The Ruby Suns: Finding New Zeal in New Zealand

By • Oct 1st, 2009 • Category: Interviews, Popular items

ruby-sunsAuckland, New Zealand, is not really a busy place. But after placing one international phone call to Ruby Suns frontman Ryan McPhun, that perception start to waver. Auckland is the largest city in a country known less for its own geography (off the southeast coast of Australia) than for its fictional location portraying “Middle Earth” in the movie adaptations of The Lord of the Rings trilogy. It’s a colony of Pacific Islanders often viewed as a poor man’s Australia, the wannabe version of its bigger brother to the north that was build by outcasts and prisoners.

There are sheep. There are mountains. There’s rugby. There’s a constitutional monarchy. And there’s also a budding musical community, which California expat Ryan McPhun has found himself smack in the middle of. From fronting The Ruby Suns to playing in The Brunettes as well as The Tokey Tones, this child of 1970’s San Francisco guitar pop has transformed himself into a staple of his adopted home’s lo-fi, quirky indie scene.

Which might explain why he’s so damn hard to track down. A scheduled 25-minute conversation with McPhun in early September became an abbreviated, 7-minute rapid fire question-and-answer session as the songwriter sat in a noisy car in Auckland packed full of friends. But amidst the long-distance delay and background noise, the soft-spoken singer talked excitedly about The Ruby Suns’ follow-up to last year’s LP Sea Lion.

That Sub Pop debut and its subsequent tours saw The Ruby Suns grow from a quaint, acoustic-based solo project built on McPhun’s knack for harmony into a full-on indie-pop ensemble. It’s this sort of growth that helps explain how Sea Lion crept up onto many shortlists and “best of 2008″ end-of-year album countdowns. With his new material all but finished, McPhun spared those seven minutes with Chicago Innerview to discuss what direction he’s currently taking his music and his Ruby Suns mates.

Chicago Innerview: What is the status of the new album?
Ryan McPhun:
It’s done. All the recording is finished and we just have to get it mastered and let other people hear it. But all the bells and whistles and things are finished and it should be sent to the label totally done by the time we start this tour.

Chicago Innerview: What is different compared with Sea Lion?
Ryan McPhun:
All of it. Everything is different, really.

CI: Can you give specifics?
Well, just that the songs are all new, so that makes it different. But the feel of the album is totally different to me. It just seems like a lot of new things — sounds and approaches — all were worked in. I don’t know if it will feel that way to other people when they hear it. Casual fans might listen to it and think it sounds the exact same as the last one. But I listen to it and it seems like a new thing.

CI: So casual fans might not hear the changes. What about your closest followers?
I’m not sure if they’ll hear it either. It’s hard to say.

CI: So everything being new and a complete aesthetic overhaul still might go unnoticed even by people most familiar with your work?

CI: Have you been able to get any feedback on those new songs when playing them live?
Somewhat. The new stuff really will get road tested on this upcoming tour. This is when those songs will get the full live treatment.

Chicago Innerview, October 2009

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