With the release of their second album Sea Lion, The Ruby Suns have unleashed a collection of uplifting tropical melodies and infectious world rhythms that will get under your skin and swish you away into the wild green forests and lush landscapes that inspired this mesmerizing set of songs.
Drawing inspiration from the beauty of natural scenery he experienced on his worldwide travels, native Californian Ryan: McPhun got the band together in 2004 and began recording in his Auckland basement. Soon after, The Ruby Suns released their self-titled debut on Lil’ Chief Records in 2005 and are currently on tour in support of their sophomore release.
SoundsXP caught up with Ryan: McPhun and Amee Robinson of The Ruby Suns in Chicago shortly before their performance at the Pitchfork Music Festival.
SoundsXP: What’s the most challenging thing about DIY culture for you?
Amee: Motivation, because you are your own boss and you’re trying to create stuff and present it all at the same time.
Ryan:: It’s hard to be the creator and the salesperson for it, which you have to be.
SoundsXP: Are you very methodical about it? Like: ’We’re going to create today?’
Amee: Sometimes, if there’s a deadline. Deadlines are good things for musicians or artists to have, because otherwise you’re like: ‘I’ll get that done sometime.’
Ryan:: You can’t progress otherwise.
SoundsXP: How do you impose deadlines for your personal projects?
Amee: I’m pretty good at being a good nagger. *laughs*
SoundsXP: That’s a great skill.
Ryan:: No, it’s not a good skill. *laughs*
Amee: I think it helps get his ass moving, but maybe not my own. *laughs*
Ryan:: Remember that.
SoundsXP: So you’re an external motivation for Ryan:. What is the one thing you’ve learned about people throughout your travels?
Amee: People are generally nice. I think that we’ve met so many nice people, whether it’s the cab driver or people who are working at the venue, there’s so many awesome people. There are definitely exceptions to that, but I’d say the majority of people are nice. It’s quite good to learn, because you can get a little cynical especially when you live in a big city.
SoundsXP: What have you learned about each other that you didn’t know before touring together?
Amee: *laughs* We are a couple, so we know most things about each other.
Ryan:: That we didn’t know before? Not a whole lot. Nothing much has crept up. We’re touring as a two piece now, we haven’t really toured as a two piece yet, but we’re going to start. This festival is the first show of like 16 or 17 for us as a two piece. It’s much easier with just two people and a lot cheaper obviously.
SoundsXP: Musically, do you find that the same intensity that you have with more people you can pull off with two people?
Ryan:: I’m sure with more people and more dynamics it would be more intense, but I think we can still pull it off. I don’t really know because we haven’t really done a show [with two people] yet. I think the sounds are there. It’s kind of funny. I find with two people we’re focusing more, because we have a bit more to do.
Amee: You can’t rely on other people, so you’re it.
Ryan:: It’s a little bit scary in that people aren’t looking at the drummer or something. I play some stand up drums, but you can’t really lean back on much.
SoundsXP: What about improvisation?
Amee: There’s not much room for that, because we have so many pre-programmed things, and the songs are relatively complex. It’s never been a part of the band to improvise, but we have some room in between songs when we can make some [new] sounds.
SoundsXP: I read that you’ve traveled all over.
Ryan:: I’ve been to plenty of places. I did a lot of traveling with my dad and my stepmom and they’ve lived in some different places, so I’ve spent quite a bit of time [abroad] when they’ve been living elsewhere.
SoundsXP: Is it true that you were struck by the people in Africa?
Ryan:: Totally. African culture is just different, it’s pretty strange. It’s not strange how different it is, but it’s funny coming from a Western point of view and seeing people and how it just works differently. The one example is the Massai people think that all of the cattle in southern Africa are theirs and that they own them. That’s what they’ve always felt and they’ve done some crazy stuff. It doesn’t really happen anymore, but they used to steal herds of cattle from other tribes, because they said: “Well, these are ours. This is our country.” It used to cause a lot of problems, but they don’t really steal herds of cattle anymore.
Amee: And it’s not stealing, is it? We’re just applying that [term] to their actions.
Ryan:: That’s the thing, they never stole anything. This is a story that I heard years ago, maybe it was in a certain part of Kenya. In 2006, I was in Kenya with a group of Americans. My stepmom is from Zimbabwe and her and my dad chaperone these cheesy safari things and they basically take groups of Americans that can afford to go on these things and it’s always really weird. I’ve been a couple of times on three trips, which has been amazing, but I’m not part of the group.
SoundsXP: They wouldn’t allow you to join the group?
Ryan:: Oh, no it wasn’t that, I wasn’t really interested.
Amee: He was separate by choice. *laughs*
Ryan:: It was interesting to me to see how Americans would react to how people interacted with them and they’d be like: “Why are they doing this?”
Amee: “This is not how it should be.”
Ryan:: That was pretty amazing for me, just thinking: “It’s just because it’s a different country actually, and people are different.” And that’s all, they’re just different. It’s not for you to relate to how people act in Virginia or something, you just can’t compare.
SoundsXP: Was there anything that was completely foreign to you and you didn’t understand the custom or tradition?
Ryan:: Massai eating just blood, milk, and meat. That was kind of strange. That’s their diet: blood, milk and meat. I couldn’t relate to that so much.
SoundsXP: Did you drink blood?
Ryan:: No, I don’t eat meat. I’m glad I wasn’t part of a situation where I had to because it would be awkward to say no.
Amee: It’s partly rude as well.
Ryan:: I wouldn’t have been able to say no if I was in a hut with people.
SoundsXP: You would’ve drank the cup of blood?
Amee: I would worry that I would actually puke, and that would be even more disastrous. Maybe it would be one of those things where you kind of fake swallow it.
