While the pandemic threw the world into chaos, for Australian dance trio RÜFÜS DU SOL, it gave them a chance to breathe. Now based in the US, the band has built a huge fanbase both overseas and in Australia thanks to their lush soundscapes and their relentless touring, the latter of which screeched to a halt in early 2020.
Recalling the shutdown, drummer James Hunt says it gave the band time to create their fourth album, Surrender, which is out now. There's a calmness in his voice, as well as a quiet confidence in the music that they've created over the last 18 months. "We’re grateful. We get to do what we love again and being able to focus on writing the album was definitely a gift that we’ve never had before. We had infinite time to work on the music without having to go back on the road again. We're definitely grateful in a lot of ways for the pandemic.
"It was a time for us to find some more balance in how we write music and have a bit more of a routine. We were able to have a work schedule and work until a certain time and then go home, which gave us a sense of normalcy. It was almost the most normal life we’ve experienced in ten years, in a weird way. So there were a lot of positives during the last year and a half."
Surrender draws heavily from elements like geology and architecture - quite left-field references for music. However, this is a running theme for the band, with their third album, Solace, drawing from space, and Bloom drawing from animals and underwater creatures. Speaking about creating the soundscapes for the record, James says, "we were trying to make sounds that were like splintering and being ripped apart, sounding like a rock getting crushed under pressure." As the album began to take shape, more references emerged, including artist M.C Esher's work. These references worked themselves into both the music and the visuals for the album.
The album is full of the sprawling, lush soundscapes that RÜFÜS DU SOL have become known for, but it feels like we're hearing the band at their most ambitious. There's a sense that the time spent working on the album during the pandemic has given them a clearer sense of direction. The shortest track on the album (notwithstanding the reprise of Alive) is still over four minutes, but no song ever overstays its welcome - quite the opposite. There's a quiet sense of triumph within each track, and it'll wash over you while you listen to Surrender unfold.
Album closer Always is euphoric, and as the track builds, it's clear just how proud the band is of Surrender. As singer Tyrone Lindqvist sings "Faith, trust that I will stay/I'll always be there/Faith, know that I have changed/I'm never leaving", it feels like a mantra for the band, one that allowed them to be strong in an unprecedented time for musicians. The light is shining brighter than ever at the end of the tunnel.
James is animated when talking about the role of artificial intelligence in music, which came into play during the music video for Next To Me. LA-based video studio Osk directed the video, generating A.I-generated topographies for the visuals - linking back to the earthy undercurrent of the record. Asked about whether artificial intelligence could be used in the creation of music, he says, "I like the idea of having controlled chaos when writing. I enjoy the thought of putting a parameter that has a random value on a synth so it’s slightly different each time. It definitely has a human feel to it and allows it to be slightly different each time.
"I don’t think an A.I system or a machine could write the best song ever. There still would have to be some human interpretation or some human judgement that decides what is tasteful. However, there must be some degree to which software can have an increased role and that process. It’s just so open-ended and cool, the idea of seeing what could come about." The interactions between humans and machines in music will no doubt be a hot topic going forward, but James sees the rise of A.I as "a collaboration with the machine", rather than "the human using the machine".
The band's definitely become accustomed to touring in the US, which is a different experience when compared to playing shows in Australia. You’ll often see fans driving buses from show to show, something that is prevented by the vast distance between Australian states. Asked about any memorable fan encounters while in the US, James recalls a particularly invested fan that went on to become a familiar face. "In 2019 there was a guy who came to a lot of shows. I feel like he must have come to like 30 or 40 shows. Every time he’d come to a show he would make sure he was in the front row, centre and he would throw roses on the stage. He would say hi to us when we came out for soundcheck, he was always friendly and a really nice dude. It was a good vibe, just seeing him like ‘oh, hey!’, you know? ‘There you are again’."
A move overseas has seen the band turn into a global electronic juggernaut, which led them to establish their label, Rose Avenue Records. Home to forward-thinking electronic acts like Cassian and Australian duo Lastlings, the band's move to the US in 2017 drove them to use their success to highlight the music that they enjoyed. The band wanted to find a way to share the music of "other electronic acts, electronic bands and DJs, producers who otherwise wouldn’t have gotten the light of day shone on their work". The band's ethos is to pay it forward, and establishing Rose Avenue Records means they're lifting up those around them.
Life's slowly returning to normal for RÜFÜS DU SOL, with a string of festival dates in the near future for the band. James is excited to see Jamie XX perform again - " I haven’t seen him play for like five years and I’m a huge fan of his music" - as well as Turnstile, with their 2021 album Glow On receiving acclaim from all corners of the musical landscape. However, there's one thing on James's mind when chatting about a return to Australia, and it's a reminder of the time and experiences lost during the pandemic. He explains, "I just want to go home. My family got a new dog the other week, so I’ve only met the dog on facetime. I wanna go and meet the dog in person and just go and hang with my family and all my friends in Sydney. It’s been very surreal being away for that long."
The prospect of hometown shows is a source of joy for the band, especially with new music in tow. While they've experienced a lot of bucket list moments since their inception, both here and overseas, their connection with Australia has never wavered. James puts it succinctly, saying, "There’s nothing like playing shows back home. It’s been really tough because we haven’t been able to go home because of the pandemic. That's where we started. There’s a different feeling playing shows to people in Sydney, our hometown. There’s a different vibe and we definitely miss that a lot." We're hoping that there's a joyful homecoming for RÜFÜS DU SOL in the near future.