It’s been a few years between drinks for Sydney trio RÜFÜS DU SOL, but after a lengthy period of spent dealing with the current global environment we find ourselves in, the band have returned with one of their most accomplished records to date.
Releasing their last album by way of 2018’s Solace, RÜFÜS DU SOL found themselves in good stead, with the promotional and performance side of things taking them to stages around the world, and expanding their fanbase at every turn.
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, with Surrender out in the world today, the group have donated their time to go deep into their latest full-length record, discussing each track at length as they reveal what went into the songs that make up one of their most accomplished efforts to date.
“Next to Me”
This was one of the first instances of us coming together in sync, in a very short jam this very cool piece of music came about. It was the very first section of the song that’s where the sketch started. Tyrone was tinkering on this old upright piano that was in the control room, playing the piano piece that starts the song, and it just had this imperfect quality to it. It had this cool pace.
At the same time, Jon started chopping his own voice up into this little vocal chop that sounded like a sample that had a certain quirky quality to it. James was playing with these arpeggiated bells that were spilling over the piano, and then Tyrone came up with that initial vocal and those initial lyrics. It was really captivating, we didn’t know where to take it really.
Then in Hollywood, where we relocated to our studio, we continued to work on it. It came together finally when we were listening to the Keinemusik Essential mix. We loved the drums and the kind of beats we were hearing. That drove the song into its final form.
“Make It Happen”
It’s always been an interesting concept for us, the idea of feeling like you’ve known someone your whole life or wishing that you had known them when you were younger. Knowing what they were like, seeing pictures of them when they were younger and part of you wishing that you knew them then.
We were exploring that with this song, the feeling of innocence. I think that inspired us to make a very simple melody with the kid’s choir and the simple lyric that feels like our homage to “All You Need Is Love” by The Beatles. Just a simple mantra, sung by kids, that is innocent and true.
“See You Again”
This track came together the fastest on the record. We had just gotten back from a six week break over NYE period, which is rare for us as we usually are on the road back home in Australia over that period, but we were locked out of Australia due to COVID. So in a way COVID created the space for us to take that time off and when we came back from our break we ended up making this in one afternoon.
It’s cool, sometimes songs present themselves to you. Sometimes you have to hack away at them for years, but this one kind of just presented itself and all of us were just smashing out different ideas really quickly and it culminated in the piece of music that we were really excited about.
“I Don’t Wanna Leave”
This song we started back in 2019. The initial melodic feeling and the chord progression came out when we were jamming at Jason Evigan’s studio. He’s an incredible songwriter and producer, it’s been fun to work with him, he always brings something new to the table. He brought this melody that reminded us of something that might be sung by Bon Iver, it felt almost folky, but it was very infectious and we connected with it a lot.
It was definitely a challenge trying to work out how to make it our own, because where it felt the best was in a new tempo for us. It forced us to think outside the box in terms of drum programming and the way we produced the track.
We ended up reopening the track and really going dark and heavy with the drum programming, getting wood samples and pitching them down creating this real driving knock to the beat.
This track we actually wrote the initial sketch back in February of 2020, pre-pandemic. I remember we left Tyrone in the studio at Jason Evigan’s one night after I’d heard this really sick song on a TV show that was set in Japan I think, the song was called “Anvil” by an artist called Lorn and it has this really cool dark gritty cinematic electronica vibe and it just felt really fresh. It felt like it could’ve been a cool springboard that the song had these arpeggiated lines.
I remember coming back to the studio the next day and Tyrone had jammed this really insane sketch of an idea using the prophet he had generated this arpeggiated line and across the sequence of this idea there were just a bunch of different hooks and different lyrics, including “at least I’m alive“, “there’s a pain in my chest that I can’t describe” that all had come out in the initial jam. I remember it being so captivating and exciting and we all agreed it was a really powerful idea we wanted to run with.