Ryan:: Or you could do it without tasting it. Don’t breathe through your nose. That would make a big difference.
Amee: Make sure you’ve got some extra chewing gum right beside you.
SoundsXP: Do the younger people treat the elders with a lot of respect?
Ryan:: Maybe a little bit. There’s a lot of sexism as well, which is always really hard.
Amee: For me that would be very weird. In some countries we have been to I’ve felt that. That was quite weird.
SoundsXP: The sexism?
Amee: Well, I don’t know because that’s applying our concept onto their reality, so I don’t know if you can call it sexism. Different gender roles to what I’m used to. I would find that quite a challenge. And to not judge that as well is really hard. How do you let that one go? That’s a hard one to let go.
SoundsXP: For example, I find a lot of people say about strippers: ‘Men take advantage of her’, but on the other hand I think if we make her a victim, we’re kind of taking away the woman’s power and I feel like she’s making that choice whether it’s a good one or a bad one.
Ryan:: That’s interesting. Actually she’s totally laughing at the sexism and making money off of it. But you could totally see it from both sides, it totally makes sense.
Amee: But with the cultural difference, the word sexism means nothing to them, it doesn’t exist, because that’s not an issue. It is what it is. That’s what women do and that’s what men do.
SoundsXP: Someone told me that Mark Twain said: “Travel is fatal to prejudice.” Do you think that’s true?
Ryan:: It certainly helps. This is really funny, we were on the plane yesterday from Phoenix to Chicago and it’s such a different feeling than traveling from the US to some European country. I think people act differently on international flights. It could be for quite a few different reasons, but I think one of the reasons is because they’ve traveled before internationally to a different culture and they’ve learned different customs from seeing different cultures and seeing how different people react to other people and react to foreigners and things are less of a big deal maybe.
Amee: But on the flight that we were on, the domestic flight from Phoenix to Chicago, there was this air of everyone just… *makes fussing gestures*.
Ryan:: Yeah, people were complaining about stuff.
Amee: ‘Oh my God there’s no seats, oh my God! Oh my God!’
Ryan:: I just think one of the reasons could possibly be because maybe people that travel internationally just learn different customs or learn that a really stereotypical thing is the traveling American. Really loud, obnoxious and rude and stuff like that.
Amee: You definitely encounter those.
Ryan:: I’ve always been scared to be one of those. Moving to New Zealand, I think it’s good to live in another country because all of a sudden I saw New Zealanders’ view of Americans, and obviously so many Kiwis love a lot of Americans or whatever, but it’s just a kind of stereotype. Americans don’t know about that.
Amee: There’s a stereotype and there’s a general kind of disdain, which is a shame.
Ryan:: There are so many amazing and beautiful people on the whole as well.
Amee: Personally I think it’s one of the most beautiful countries in the world. Geographically it’s mind blowing. We’ve driven from one side to the other, top to bottom, and the amount of the variety is mind blowing.
Ryan:: It’s way more impressive than Canada, no offense.
SoundsXP: I’m very offended.
Ryan:: I think it’s just the contrast. There aren’t any big deserts in Canada.
Amee: But just traveling from one side to the other [in the United States] you can experience all types of terrain - rugged coast, snowy mountains, beautiful lush plains, back to thick forests, and beautiful sandy beaches.
SoundsXP: That’s such a good description. You should be a writer.
SoundsXP: I read that nature is a big inspiration for Sea Lion and some of the words that you used to describe the album were nature, hiking, traveling, vegetarian food, and falafels. Can you talk about that?
Ryan:: *laughs* That was basically a joke that we put on our myspace page. We changed it after I realized that a lot of people were looking at it and thinking we were being serious. I mean it isn’t really a joke, though.
Amee: In hindsight I think that it makes sense because nature and food make you happy and food is such a huge part of traveling and life, because you’re kind of screwed without it. *laughs*
SoundsXP: What one experience do you want to have before you die?
Ryan:: I’ve never really put that much pressure on myself. I wouldn’t say there’s anything that I really have to do. I’ve never really climbed a really tall mountain, though.
SoundsXP: What personal goals do you have?
Ryan:: It would be nice to be self-sufficient on music because personally I spend a lot of time thinking about it and doing it, but there are plenty of other things, too.
SoundsXP: For me it’s a hot air balloon ride, I would just love to do that.
Amee: Actually that would be on my list, but I was also gonna say, maybe this is a little bit heavy, but I would like to change the way people understand education. That’s huge for me.
SoundsXP: The way people understand education - what do you mean exactly?
Amee: That it has nothing to do with schools.
SoundsXP: So the school of life can do more to make you a better rounded person.
Amee: Yeah, but even using the word ‘school’. I would just say life is education and there’s ways around not going to school that are much more beneficial and make people a lot more richer as people, so that would be [a goal] for me personally because that’s my thing.
SoundsXP: Do you think education actually boxes you in and dumbs you down? Is it a negative thing?
Amee: One hundred percent. Education has nothing to do with schools. Schooling is in my opinion indoctrination, not education. So for me that would be like a life goal.
Ryan:: The institution [is indoctrination], not learning.
SoundsXP: How would you execute that goal?
Amee: It would be through speaking to people. And maybe I would really like to create a space where people could come and just learn and have things that schools have taken away from people, so have people have access to tools, have sewing machines, tool boxes and science lab gear and things like that that you should have access to, and make people just play. And have people there to guide you.
Ryan:: Whatever they want no matter how old they are.
SoundsXP: That’s incredible. Awesome answer. You made me think. Thank you!
The Ruby Suns are currently on tour in the US and Europe. Check out their myspace for tour dates.