Interview by Shannon Shumaker
Australia's The Rubens have already had a whirlwind of a year, and it's only April. On top of the U.S. release of their sophomore album, Hoops, the band just topped Triple J's Hottest 100, and are currently wrapping up a supporting run with The Naked And Famous before an even busier summer overseas. It all makes sense, though - Hoops is undeniably gritty Rock 'n' Roll with an R&B twist that is impossible to ignore.
In the midst of all of the madness, we had the chance to chat with bassist Will Zeglis while the band was stateside, hanging at (and admiring) the Warner Bros. Records office. And despite Hoops success, Zeglis remains perfectly humble about everything, still in awe of some of the incredible opportunities the band has received, and thankful for everything they've accomplished. The Rubens have done quite a bit of growing since the release of their self-titled debut in 2012, and they're only learning more every day.
Catch The Rubens on tour, and pick up Hoops now!
The Prelude Press: I wanted to start by talking about your album Hoops, since it just recently released here in the U.S.. Is it a relief knowing that it’s finally out for everyone to hear?
Will Zeglis: Oh, totally. It’s just a relief that it finally came out… You know just the stages and the way things work, you’re not sure - cause we’ve had some semi success at home and we want to spread that to the world, hopefully. So yeah, it’s something that’s off our chests now that it’s out there and hopefully we can just work on promoting it.
So you’re doing a run of dates in the U.S. before going home to promote the album too, right?
It came out a few months ago at home, so we’ve been promoting it and doing headlining touring at home, and a couple of other random things. So yeah, we’re on tour now with The Naked And Famous, supporting those guys. It’s ten shows or something like that in maybe 600 cap rooms, so it’s pretty cool. Then we’ll go home, and do more. It never ends, kind of.
Hoops is your sophomore album, so did you have any goals going into the studio with this one?
Yeah, sure. The first was the first album, pretty much for all of us as individual artists too, so we were pretty green with the recording process and how it works. It was one of those things where we kind of just let everyone put their two cents in and work on the record, and it really is a great record. This time, we’ve been out on the road for so long, and we’ve toured that album for two or three years before the next one, so we’re better rehearsed. Influences changed a little bit too, and we came to the recording process a bit more confident and knowing what we wanted. I think that kind of shows on this record. It’s a little bit more organic in some areas, and there was just a bit more confidence in the decisions we were making.
I feel like the sound on the album is really diverse, too, and like you said, your influences have changed. Some of the songs are more R&B influenced and others are more rock influenced. Were there any sounds that you wanted to play with?
Elliot [Margin, keys/vocals] and Sam [Margin, guitar/lead vocals] did the majority of the core writing, so it’s one of those things where it’s what they’re feeling. And we’ve all got a vast collection of music, so we like a wide variety of things and we’re not tied down to a strictly rock/soul band, where some people get pigeonholed like that. With this album, we kind of wanted it to be more diverse, and as long as the tune was good and the song was good, we didn’t really mind what flavor it had. I think people are a bit more open these days to bands being like that, and we like bands who do that sort of stuff, too.
It’s cool to listen to an album and a song comes on that sounds nothing like the rest.
Yeah, exactly! And hopefully the old fans dig it and hopefully we can gain some new fans, because it might be a bit of a different vibe.
Do you think that you guys have grown with the recording and the release of the album?
Oh, totally. And it feels like with this tour we’ve grown again. It’s just all experiencing life, just meeting people and other artists, you learn from doing it. No one can really tell you how it’s going to go or give you tips. It’s not till you’re in there and recording that you kind of figure it out for yourself. We’ve all grown immensely from it. Just being able to communicate with people… You know at home, we might be kicking around with a band and it’s a bit of fun, but when people’s time and money is being invested, you have to communicate better. For me personally, it’s communication.
With the band or just in general?
