On January 9, we experienced a glimpse of Laneway Festival 2013. The Rubens, slated to play the Australian legs of the tour, gave us a resounding performance. I think it would be safe to say we have our hopes held high. This band of brothers, and a childhood friend, is one of the brightest acts in the coming years and after winning the Triple J “Unearthed” Artist of the Year award, we have certainly seen a piece of the future. Playing an intimate set at Home Club, we managed to catch the Aussie boys just an hour after flying into Singapore. Sam Margin, lead vocalist and one of the brothers in the band had all this to say:
Popspoken: Why the name Rubens?
Sam: Basically In The Rubens, there’s 3 brothers and there’s this childhood friend of ours who plays the drums. We left out one of our brothers, who was too young to be in the band at that time. His name was Jethro and his nickname at that time we started the band a year and a half ago was Ruben. So, we decided to name the band after him just to piss him off really.
Did all of you want to play in a band and as a band when you were young?
I guess so, I think we wanted to play music. All of us played music in different ways but I didn’t think we ever really thought we were all going to be in a band as a profession. It’s a big difference when you play music as a hobby and to actually do it for a living. I didn’t think we ever thought of doing so because it’s the hardest thing to get into and you have sort of a one-in-a-million chance to make it. To think that we were going to do this for a living seems the entire bit crazy. I mean, every kid wants to be a rock star but I don’t think we actually thought we were gonna have that chance to do it.
How was it like growing up together, with your childhood friend and as brothers?
We were good buddies growing up as brothers but we never wanted to be in a band together. We never ever tried to play any instruments together until we decided to make the band, The Rubens. The friend of ours, Scott, who plays the drums, was a friend of mine since high school. When we realized we needed a drummer to start this band and play the songs live, we just gave Scotty a call and he was keen. So the bond we have within the band is really really strong. We didn’t have to get to know anyone and it was all really easy to get going because it all happened so quickly that it was essential to have that friendship already.
How would you describe The Rubens’ sound?
Soul-Blues-Rock. I guess our influences would be bands like the Rolling Stones and Led Zeppelin. Also, Tracy Chapman and other old soul artists like Bill Withers and Al Green, so it’s all of those sounds mixed into one.
What do you think sets you apart from other bands?
Oh, I don’t even know if we are apart from other bands haha. It’s hard to tell you know, especially when you’re in a band. But if we are set apart, I guess it would be our sound. A lot of bands are doing that indie, pop-kinda thing, with that electro kind of beat and upbeat, uptempo sound. Its almost like a flashback to the 80s. They’re all going in that direction but we’re moving to the whole old-school soul-rock and rhythm-and-blues. There’s not too many bands that are in the mainstream industry doing that kind of music; there’s only The Black Keys and there’s this other band The Shake, that’s quite big and doing it. So we’re pretty lucky you would say that we don’t face a lot of competition.
What are some of the artistes that you grew up listening to?
Since most of us were in the same family, I think we all listened to whatever our parents listened to. Like I said, Tracy Chapman and Jim Morrisson, The Rolling Stones and a lot of Fleetwood Mac. It was pretty much dictated by what our parents would be listening to at that time, so we grew up listening to a lot of those old-school stuff.
You just arrived in Singapore not too long ago. Do you have any first impressions?
It’s great, pretty hot and humid. I’m outside now on the rooftop bar and I’m just looking out at all the buildings and it’s really nice. We cabbed straight from the airport so I haven’t really seen and experienced everything but from what it seems, it’s pretty nice, calm and peaceful and tropical too!
What about the people or the food? Any expectations?
I guess my expectations for Singapore would be similar to what we had in Hong Kong. As a band we’ve only toured Hong Kong and Taiwan as Asian countries so I would say to expect the same expectations which would be really, really friendly people. I mean, we’ve never been sought after so well. Honestly, in Australia we get nothing, then we come over to Asia and we’re being treated like kings. So if Singapore is gonna be anything like what we’ve already experienced in Asia, I think it’d be more than enough.
Off the top of your head, what is one thing you’d want to do while you guys are here in Singapore?
It’s what we’re going to do tomorrow night after our gig. I really want to head to the top of that hotel with the garden on the rooftop, Marina Bay Sands. I don’t know actually much other stuff to do here and I am sure there’s a lot of them out there but we’ve only have a short amount of time here in Singapore before we leave for Malaysia after. It would be an amazing night hopefully, we’re just going to the bar and maybe see the nightlife here, not party or anything. I think when you get to a city, you can judge a lot by what is happening late at night. I have the most fun just going out and seeing cities at night time, whether it’s New York or Hong Kong, it’s always refreshing for me.
You’ve worked with producer David Kahn for your album, who has worked with other artistes like Regina Spektor and The Strokes, how was it working with him?
It was amazing. We weren’t sure what it was gonna be like working with him on it because, at that point when we recorded the album, we’ve only been a band for six months. So it was a really, really short time and we had no idea what to expect. It was really scary, the idea of working with a producer because the producer’s the one who’s sort of putting influence into your songs and your music and the things that you create, so we had to work the balance between keeping our style and getting what we wanted to get done and also taking on board all the positive influence that he had. This guy’s worked with Paul McCartney, Regina Spektor and The Strokes so we had to trust him. I think we got a bit of a result. There was a bit of back and forth and sometimes we didn’t agree but at the end result, David Kahn was really happy, and we were all very happy so I think we got there in the end, but it was hard. It was interesting, fun but more importantly we learned a lot.
If one of your songs were to be featured on a TV series, what is the series that you want it to be featured on?
If one of our songs had to be featured, it would be Breaking Bad.
Could you describe what exact scenario you’d want it to be like?
If I could ever dream one, it would definitely be a Quentin Tarantino movie. Anything to do with a Tarantino movie, any scene, even if it’d just be one second.
What is one goal or dream you guys have as a band, through your music?
A long career, that’s it. To continue doing what we’ve been doing the last year. We’ve had some fun and success in Australia and you come over to Asia, then into Europe and America. Forget the money, if we get to continue touring, it’s so much fun playing shows and making music. Our goal is to do it for as long as we can possibly do it for, as long as we can enjoy it for.
How would you want your band to be remembered for?
I would want our band to be remembered as the band that had great songs and never think about how lucky they were to be a successful band.
Describe your music in a phrase or sentence?
Old-school soul rock with Big Beats, reverby guitars and soulful vocals.
Listen to Sam’s recommendation for those who haven’t heard of The Rubens before — Lay It Down.
Be on the lookout for The Rubens in the coming years!
Thanks to Untitled Asia for bringing The Rubens here and for the interview!