without having an intense feeling of ‘Well, if existence is so finite and weird; why not just make your art weird?'. I still like to cling to familiar elements and respect what has come before me: but you can definitely do both. My main goal is to just always be surpassing myself. The break from the unexpected happens as a result of just trying not to be frightened when something sounds a little off-kilter, as long as it has intention and integrity.
Surprise is stimulating.
Apartment is your new track. What is the story behind it?
The first lyric of the song came from a conversation I had with a friend who had been on a partying spree. I remarked “You’ve been on a bender since I met you”, and was suddenly inspired enough by the line that I wrote it down and set it aside for a beat I had been working on. I changed up the lyric and decided that the song would take place inside the head of someone who has just woken up in their apartment.
I wanted the song to represent the way in which thoughts become dangerously limited when we inhabit small spaces. Writing those thoughts into a song allowed me to step back from my own thought patterns and observe them as an outsider - and it’s provided me with a lot of clarity. Songwriting’s great that way.
It brings in shades of LCD Soundsystem and Gorillaz. Were these artists in your mind when creating the song? How easy was it to get the track together?
Astute observation! Yes, both of those artists have influenced me heavily, amongst others. The song started off with a drum loop inspired by LCD Soundsystem’s song, Someone Great, and I had no idea it would turn into the thing it turned into. Frank Ocean’s Blond had just come out and I was blown away with how unconventional a lot of the song structures were. His pairing of this with bare emotional lyrics really struck a chord with me. I had also just begun listening to the Gorillaz and that drove me to realize that I could incorporate Funk and Electronic elements into my songs - while still retaining the melancholic chord progressions that I’ve always used. Blood Orange’s Freetown Sound did a similar thing for me. The final part of the process was the pitched-down spoken-word bit I do at the end, which was recorded after a day of listening the third Run the Jewels album on-repeat.
This song required a very specific convergence of influences at a very crucial time. It was easy to create for the song because it all happened naturally - but difficult in between writing sessions because I battled pretty frequently with whether or not it was any good.
PHOTO CREDIT: Connor Fyfe
Will there be more music down the line? Can we expect an E.P.?
I currently have a good number of complete or near-complete songs that I plan on putting out sometime soon. It’s just a matter of when and how.
How do you think your music has evolved through time? Do you think you are in a place where you feel most comfortable and free?
I’ve evolved over time mostly through immersing myself in specific musical phases. It’s really helped me to be well-rounded but, at the same time, it made it hard for me to find my own voice for a really long time because I was always trying to be like other artists. I still take influence from other artists’ ideas - but I no longer want my music to sound like anyone else. This acceptance of my own voice and the creation of the RubēHill persona has definitely led to me feeling freer and more comfortable as a creator than I ever have.
Tell me about your musical upbringing? Which artists and albums were you raised on?
Growing up, so many people in my life were such huge music lovers that I was just always exposed to all kinds of music. I’m pretty sure I remember hearing Miles Davis’ Kind of Blue when I was four. My parents exposed me to a lot of really funky stuff. I played trumpet in elementary-school and wanted to be Dizzy Gillespie really badly. At the same time, I was always a sucker for the hits and distinctly remember really hoping Smooth by Santana came on every time I listened to the radio.
When I started playing guitar, it was because my uncle took me to see Roger Waters live in concert - and my twelve-year-old self decided that I wasn’t going to make the Comfortably Numb solo sound cool on trumpet.
Who are the new artists you recommend we check out?
I’ve just recently put Brockhampton's Saturated III into rotation and it’s totally blown me away. Would definitely recommend. Weaves are a band from Toronto that (just) deserve so much attention. Their sound is so gutsy and so wild. I would say the same thing about the band Algiers from Atlanta, Georgia. My friend Sam has a project called Mute Choir - and I truly believe his upcoming debut album is going to change the world; so look out for that one.
IN THIS PHOTO: Mute Choir/PHOTO CREDIT: @louisa nicolaou
If you had to choose the three albums that means the most you; which would they be and why?
This is so tough. My answer will probably change tomorrow - but I’ll take a crack at it anyway.
Caustic Love by Paolo Nutini
I went through a particularly rough bout of existential dread one summer - and Iistening to this album every night before I went to bed helped get me through it. It’s a great record.
Channel Orange by Frank Ocean
This record changed the way I looked at music and I don’t really know how to describe it past that.
In Rainbows by Radiohead
It’s a perfect record. There isn’t a single sound out of place and there isn’t a single moment where it feels lacking or overdone. It’s so lush yet so sparse; so aggressive yet so gentle. I heard it for the first time in grade-eleven and haven’t gotten sick of it yet.
Can we see you tour soon? What gigs do you have coming up?
I’m playing a gig in Toronto in February with an awesome artist named Alex St. Kitts, whose been a heavy musician in the scene for quite some time (and whose project is called the Projektor). It’s going to be fun. I don’t have any immediate plans to tour outside of Canada, but that definitely doesn’t mean I don’t want to…
What do you hope to achieve, personally, in 2018?
I hope that 2018 is the year that I get to hold a vinyl version of the first RubēHill record in my hands and go “oh, wow”.
Have you got a favourite memory from your time in music – the one that sticks in the mind?
When I started playing guitar I would frequent local open mics - because I didn’t have a band to play with but really wanted to play with other people. There was this one Blues/Jazz club where I used to get up and jam with a very seasoned Blues singer named Andy Earle, who kind of took me under his wing at the jam and taught me a lot about playing and, more importantly, listening. One particular night, I decided that if my thirteen-year-old self was to sing Every Day I Have the Blues - even though I did not have the blues even every other day. The singing was so brutal.
Andy turned to me after the song, laughed, and said: “Listen, kid; you have to sing it like you mean it. You get up here saying “Every day I have the blues” but it don’t sound like you have the blues’”. I was mortified in the moment: but it was such an important lesson and it has stuck with me to this day.
PHOTO CREDIT: Con Fy
What advice would you give to new artists coming through?
Encourage your friends: friends prop each other up and create movements. Movements change the world. Stick together and everyone's work will be better and healthier.
Finally, and for being a good sport; you can choose a song and I’ll play it here (not any of your music - I will do that).
Brockhampton - Boogie