RÜFÜS DU SOL’s third album is called Solace and we’re listening to it for the first time on an island.
And not just any island. We’re at The Island, a floating bar just off Sydney harbour that guests can only access by a private water taxi. Australian basketball champion Liz Cambage is here, as is RÜFÜS DU SOL singer Tyrone Lindqvist’s mum.
There are cocktails by Chandon, free swag, and objectively speaking Sydney’s best view of an illuminated Opera House; the kind tourists would pay serious money for. If we were here a night earlier, we would’ve seen the colours and barrier numbers of horses from the “world’s richest turf race” controversially beamed across the Opera House sails.
The opportunity for a gag isn’t lost on SBS Viceland presenter Marty Smiley. Hosting a live Q&A with the band, he says he tried to get a projection of RÜFÜS DU SOL onto the Opera House sails.
The small crowd – mainly family, friends, super fans, and industry types – erupts in unironic applause. Later RÜFÜS will hit the decks for a quick set – just like the old days when they’d play after parties across Sydney under the moniker SÜFÜR – before jumping in a water taxi and then off to the hotel.
RÜFÜS DU SOL are home. But only briefly. This is a whistle-stop promotional visit for a band that have spent the past 18 months writing, recording, and trying to adapt to their new Los Angeles home.
Tyrone and Jon live in Playa Vista, a growing tech hub west of LA; while drummer James Hunt is in West Hollywood. “But even that’s a temporary set up,” he says. “Next year we’re going to be touring so much – I’m not sure what my living situation is going to be at that point.
RÜFÜS had previously lived together in an Airbnb in Venice, which is where the writing of Solace began. They were living a self-described Brady Bunch existence with their manager and girlfriends in a house with a pool and studio out the back.
“To go over there and set up this house with all our friends, it was easy to get lost in the source of the fun and to be working through the night to like 6am,” Tyrone says during the live Q&A. “We didn’t have a work hours ethic.”
Later, he describes Los Angeles as a washing machine that cycles through people’s hopes and dreams. “Most probably end up pretty washed up,” he says.
But unlike so many expat musicians before them, RÜFÜS’ move to LA was calculated and neatly timed. The band were looking to capitalise on a growing North American fanbase after two consecutive number one records in Australia –
“It was easy for us to go there,” says Tyrone of the shift to LA in 2017. “We were really excited – we were taking on a new part of the world. We’d had a lot of success over here. Everything had been going well. The snowball was picking up in the States.”
The studio became the band’s retreat from the temptations of Los Angeles – but you can’t make a record in Venice Beach without some LA weirdness seeping in. If you listen closely to the start of
Elsewhere, there’s the sound of prawn crackers being crunched through huge reverb units and the clacking of blocks from a Giant Jenga set; a gift to Tyrone for his birthday. “We went pretty deep on sound design,” jokes Jon.
The band had envisioned a gospel choir on opening track
RÜFÜS had also befriended a shaman – a warm, vibey friend of their agent – who decorated the studio with themed feature walls and LED lighting. The word “playground” has come up in several interviews, including this one, to describe the space.
“When you see him he brings the vibe to you,” says Jon. “He gives you those big hugs where he cracks your back. So he cracked the back of our studio, he broke it in.”
Tyrone: “All the songs were unfolding as he was making the room unfold. I feel like he was there for most of the writing process. He kept coming in and adding more. He was like, ‘I’ll be be back tomorrow night with my cousin to instal these LED strips.’ His cousin was in there. They were always grooving out while we were in the middle of an idea.”
“He was on his own creative expedition in parallel to us,” adds James. “As we were building this thing, he was building his thing.”
“It’s like he finished at the same time as we finished,” says Jon, laughing.
THE Succulent Garden at Sydney’s Royal Botanic Garden is a long way from the California desert.
We’re here for a photo shoot that is supposed to capture the “stark desert landscapes” of the Joshua Tree National Park. And while there are Joshua trees here, an afternoon downpour is not exactly the best backdrop for a desert-themed shoot.
But RÜFÜS seem unflustered. They have other things on their mind. In eight days time they’ll be deep in rehearsals in Nashville, re-learning the new material for an upcoming North American tour.
Jon flips up the hood of his jacket during a rain interrupted portrait session, while the rest of the band discuss dinner plans (they’re catching up with family tonight) among the agaves and giant, alien-like Furcraeas that poke out from rusted metal beds.
“I am trying to start my own little succulent garden in West Hollywood,” the band’s manager Danny Robson tells me.
“At the time we were interested in space themes, which is bleeding out into the sense of going out into the abyss, into the void a bit.”
During the writing process for Solace, RÜFÜS embarked on a three-day lyric writing expedition to the “real” Joshua Tree. They holed up in an Airbnb with an observatory dome. “It was like a space station,” James recalls.
Inspiration came quickly, and by the end of that first day one of the record’s central characters – the desert wanderer protagonist on ‘Lost In My Mind’ – had emerged.
“We were so excited,” says Jon. “We bounced back and forth on lyric ideas and came back with this whole desert wanderer story of this guy walking around this desert by himself – and enjoying being by himself by the end.”
“At the time we were interested in space themes,” James continues, “which is bleeding out into the sense of going out into the abyss, into the void a bit.”
The track opens with a chopped-up sample of a Native American women’s choir, which producer/collaborator Jason Evigan found on an old CD at home.
“It felt like this big mantra. It was really commanding,” says James. “It encapsulates that wild, desolate space.”
“When we were adding the samples, I think James had mentioned these hallucinogenic thoughts of a weird choir in the desert singing that part,” Jon continues. “It tied it into me in my head of this extra vision of this desert wanderer seeing these alien gospel singers in the desert.”
Were there actual hallucinogens involved?
“It’s beside the point,” says James.
Jon smirks. “I don’t know how to answer that one.”
IN the initial planning for this feature, the idea was to take RÜFÜS back to some of their old haunts.
But Sydney’s 2014 lockout laws have dramatically altered the city’s landscape and many of those venues – including Club 77, where they met future label boss, the late Ajax of Sweat It Out Records – have since closed.
“It’s terrible, isn’t it?” says Jon.
“That’s fucked,” adds James, “We heard the other day they were removing the lockout laws in all places but the Cross. It seems like a step forward but the damage has been done.”
Instead we’re at one of Sydney’s oldest recording studios, Studios 301 in Alexandria, which has special significance to the band – even though the original studio has since moved.
“It’s like a timestamp of an experience; a diary entry of our life when we finished Bloom.”
This may not be the physical place they recorded 2016’s Bloom, but a guided tour of the new facility sparks some important memories. Like their first gig at The Gaelic Club in 2011, where they ambitiously fired off a homemade, gas powered confetti cannon. “We had one shot,” says Tyrone. “One moment of glory.”
Then there was the time they sent someone from their label into the hallway to listen to the nine-minute psych-dance opus ‘Innerbloom’ on headphones for the first time.
“It’s really easy to forget that it’s been so long since we’ve put out our first piece of music to now,” reflects Tyrone. “And when you start thinking about where we’ve been and what we’ve done – the shows we’ve played and the music we’ve put out – it’s really surreal.
“Walking through the studios here, and even they’re not the same ones, just seeing the logo is so trippy because it’s like a timestamp of an experience; a diary entry of our life when we finished Bloom.
“I’m sure that every time we go to LA we’ll have the same thing with Solace, 10 or 20 years down the track.”