The Rubens Talk Groovin The Moo 2016 & Dealing With Hottest 100 Victory Backlash
Written by Sally McMullen on 22nd February, 2016
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What a year it’s shaping up to be for The Rubens. Only two months in and the band has already conquered Triple J’s Hottest 100 with the single Hoops, scored a spot on the Groovin the Moo lineup and announced their own headlining tour of Aus. With plans to write on the road and take their latest album (which recently went platinum) to the states in the coming months, it doesn’t look like things will slow down anytime soon.
Hailing from Menangle in New South Wales, the three Margin brothers and two long-time time friends formed The Rubens in 2011. In this short time, the quintet has released two albums and toured relentlessly to leave their mark on the Oz music scene. Whether you revel in their blues-soaked indie rock or want to wring their necks for swiping the Hottest 100, there’s no denying that the quintet has come far.
During a rare moment of downtime, we spoke with keyboardist Elliott Margin about the band’s humble beginnings, the controversy surrounding the outcome of Triple J’s Hottest 100 and their plans to take their homegrown bangers overseas.
Elliott Margin: I think just… oh, I don’t know. I think it was just sheer wonderment and terror at the same time. Like ‘Is this real?’, ‘Is this some crazy, stupid prank?’ ‘Am I going to wake up from some awesome dream?’. Like, none of us expected anything like that to happen so I don’t think we were thinking very rationally.
Aside from you guys, who do you think had the best reaction to your win?
EM: I think all of our parents were pretty damn shocked. Mum called us up afterwards in tears and freaking out. I think it’s nice for them because I think when they find out ‘Hey, mum and dad! We’re gonna’ start a band and we’re gonna do this as a job’ it’s like ‘Yeah, that’s great. Follow your passion’ but deep inside in the back of their mind they’re thinking ‘My boys are gonna be homeless, they’re gonna be starving, they’re gonna be living on the streets’, you know?
So I think for them it’s a nice thing to be like “Holy shit, our boys are doing alright, they’re getting out there”. It was also a good feeling for us to hear from them and to hear how chuffed they were and how excited they were for us.
You now share the title of Triple J’s Hottest 100 winner with the likes of The Cranberries, Powderfinger, Muse and more. What has been your favourite Hottest 100 moment over the years?
EM: Hmmm, that’s a hard one! I probably only started listening to Triple J five or six years ago when I first started driving a car and finally had control over the radio station and could listen to what I wanted. But I don’t know, it’s kind of like…it’s a really hard one.
I’m always really stoked when Australians get it because it feels like, you know, the underdog kind of thing. You know, like when Matt Corby got on it or Vance Joy got on it and you’re like ‘Good on you, guys!’. It’s really impressive, but I don’t think there’s one stand out for me.
A lot of people would agree with you and were thrilled when an Aussie band won this year, but others were less impressed. What did you think about some of the controversy that followed the Hottest 100?
EM: I wasn’t surprised because we were as shocked as anyone else. But there’s always going to be controversy because it’s a listeners’ poll and people take ownership of it. People have their favourites, so there was no surprise on our front. We were just, you know, kind of blocking it out because we were just so stoked for ourselves over something that we would never dream of happening to us. So it’s not like anyone’s opinion could ever ruin it for us, really.
Australia has spoken, but what’s your favourite song off Hoops?
EM: That’s hard. Hoops always… As soon as we started playing Hoops live before it was released as a single, it’s always just felt good as a band. Like it locks and it feels nice and fun. I think Cut Me Loose goes down really well live. I’ve got a bunch of favourites and it always changes from show to show
You’re playing Groovin the Moo for the first time later this year. What are you most excited for about that festival?
EM: I think the fact that we get to play multiple shows is awesome. You know, you do a lot of festivals like Splendour in the Grass and everything that are one offs and maybe you get to bump into one of your favourite bands or an artist that you really like and you have a conversation and that’s the end of that. But with Groovin you get to play a bunch of shows, so you get to hang out with different people quite a lot and get to know them.
And you know, you get to see everyone’s sets. You might miss one band’s set one night and the next night you get to see the other. It’s one of my favourite types of festivals. Like, we’ve done Laneway before and that was just the best time ever because we got to do the same thing. We got to see all of our favourite bands and meet different people and have the best time. So we’re really looking forward to it.
Is there anyone on the Groovin lineup that you’re especially looking forward to see or hang out with?
EM: People keep asking me this, but I still really need to go over the lineup and actually work it out. I’m really bad at that, I don’t really think about it until the day and see who shows up.
So maybe you’ll just show up on the day and see one of your best mates on the next stage and be like “Oh, hey! I didn’t know you were playing here. Sup?”
EM: (Laughs) Exactly! Aw, Mum! Dad! You’re playing here? What’s going on?
You mentioned that you like to watch other sets when you’re playing a festival. Do you ever ditch backstage to do that with the rest of the crowd?
EM: We do it all the time. We do it every time we play a festival, we get out there. Obviously, as a band you get the opportunity to see other bands, like, play live. So whenever we get the chance we always go out there and watch other bands’ sets and sometimes you learn from them. You see how other people do a different show and how they keep the energy up and stuff. We’d be stupid not to capitalise on that opportunity. You get to see a bunch of bands for free, which is awesome.
What’s the best and worst thing about performing on a big festival like Groovin?
EM: Um, the best thing is probably the chance to perform to a bigger crowd than we would otherwise. Plus the fact that you get to jump on to a festival like that and play a big stage and hopefully pull a big crowd is something we don’t get on our own headline shows. We don’t get to play to thousands of people, so it’s a nice opportunity for us.
