The Ruby Suns
[Memphis Industries, Lil' Chief]
Ethereal Sweetness and an Attitude to Match
“I don’t want to be unpopular! No way! Plane tickets cost money!”
The Ruby Suns and I got off on the wrong foot. In fact, our relationship almost turned sour. When I asked politely for a quick interview after their SXSW Vice show, the lead singer (and the primary mover and shaker behind the band), Ryan McPhun, smiled and said sure. It definitely felt like things were going to work out between us, right?!
It was all good until I found myself sitting around awkwardly on a stool in the middle of a cold, barren dance floor for a good half-hour while McPhun ate breakfast tacos and schmoozed with friends. It also didn’t help matters that said club — when not in use during the witching hours of SXSW — is an uber-creepy 18-and-up booty club seemingly created for the co-eds too young to get into an actual club and the sleazy older men who pay to leer at them. After going to the bathroom to powder my nose twice, I started to get pissed. Was McPhun one of those douchey indie-band gods who fears pathetically about “selling out” and thus perhaps got scared off by the “MTV” part of MTVIggy listed on my press pass?! I would, eventually, get that interview, but let’s back up here for a second.
It was Saturday — the day that beautiful, sunny SXSW turned dark and freezing. It was also a noon show, which by SXSW standards might as well be 6 a.m. There were probably 15 people there to see the band, but The Ruby Suns didn’t care. They were going to do it up right. Well, if doing it up right means decorating each instrument and stand with oceans of berry-shaped “fairy lights” — the kiwi term for Christmas lights — complete with metallic leaves until those entering the room are unsure whether they came to an indie-rock show or a performance of Mid-Summer Night’s Dream. In reference to the abundance of fairy lights, McPhun “basically just wanted a ton of sh*t on the stage.”
But while 8 million berry lights from BigLots is a lot to live up to, The Ruby Suns actually did a pretty good job on the music performance front.
In 2004, former Californian brat Ryan McPhun moved to Auckland, New Zealand and started playing in several bands. He formed Ryan McPhun & the Ruby Suns, which later became just the Ruby Suns. The Ruby Suns are an ethereal rock/electronic band with a cornucopia of sounds and influences including Polynesian folksong, Maori chorale, Andalusian flamenco, Nigerian highlife, and even a shimmery haze of Californian beach-pop that must have wafted across the ocean with McPhun.
The two biggest modern comparisons to the Suns would have to be Animal Collective and Vampire Weekend. But McPhun insists that his biggest mainstream influences would be the likes of one Michael Jackson and Phil Collins, both of whom he listened to incessantly as a kid. “Many of the songs on the new album were completely inspired by Michael Jackson’s Bad.”
After McPhun and supporting band members, Alistair Deverick and Graham Panther, started beating away at their various instruments, countless synthesizers, and unidentifiable electronics, the devastatingly hung-over and sleepwalking audience started to pathetically move from side to side, swaying like zombie sleepwalkers to the enchanting beats that came forth. And the beautiful and occasionally shoegazery tenor vocals and perfectly complimenting bass harmonies would only serve to make their waking dreams sweeter.
“It’s too early, isn’t it,” McPhun more declared than asked. “Every morning is spring break.” Umm…I still have no idea as to what that meant, but I imagine it had something to do with the fact that McPhun was as hung over and sleepy as the audience…which also perhaps also had something to do with that awkward half-hour ignoring period he subjected me too.
After finishing a quick but lovely set, the band dashed off the stage and made a beeline for the breakfast tacos. And here’s where we get back to me, sitting on the dunce stool waiting for McPhun to appear. Apparently there were important execs to chat up. But when I straight up asked him about the wait and whether he had “sell-out” issues, he apologized about six times and looked at me, completely confounded.
“I don’t want to be unpopular! No way! Plane tickets cost money and I don’t live in this country. I wanted to be unpopular when I was young but now it’s like ‘shit! I had to pay rent!’”
Oh, shush, you semi-big-name indie rock star, you!
– Molly Wardlaw