On their third album LO LA RU, The Rubens effortlessly pick up from where their Hottest 100 topping single left off, using the success of ‘Hoops’ as an opportunity to spread their creative wings, pushing their music into new territory that is exciting for them and having a bloody good time while they’re at it.
“We never expected to be able to quit our day jobs let alone get #1 in the Hottest 100 so we’re forever pinching ourselves that we’ve come this far”, keyboardist and song-writer Elliott Margin says. “The success of ‘Hoops’ was amazing but we’re always striving to do better, to find the next exciting thing”.
LO LA RU is the album The Rubens have always wanted to make. A fully realised body of work that picks up on the rnb and hip hop influences that were hinted at on songs like ‘Hoops’ and ‘Bitter End’, bringing those stylistic references to the fore, without losing any of the soulful warmth that typified their earliest tracks like ‘Lay It Down’ and ‘My Gun’ and won them the adoration of fans the world over.
“We’ve always felt an rnb/soul influence behind our songwriting but probably didn’t have the confidence to let that show until we were two albums in”, Elliott continues. “Part of being an artist or a group is finding your own direction and what excites or challenges you. It wasn’t a conscious decision for us to steer new music in this direction but a natural progression for us as musicians.”
This newfound confidence isn’t just limited to the music though, it came to define the entire record making process. Determined to have fun, enjoy the recording process and create a space where all ideas were valid, The Rubens decided to approach this album in an entirely new way. “I don’t think a lot of good vibes attach themselves to the music when the process of making that music had you pulling your hair out and stressed the whole time,” Elliott says.
Instead of heading to an expensive overseas studio, they retreated to a converted WWII bunker in their hometown of Camden on the outskirts of Sydney, a place that has been loving refurbished by bass player Will Zeglis and his mate Tim Duric, transformed from “a hole in the ground filled with junk, to Bunker Underground Studios, a space where you can have fun and freedom,” Elliott says. Usually reserved for practicing, demo-ing and late-night jam sessions, the band decided the bunker would be the perfect place to create LO LA RU. “We never expected the band to become a career so our approach to it has always been to have fun and the isolation and huge vibe of the bunker definitely supports that approach,” Elliott adds.
With the space taken care of, it was time to find the perfect producers to help shape the sound they had envisioned. Enter Wilder Zoby and Little Shalimar (AKA Torbitt and Wilder AKA the guys who co-produced Run The Jewels 3). Having hit it off with two brothers from Brooklyn on the Laneway Festival years earlier (Torbitt and Wilder were touring as part of RTJ rapper El P’s band), The Rubens would drop in to catch up with their new pals whenever they found themselves in NYC. It wasn’t until the band wrote Million Man and Sam played a demo of it to the producers, that the collaboration came to life and in mid 2017, the Margin brothers flew to Brooklyn to test the creative waters.
The band worked on two songs at the Torbitt and Wilder’s NYC studio and after that process, it became very apparent that the producers’ collaborative and creative approach in the studio was a perfect match for the band and their vision for LO LA RU.
Fast forward a few months, where the two producers from New York City, made their way to Camden. “It was obviously like another world to them. They’re city boys, but they really embraced the Camden lifestyle, just relaxing, hanging out with the dog… Wilder ate a LOT of Lamingtons,” Elliott laughs.
Not only did they bring an incredible depth of knowledge and unique perspective to the record, but Torbitt and Wilder’s laid back personalities and creativity made for the most fun and productive time the band had ever had in a studio. “We were working 12-14 hour days but it didn’t feel like it, it just felt like hanging with your mates and creating music,” Elliott says.
Guitarist Zaac Margin recalls a particularly memorable moment when Will was laying down the bassline for one of the album’s most upbeat tracks ‘Casper’: “It was the most fun to record. All our closest friends from Camden were around, hanging out in the bunker and we kind of watched Will learn the song and write the bassline and then get the perfect take. Everyone was just cheering him on. It was amazing.”
By the time Torbitt and Wilder flew home, the album was 90% in the bag. To finish it off The Rubens reconvened with their producer mates, this time on Torbitt and Wilder’s turf: their studio space in Brooklyn. “We had always planned on going over to Brooklyn to put the finishing touches on,” singer and song-writer Sam Margin says. “And I’m really glad it we did it that way. It was great to take a step back from it and get a fresh perspective. Also, being in Brooklyn gave us a new energy.”
“This is the album we’ve always wanted to make,” Sam continues. “Listening back now, it feels like a photo album or something, looking back on good times you had with your buddies,” adds Elliott.
This focus on positive energy in the studio paid off in spades. From the exuberant party jam ‘Million Man’, that kicks off LO LA RU, it’s clear The Rubens are intent on capturing the simple joy of lifelong friends making music together. The laid back, good times carry on into “Go On”, an infectious vocal hook and a stripped back beat that’s impossible not to nod your head to, all coated in Sam Margin’s buttery as hell croon. ‘I Know’ is another hooky-as-hell jam, built on the back of a bouncy bass groove. ‘Freakout’ is classic Rubens. Opening with Sam’s unaccompanied voice and building slowly from piano ballad into a big brassy roof raiser, it’s proof that while the band are determined to have a good time, they are also confident enough to be vulnerable and unafraid to lay themselves bare.
It’s ‘Never Ever (feat. Sarah)’ though that sees The Rubens in entirely new territory. Co-‘written with Sarah Aarons (the Australian songwriter best known for penning Zedd and Alessia Cara’s US #1 hit ‘Stay’), ‘Never Ever’ is the first time the band have collaborated with an outsider and the first time Sam has shared lead vocals on a Rubens record. Written after the band thought LO LA RU was completely in the bag, and not expecting whatever they wrote with Aarons to make the record, the song immediately felt special, “mainly cos it was just stuck in my head for fucking ages,” laughs Elliott. The band realised that it was too strong a track to leave off the record.
‘Never Ever’ may well be the most pop The Rubens have ever been, but the lyrical and emotional weight and creative, textural arrangement from the band give the song an artful depth that makes it a universally appealing anthem of love gone sour. “We’ve never done anything like this before and we’re so proud of the song as well,” Elliott adds. “It wasn’t forced. It wasn’t us trying to write a big Rubens “Sarah Aarons” song. It was just us writing and having a good time with another person and I think people will hear that when they listen to it.”
Across LO LA RU’s 12 carefully crafted tracks, it’s clear that this time The Rubens are on their own turf and on their own terms. It’s the sound of a band confidently carving out their own territory, creating a world where creative freedom and good times reign supreme. And they’re waving the LO LA RU flag high!