To say that the last few years have been difficult for RÜFÜS DU SOL is probably putting it lightly. Currently based over in the US, the Sydney-born outfit have been stuck on the other side of the world, away from friends and family, and left with only each other to get them through the events of 2020 and 2021. Yet despite this, they’ve managed to emerge from the darkness with an album that is the light at the end of the tunnel.
Releasing their last album by way of 2018’s Solace, RÜFÜS DU SOL found themselves in good stead. Their third record to peak within the top two of the ARIA charts, Solace gave way to countless live shows both here and abroad, seeing the humble trio expanding their fanbase and bringing their immersive tracks to crowds in every corner of the globe.
By the time that writing had begun for their fourth album, things were looking good, but unfortunately, a global pandemic soon took over. Having recently released their Live from Joshua Tree album just days before widespread lockdowns took hold, it was enough to tide fans over while the band themselves took their time to take stock of the world, before retreating inward to rely on music and their shared camaraderie to get them through.
In July of this year, RÜFÜS DU SOL emerged with their first new single in three years, the cathartic “Alive”. Feeling like a song inspired by the events of the pandemic, its deeply personal nature was soon complemented by the likes of the self-described “feel-good” track “Next to Me”, proving that the trio could commanded a musical versatility many could only dream of.
Now, their new album Surrender arrives this week, barely a month after it was first announced. Feeling like a continuation of the classic RÜFÜS DU SOL sound, it’s an album borne out of reflection, inspired by organic sounds, and one heavily influenced by the situation the respective members – Tyrone Lindqvist, Jon George, and James Hunt – found themselves in both as people and as artists.
In anticipation of the record’s release, the trio spoke to Rolling Stone Australia about the creation of Surrender, and the journey they took to release one of their most powerful albums to date.
Before we get into that though, I’d love to check in and see how have you all dealt with everything across the last couple of years? Have you all managed alright, or as well as you can?
Jon: We’re doing significantly better than some of our folks back home in Australia right now. I feel like we’re on the other side of things pandemic-wise, and then we’ve been going through our own little topsy-turvy life changes. But we’re doing good.
Just the mere fact that there are gigs you’ve been able to play over the last 18 months is a testament to the fact that things are slowly normalising on your end.
James: Exactly, and we got to play our first show back [in August] at Red Rocks, which was something I’d been dreaming about through the entire duration of writing this record. Like, “First show back, what’ll it be like, being able to play new material?” And it was a really special experience.
Having all this time on hold, it would undoubtedly have helped to have this outlet of creativity. But how far back does this new album stretch? When did you sort of put Solace in the rear view and start actively writing for album number four? Or was it more of a gradual creative process?
Tyrone: We kind of did like, a week or two weeks here and there towards the end of 2019. Like, we went in the studio and just dipped our toes into the writing process, really. Trying to get ahead of really bunkering down and writing the next record.
Jon: Getting that muscle working again.
Tyrone: Yeah, because it’s like a muscle for us where we writer for a longer period of time, then we’re touring; we’re on the road, and we haven’t written for a while. We’re re-inspired, but our muscle of being able to flesh out ideas, produce, or write is a bit weakened. So we did that, and I think it was five months after that that we were on tour and we were in Houston and the pandemic hit, and we had to cancel about five shows, and then the rest of the year.
But that was a really big… That was a gift for us in that it gave us time to reconnect as a band, as friends, and we made the most of it. We went to Joshua Tree and we were originally going to go for four weeks, but we ended up going for eight. We started diving into the new record, and that was when we first intentionally said, “Okay, let’s start writing this record.”
On that note, was there a specific plan for the record and how you wanted it to sound? There was a quote about how the last record was focused around space and the cosmos, yet this one is much more earthy, granular, and sort of nature-focused.
James: I think it kind of presents itself to us. We don’t really go into a record with a grand vision, but we kind of go into it with… The way we get inspired is that we share music with each other; songs, electronic tracks, things we want to reference. So when we went to Joshua Tree – like Tyrone was saying, it was quite a gift that we had so much time – we were able to kind of start experimenting, exploring different things, different beats we wanted to try, different music feelings we wanted to reference.
We kind of get going down that train [of thought], and as the muscle started coming back, we got better at replicating things we’d heard in different songs. Over the course of the year, some of the sounds that really stuck with us, they just really presented themselves as “these are the things that this record is going to be about”, or, “these are the consistent sounds on the record”.
Do you feel those influences would have still be forthcoming had you not been in a location such as Joshua Tree?
Jon: I think sometimes things get scattered, and I would say that even moreso over the last few records, the more busy we’ve gotten, the harder it is to focus and maintain that focus over time. Whereas here, we had a lot of time with no real need for a deadline, and we were able to create some sort of balance for ourselves and in turn, we were able to really hone in on what were enjoying the most out of the record. And the record really started to take shape as the world was coming back a bit more, and we were able to make some deadlines for ourselves.
So I think, in the past we’ve been a little bit more frenetic and a little bit more all over the shop. And that could be because we get taken away from touring, it could be because we were staying up until 6am just writing, and not really taking responsibility for the rest of our lives, whereas this time around, we created a routine and we really tried to create a balance for ourselves, which helped a lot.
Incidentally, there was mention that there’s an inspiration of architecture as at play well, with specific mention of “La Muralla Roja” in Spain. How exactly can architecture play a role in sound and what you guys create?
Jon: I guess the main thing with that is that when we were exploring art to sort of match where we were at, particularly when we were having these discussions half way through the record, that was one of the first striking images that really started to connect with what we were doing. And La Muralla Roja, I guess in particular, was such a brilliant concept to us in that it looked like it was from another world, and it looked quite striking.
