Their rise to fame has been meteoric and not without incident! Sam Margin – lead singer with The Rubens – shares the story of the band’s discovery, recording their first album in New York, and now their first ever national tour, with a stopover planned at the Hoey Moey on October 10 …
Introduce us to the band …
There’s me, the lead singer, Zaac on guitar, Elliott on keys and backing vocals and Scott [Baldwin] on drums.
Where did the name ‘The Rubens’ come from?
The Rubens came from our younger brother. We’re three brothers – me, Elliott and Zaac, and the brother below us is named ‘Jethro’ [Jet]. He plays drums – so we really could have had the whole band as brothers, but he’s too young; he’s 17 right now. He was 16 when we started the band. His nickname at the time was Ruben – it was really just a progression of stupid nicknames, and we thought we’d get at him by naming the band after him! We never realised the band would do well and the name would stick!
It’s been a very speedy ride to the top for you guys, but take me back to the beginning … how did you attract the attention of David Kahne – the Grammy Award winning producer from New York?
A friend of ours, Dean Tuza, was over in the South of France doing a music workshop with David Kahne and Michael Brauer on mixing. David asked Dean what he was currently working on, and Dean played him My Gun, which was the demo I’d recorded in my bedroom. David really liked it and asked Dean for more tracks, so it just started from there.
So, David liking your music really kick-started things for you, and you basically got to travel to New York and start working on your first album …
Yeah. After we found out that David wanted to work with us, Triple J Unearthed noticed us … they started playing Lay it Down on the radio, and that obviously changed things for us. We wanted to go work for David in New York, but we weren’t sure how we were going to do it – we needed to find the money.
At that point we never had any record label interest, and we were struggling to even get a booking agent. So when Triple J started playing our stuff, we had the interest we needed and a fan base, and the record labels started to show interest. We then had the security of knowing we could go to America and have a record deal at the end of it.
New York must have been a bit of a culture shock. I read you actually rode skateboards to work every day!
Yeah. At one point we were on about $15 per day for food each, because we were really trying to budget hard. And then, I think we cut it down to about $10 a day each, so we could buy skateboards. Zaac actually fell off his skateboard one evening and ruptured his spleen …
Ouch! That must have had a big impact on your time on New York, and your recording schedule …
I think he was only out of the studio for three days. It didn’t affect his recording so much – we made sure someone was always at the studio, and someone was always at the hospital with Zaac, but obviously no guitar was done for those 3 days. He recovered pretty quickly.
That’s a relief … How long were you actually in New York for altogether?
I was there for three months – the full Visa, and the boys were there for two months.
Moving on to your music, My Gun is probably the single that most people know. Where did the inspiration come from for this track?
Not really sure where the lyrics came from … that particular song happened quite quickly lyrically and made sense in my mind, but I don’t really remember thinking about anything in particular while I was writing it.
Sonically, its inspiration came from a Hip Hop beat – and that beat is actually a loop. The original beat actually came off Garage Band, which is software you use to record, and it’s just a beat that came with the program. I chose the beat, slowed it down to about half of what it was meant to be played at, and it sounded quite Hip Hop and kind of crackly and cool.
I think the inspiration came from that beat. Elliott was at school at the time, I played the beat and Zaac said, “We have to do something to this song, as it’s really cool”. I wrote the keys part, and it went from there. It has an Amy Winehouse kind of style.
Creatively, are certain band members responsible for the lyrics, while some are more focused on the melodies?
The lyrics are pretty much me – it’s a role I’ve had from the start … everyone else has a part – whether it’s melodies, or progressions, lines or hooks – it’s whoever comes up with it. It’s a pretty even spread of who brings stuff to the table. Each song on the record is really evenly written.
Speaking of the record, it must be so exciting for you all to have produced your first album – which is self-titled. Tell us, what tracks are standouts for you personally?
The track I’m most proud of is track three, which is Never be the Same. That’s my personal favourite. We all have different favourites, and I think they change over time. I like that one, because it was really easy to write. It was written right at the end of the recording process … we’d already recorded all of the songs on the record, and we were doing the finishing touches on them, and then I wrote this song with probably only about a week to go in America.
It’s one of those songs that came together very quickly, and as soon as the boys heard the piano part I’d written, they all had the same kind of vision about where the song would go.
Some songs can be quite hard … If you write a great verse and can’t come up with a chorus, you can end up really resenting that song. So songs like Lay it Down and Never be the Same – there’s just a really positive vibe when it comes to those tracks.
Thanks Sam. Best of luck with the rest of the tour.
Interview by Jo Atkins.
This story was published in issue 25 of the Coffs Coast Focus