In general. I think a lot of my self confidence has had to grow, because you’re constantly meeting people. And it's "This guy is from this record label and this guy is from this management..." These are things I’ve never dreamed I could be doing. I’ve kind of got to step up to the plate. We’re not in a country town anymore, from Australia, now we’re in major cities.
Now you’re hanging out in the Warner Bros. Records office.
Yeah, it’s mental! [laughs]
"...you learn from doing it. No one can really tell you how it’s going to go or give you tips. It’s not till you’re in there and recording that you kind of figure it out for yourself."
So for the new album, you recorded with David Kahne, who you recorded with for your last album, too. What do you feel he brings to the table when you’re working on new music?
He’s amazing at what he does. He’s really good at tying up arrangements. Things might be dragging along and he’ll trim the fat, and that’s a huge thing. It kind of sorts out the boys from the men when it comes to structure. If you can get the structure right, then the song will generally appeal a lot more. He’s really good with structure and just getting harmonies, or string arrangements, so he brought a lot of good things to the record. I’m not sure what we’re going to do with the next record, if we’re going to work with him or someone else, but we’re very thankful for the success that we’ve had in Australia and he’s contributed a lot to it.
He’s kind of been with you since the start of it, too, right?
Oh yeah, we came over as a band with no record deal, no money or anything, and kind of just put in the demo and he saw potential in it. He took us on board, and he obviously saw something good in the band.
I know you guys have mentioned before that with Hoops you took more of your live performances into account. Why is that important to you this time around?
I think for most musicians, they get a thrill from playing live. Sometimes music can sound really cool on a record, but you can’t pull it off properly live, and we consider ourselves a live band so we wanted to make sure that whatever tunes we were writing really played solid live. Those were the things we were concentrating on. We’re used to playing so many live shows - and there are songs that we’ve tried before that sound good on the computer, but when we put them into practice, they just didn’t feel right. You don’t mind if bands slightly change things up if it’s still got a good vibe and you’re still into it, but when that vibe is lost, you don’t want that.
Speaking of live shows, with the upcoming shows in the U.S. and your shows back home, what do you hope listeners will take away from your live performances?
More that just what we try to do is organic and as real as possible. We don’t really have any backing tracks, or we have very little. We’re still trying to keep it prominently a Rock 'n' Roll show but with some R&B flavor in it. We try to let our shows have a bit more heart and soul.
Would you want listeners to take away those same things from the album? Or is there any message that you would want your fans to take away from it?
Hopefully they dig the album. But personally - and the others might not disagree, but might not think as strongly as I do about it - I think we perform the songs better live than on the album. They work better live. So if you like the album, you should like our live shows.
Over the past few years, two records and tons of shows, what’s something that you've learned that you wish you could go back and tell your past self or wish you would have known when you first started?
That’s a good one, because I do think about that stuff. Just to have confidence in yourself, and not to be swayed by trends. When I was younger I would be worried, like, “Oh, this isn’t cool” or “People aren’t gonna like this.” Eventually it comes around. I was a big fan of 80’s music and now it’s become like a craze. I don’t know if it’s like a hipster thing, but I’m like, “Gee, if I would have released those albums,” or “If we would have done that it would be cool now.” So that’s the main thing I’ve found in the past couple of years - a lot of cool music is all different genres, and not to be swayed, and to be fearless in what you’re doing. "The truth will set you free" type of thing.
Well, besides everything else you guys have going on right now, do you have any big goals or plans for the rest of the year?
In May we’re going to the UK. There’s a festival out there called The Great Escape, which we’re really excited to play. But we just released our own headlining show there, and we’ve had to upgrade the venue twice because it sold out. We’re freaking out because the album hasn’t been released there yet and the shows are selling out. It’s such a great place to tour, so we’re excited about that.
I think that’s about it! Is there anything else you would like to add?
Just that we’re so thankful to be in this position as a band, because we know how tough it can be. We’ve had many other friends’ bands who were great, but never got to break through or have a record deal, so we’re just so happy to be doing that we’re doing.