So “Alive” was originally like, 7 minutes or something, maybe 8 minutes. We had already envisioned tacking onto the end of it an instrumental outro that was dark and gritty and cinematic. We decided to separate this track from the main version of the song and calling it the “Alive Reprise” and saving it for the record so that once people hear the record they hear the journey of the track. We were kind of referencing Burial a little bit with these crunched vinyl crackles in there, it’s almost like you’re in the void and there are voices reaching out but not quite reaching you.
“On My Knees”
Originally this track had a different breakdown but when we revisited it in the studio we set up in Hollywood we found the identity for it, we were kind of referencing Kid A a little bit in going to these weirder chords and having Tyrone’s voice processed through the chaos pad so it was really skittery. It was really an ode to Radiohead in that breakdown. The verse vocal melodies had never felt right, so finally, we attacked them and channelled a bit more of this rocky attitude that gave the song a bit more edge. It ended up being a nice mish-mash of different ideas of the time.
The vocal melody and the lyrics have been through so many iterations, It always felt too heavy or too serious, and we couldn’t quite nail it. It wasn’t until we tried to rethink the context of “it looks like I’m on my knees again, feels like the walls are closing in” and trying to take that and test ourselves to see if there’s a world where we can make that positive. Putting it in a context where it’s like begging and desperation just made us work for it a touch more with the lyrics. It gave it a more unique, uplifting but also uncomfortable feeling where you don’t know if it’s good or bad it’s just somewhere in between.
We started writing this song during the writing process of SOLACE and we had this really amazing iteration of the song that we decided at the last minute not to include on that album. Something just didn’t feel quite right with it… We decided to hold onto it knowing that we wanted to re-approach it later, and we were thrilled we did because we opened the session back up and after some time apart from the song we were able to find its identity finally. The while crescendo of the song as it is now didn’t exist previously and we can’t imagine it without that distorted sound design and the “come home” vocal now.
“Surrender (feat. Curtis Harding)”
This track was what we call a Frankenstein for obvious reasons – we took the best parts of two different songs we had to create this one. The initial idea was this mantra that Ty came up with of ‘the rain begins to fall, dust fills the air’ it’s this hypnotic healing mantra that felt really cool and poignant. We wrote the instrumental around that.
We had also written another track with this lush housey gospel vocal in it. We were thinking that it would be amazing to sample a Nina Simone type vocal in it. We ended up deciding to pair the two ideas together because it felt like it could be this wild journey that didn’t follow our regular structure.
We were looking for the right voice for the breakdown on the record and when we found Curtis Harding, we knew he would be perfect for it. We reached out to him and on his first pass back to us it just felt like gold, he’d nailed the feeling we were going for. It’s a beautiful moment on the record.
Devotion felt like something we wanted to put into the record to add a nice dancey moment that we could play live and really bring people up.
In this one we explored the speed bassline pounding throughout. We had this vision of the bassline being like a large bubble moving through the music, moving against the beat that we made. We loved making something more driving and melodic. This song really came together when we wrote the breakdown a few weeks after we wrote the initial idea. We played it live a few weeks back at Austin City Limits to test it out and it got a great reaction.
The breakdown of this song is the first thing that we created, the first real thing was this vocal over these really long chords. The chords take 4 bars per chord which is quite a long amount of time for us, usually, we do either 1 or 2 bars per chord. It felt like you were in slow motion. We wrote the song around that.
We actually wrote another song around this breakdown, and then we re-approached it and wrote this new song around it, and it became this piece that was taking its time and we were constantly thinking of as the last track on the record. The song took its time to progress so that when it reaches its peak, you’re on this journey of pure momentum.
In the outro of this song, we wanted to make it sound like it was dissolving and fizzling into time and space. So we took the master output, and put that through a plug-in called RC20 which is imitating an old vinyl radio that slowly crunches into the abyss and then disappears.
RÜFÜS DU SOL’s Surrender is out now via Rose Avenue and Reprise/Warner Records