So I guess that’s how that journey started, and then we started using that idea of an organic place and manipulating it digitally, which is what we do in the studio all the time: taking acoustic sounds and analogue sounds and trying to manipulate them. That was what we ended up doing with that vision of La Muralla Roja, and then working with…
James: Stefano Di Camillo, he’s an amazing digital artist.
Jon: …for our artwork, that was a really great way of putting another imprint of ourselves into the art.
This notion of manipulating natural objects is also evident within the video for ‘Next To Me’, which was just sublime. Were you happy with how that one turned out?
James: So when this group called Osk, the people who developed it, came forward with the concept, we were like, “This is amazing”. It looked really trippy, psychedelic, and it felt really original and fresh for us, in a way of a representing nature, but having technology create something that’s beautiful, but also there’s a very specific feeling to it. I think it complemented the song amazingly, and we love it.
Returning to the sound of things though, I was personally quite taken by the sound of this record. We’ve seen that evolution over the years, but this album has got the classic RÜFÜS DU SOL sound, but it feels much more reflective than previous work. Was that part of the plan, or again, something that comes from having more time in your corner?
Tyrone: It was time for us to reflect. I don’t know [which of us] said it, but it’s been a period of a lot of change for us. We as a band, us as individuals, and us as friends, have undergone a lot of change in the last two years. Our lifestyles, everything. I think with that, there is a lot of reflection.
There’s looking back fondly on some things, and for me at least, there’s some things that I look back on with regret, but I’m okay with it. And I think just having a year and a half to sit with myself, and the guys since we’re making music together, to just sit with that, it’s hard for it to not end up in the record.
“I think at the start of the process there was more regret, and I think towards the end of the process there was just a lot more celebration and a lot more happiness shared between each other for where we are.”
Jon: I think though we were also trying to push ourselves into those spaces too. Not just for it be superficial, but we started that process with a lot of healing between each other and starting the day with meditation together, getting out any grievances or anything that we wanted to say, and trying to create a different safe space to work in.
We definitely put ourselves in uncomfortable situations between ourselves, and we did reflect a lot. So I can see that coming through in the work. I think at the start of the process there was more regret, and I think towards the end of the process there was just a lot more celebration and a lot more happiness shared between each other for where we are.
“There is a lot of a catharsis in being able to create music that touches people.”
On that topic, there’s tracks like “Alive” which sort of focus on the ‘light at the end of the tunnel’ of this period we find ourselves in. Now, you’ve all mentioned topics like mental health and catharsis in the past, it feels as though this is a song that would be quite meaningful to you all?
James: Yeah, I feel like that song, for all of us, carries a lot of weight, gravity, and it really special. I remember the initial writing of that, that lyric — “At least I’m alive” – that was one of the demo things that Tyrone had jammed on, and I remember coming to the studio and hearing that, and it was just so poignant.
And this is pre-pandemic, back in February of 2020 when that demo came into being, and just personally at that time, it was really powerful just because of the personal experiences we were going through. There is a lot of a catharsis in being able to create music that touches people, and potentially connects to where they’re at, or can be a mirror to what they’re going through. That song was really special, and definitely felt like an important first song to come back with; something that’s powerful, cathartic, and poignant.
Surrender as a whole sort of feels like this body of work that is equal parts comforting and organic, with this heavy focus on raw emotion. It feels like the hand on the shoulder that we all need at times, yet it feels so genuine as it sort of reminds us to sort of appreciate everything as it stands. Is it that you’re sort of saying with this album? Because it feels so hopeful and comforting, which is what everyone is in need of lately.
Jon: I think that’s really nice that you’re getting that from it, and I think that’s generally – like what we were saying – what we were doing for each other during that time, and I can see that coming through. So yeah, I feel like we were being that hand on each other’s shoulder throughout the process, and helping each other feel comfortable with where we’re at, and get more and more comfortable with where we’re at.
As the pandemic’s gone on, we’ve become a lot stronger as people and I’ve been able to be more comfortable with who we are, so I feel like the album has given us that as well.
Obviously some songs have featured in recent live sets, but it must be far more special once it’s out in the world and everyone can connect with them. What is the live show currently looking like?
Jon: You’re currently looking at our rehearsal space right now, so you can see what we’re up to right now.
James: We’ve had a lot of fun playing with the live show. We’ve got some really big, exciting shows coming up in the US. We’ve got a couple of shows in LA which are really big and really important to us, and we’re having a lot of fun with playing around with the setlist: figuring out what’s going to go where, what the dynamic’s going to be, having some push/pull, making some new jams that people don’t expect so that a song goes on a little tangent, and allowing musicianship to come through, so from night to night it’s slightly different.
There’s a possibility of making a mistake, but showing that the human playing counteracts the sequencing stuff that we love doing so well, and playing in the intersection of the two worlds.
Of course, we’re also excited to be getting you all back home for some shows. Any tentative plans on when that might be happening, or is it still far too early to tell?
Jon: Yeah, it’s tough. That’s the tough thing, we want to be back there so badly. We miss our family, our friends. We’re trying to stay in touch with them as often as possible and there’s definitely a real sadness coming from my family who are relaying what they’re going through back home, which is really hard to hear.
There’s nothing more that we would love than to be back there, playing, and seeing all our friends and family, so as soon as there’s a little bit more assuredness about what we can do, we’ll be back there, and that’ll start as soon as we’re allowed in the country.
RÜFÜS DU SOL’s Surrender is released on October 22nd via Rose Avenue and Reprise/Warner Records