The Ruby Suns

The Ruby Suns

By Courtney Sanders

Friday 10th May, 2013 8:38AM

The Ruby Suns released their fourth studio album, Christopher, earlier this year. It's a shimmery record that presents emotional depths through unabashed dance pop. UTR caught up with Ryan McPhun to discuss the record, his love of pop music and whether or not his geographical location affects his sonic output.


You recently released your new studio album, Christopher. Tell me about writing and recording that one.

As is usually the case, the making of the record took ages. I did it in the same way I've always made records, mostly by myself. The first couple songs I worked on were started in Norway at the very end of 2010. We'd been touring almost the whole year and it ended in Norway for the winter there.

Was there anything that you wanted to achieve thematically or sonically? Any overarching direction you wanted to take?

In 2011 I kept working and by the end of that year the record was almost done. In april 2012 I went to New York to mix the record with Chris Coady. He'd done a lot of great things with bands I admire so it was really exciting to work with him there.

How would you compare it to your back catalogue: how does it differ, how does it maintain an ongoing Ruby Suns sound?

Mostly what I wanted to do was make a pop record. I'd been flirting with the idea for so long that finally i just thought 'fuck it'.

Now that it's a finished product and you can reflect on it as a whole: what are your favourite parts / songs? Would you change anything about?

This record is much more straight forward than anything else i'd done prior. i tried to make blueprints for song structures beforehand rather than just letting what came out be the final thing. i wanted to learn how to make a cohesive pop song. i'm not sure if it maintains a 'ruby suns' sound or not. my musical direction is permanently in flux so i try not to worry about things like that.

I definitely have favourite songs. 'Kingfisher call Me' I still like. And the last track 'Heart Attack' is cool. That was the last one I worked on. Of course I might do things differently if I had a do-over but it's pointless to dwell on that. It's always better to keep to moving forward.

Thematically there seems to be a love for pop music, but sort of unashamed love for sugary positivity and escapism in all its forms - is this a fair statement? Tell me about the thematic directionů

Yeah you're pretty much right. I love lots of pop artists and grew up on 80s and 90s pop music so it's real important to me. Those big budgets allow for some of the most complex productions I've ever heard. It enables you to listen to songs over and over cause you keep finding new elements to it each time. I love that about big productions.

With that in mind I expected the clips to be all shiny and bright but the video for 'Kingfisher Call Me' is actually pretty dark. Tell me about that juxtaposition.

Only some of the songs are bright and cheery and 'Kingfisher Call Me' isn't one of them. For the video I worked with these awesome dudes Frode & Marcus and we created this lonesome/clueless/frustrated mountain man character living in his isolated world. We shot it in the woods in Southeastern Sweden and it was around 0 or below the whole time. That added to the mood.

Another visual question, this time about the cover. Where did the idea to use your face with - am I correct? - smudged make-up on it come from? Who designed the artwork for you?

The cover shot is a still from the 'In Real Life' video shoot. It's a comment on/joke about the image based obsession musicians and music fans fall into. It's annoying that image and style gets in the way of music so often. I designed the artwork for the album thinking about that. The inside image was created by my friend Mike Lemmon using a program he created called 'el ale'.

Now that the album is released and you've done a bunch of touring for it what are you working on for the rest of 2013?

Right now I'm working on a whole bunch of remixes and fiddling around with new ideas. I'm moving to Norway in a week and I'll set up a studio when I get there and get started on the next record.

Are you based on Norway now? What was the attraction to that place? Is there a strong music community over there? Tell me a little bit about being based there.

I really like Norway - it's a beautiful country. The winters are quite cold but there's a mountain you can ski/snowbaord on that's accessible by the underground in Oslo. Quite a novelty for me. I love snowboarding so it works out quite nicely.

I haven't met too many people in music in Norway because I've not been there long enough for any one time. I'm moving there semi-permanently now so I'll try to wriggle my way into the scene when i get there.

For the past several years you've split your time between the States and New Zealand yeah? How do you think each place influences the music you make?

I've only been to the States to tour since i left in 2002 so I haven't really done much writing/recording over there. But it's hard to say whether a place really affects the writing process or not. Sometimes I write lyrics about something specific from a place, but as far as the music music goes I think it's on it's own really. I might be in Auckland but mostly influenced by Norwegian disco producers, or be in Norway and be influenced by Argentinian Cumbia. The next combo will probably be living in Zimbabwe and listening to German cyber trance.

related gigs
MUM Presents: The Ruby Suns + Suren Unka
Fri 10th May, Cassette Nine, Auckland

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