Worst would probably be that they’re always rushed. You’re always freaking out backstage. “Does everything sound good?”, “Have we sound checked?”, “Is everything in position?”, “Have we gone through the set list?”, “Is everyone sweet on the songs?”. It’s not like a venue when you’re playing a headline show where you turn up and you do soundcheck and make sure everything’s alright. Check that the lights work and that the guitars are in tune, blah blah blah. Whereas festivals are kind of like it’s roll in, roll out. It’s kind of like a fly by the seat of your pants kind of thing. It’s fun and it’s awesome once you get it right, but if it goes wrong it’s scary.
The Rubens have played their fair share of music festivals. Are there any bands you’d really like to play alongside or see on your ideal lineup?
EM: That’s a hard one. We get asked that question a lot and it’s always developing, it’s always changing when we’re listening to new music. I think our staple is Outkast. I’d love to see Outkast live. I didn’t get to see them when they came out and did Splendour and everything, so I’d love to see them love. I’d also love to tick off seeing the Rolling Stones alive before they die. Apart from that, if we were doing our own festival, I’d love just to have our mates’ bands on there so it’d sort of feel like a party.
2016 is already shaping up to be a big one for you guys. Are there any plans to record or release any new tunes this year?
EM: I don’t think I could say we’re releasing anything, but we’ve already started writing more for whatever comes up next. Whether that’s an album or a single or whatever. We’re always writing when we have downtime so there’s always material there. It just depends on our schedule and everything really. We’re going over to America because the album hasn’t been released there yet, so we’ve got to do that. I’d love to get straight back into writing and recording and get something out as soon as possible but it just depends on the schedule really.
That’s exciting! Have you guys toured the US before?
EM: We have! We’ve done our own shows over there and we did a tour with a band called Grouplove over there a couple of years ago maybe. That was awesome and we had lots of fun. But we didn’t really get any radio play over there because we had an issue with the first single My Gun, because it was the same time as the Sandy Hook shooting. So that happened just as we were looking to release My Gun and all of a sudden there’s all this talk in Congress and Obama’s all against…you know, wants to bring in gun laws and things and people are up in a stink about it.
And then radio stations look at all that and then look at the title of the song My Gun and say ‘Nah, we’re not touching it. We’re not playing that song’. So we were just like ‘Ahh, shit!’, so we had to kind of bite the bullet on that one. So nothing really happened but it was fine for us. We were just like, ‘You know what, let’s just go home and write the next record’ and do that and hopefully we can take that overseas and do something with it.
When are you guys planning on going to the US?
EM: Ahh, March. Mid-March I think? The album comes out on the 4th there and we’ll get over there just after that and start playing some shows.
Do you have a tour lined up for there?
EM: I’m not sure. We had our conference call yesterday and I still don’t really know what’s going on. We’re just waiting for everything to be confirmed.That’s the thing, it’s all real busy and there are emails left and right, so I’m just trying to get my head around it myself. But that’s the idea, yeah, trying to get some kind of tour happening over there.
You guys took time off to write and record Hoops in Wollongong and Byron last time around. Do you think you’ll take time off to write and record this time?
EM: We hope we’ll be doing some more stuff on the road and we need to get into the habit of doing that just so we don’t have as much time off between records. I don’t think we need to go away and do a a whole writing session again this time. I think we’re in a good habit of writing whenever we can.
So, like, right at the moment we’ve got a couple of weeks off, so we’re going to be writing as much as we can just trying to get things done so we don’t have to take that time off. Then of course if you get an idea on the road, and you’ve got some sort of writing set up you can get that done, so that’s our plan.
So you mentioned that you and the boys have already started doing some writing. Do you think your sources of inspiration have changed since Hoops?
EM: Hmm, I don’t know. We’ve always got our solid basis of ‘rock n roll’ kind of thing like guitars and drums, so we’re listening to new music all the time. Especially, we’ve always been listening to hip hop because it just stretches and is the most inspirational musical genre no matter what you’re into just because they’re always doing weird shit and taking sounds to new levels. It’s nice to be able to listen to that and be like ‘Oh, we don’t have to stay too much within the boundaries that we set ourselves’ we can kind of adventure outside of it.
That always depends on what we’re listening to at the time, whether it’s, I don’t know, whatever hip hop artist. We’ve been listening to a bit of Anderson Paak and he’s a legend. I’m not saying that we’d want to sound like him, but it’s just like any type of new music you come across can be inspirational.
That’s interesting for a band who’s traditionally described as indie rock to say, but I think you can definitely hear that hip hop influence on Hoops.
EM: Yeah, definitely. I think that at first with the demo for Hoops, ‘cos that came right at the end of the album, we thought it was maybe too different to put on the album. So we were kind of freaking out, asking people ‘does this sound like us? We can’t tell. We like it, but does it work?’ and people were like ‘Yeah, it does’. So it’s nice to be able to do that and have people say ‘That still sounds like The Rubens’, so maybe we do have a little bit of artistic licence and we can spread our wings a little more.
The Rubens started in 2011 and the five year anniversary is coming up. What has been a memory or lesson you’ve learned that has stuck with you over the last few years?
EM: I think the biggest lesson would be just practice. When we started out and started playing shows, we were barely a band. We were pretty terrible, really (laughs). Just not very tight and so going on the road taught us to rehearse and practice and get tight as a band so you can develop more and play the best shows you’re capable of. I mean, that was our biggest lesson and something we had to learn really quickly. So we’re lucky that, well, I feel like we’re on top of things now, which is nice.
Groovin The Moo 2016 Lineup
Boy & Bear
Danny Brown (USA)
In Hearts Wake
MS MR (USA)
Twenty One Pilots (USA)
Vic Mensa (USA)
Groovin The Moo 2016