On the night of their first album release, ‘The Rubys’ are raring to go and cement this landmark achievement in their short history to a buoyant crowd that’s followed them avidly for the past two years. Predominately being a five piece indie rock band from Manchester, they’ve recently acquired a sixth member, Phil Winstanley on keyboard to give an extra dimension to their set. With the support acts warming the audience up in The Ruby Lounge, I caught up with the initial band members backstage, Dave Earlam, Lee Turner, Mike Hamilton, Tat Sing Kong and Barry Kirkwood to ask them questions about their forthcoming album. What I found was a bunch of guys who are refreshingly insightful, full of interesting theories and a grounded wisdom that bypasses many of their younger peers. Individually they’ve been there and done it at this level and are now in a place where the focus is solely on the music, and it’s those ideals that make ‘The Ruby’s’ experience such an enjoyable one, and one that made for an exciting interview.
NIGE: New album, ‘Limelight Parasite’ officially released tonight, how proud are you with the outcome?
DAVE: Very proud. It’s surpassed all of our expectations I think. A huge thanks has to go to Martin Coogan and Dean Glover who were instrumental by stripping everything down that we had and putting it back together. I wouldn’t say they created a new sound, but it was certainly more polished.
MIKE: It was a real learning experience for us to work with someone who’s got a history of professional music. The standards he’s got meant it had to be absolutely perfect. When we finished the drums and bass after three days I was watching bands on TV and it just looked different. I could see the amount of work that these bands have put in to be where they are.
NIGE: The album is ten tracks long. Was it easy to pick those ten songs or was there a lot of debating whether or not to add or cut certain ones?
DAVE: We wanted to choose the best ten songs, but a couple of songs arrived late like ‘Good Times’ and ‘Not Like You’, so hopefully we got a good collection of songs that we were playing eighteen months ago to some written only a couple of months ago.
TAT: I think the ten tracks are the best ten but there were a few that didn’t make the cut. There was ‘Shake You Free’ which I really like, but with the level of excellence needed to record the songs professionally I don’t think we could’ve made it with that song because it’s a really difficult one to play.
BARRY: Yeah that one works as being a bit rough and ready, but the ones we picked are better for an album.
LEE: They all complement each other and it runs nicely the way they’ve been put together.
DAVE: There’s a real dynamic in how it starts off light and moves a bit darker towards the end with ‘The Fear’.
NIGE: Fundamentally, what are the songs about? What do you tend to write about?
LEE: I usually start off with the melody but I can’t really pinpoint it, whatever comes to mind really. I wrote ‘Good Times’ in about fifteen minutes on the way back from work on the tram. It’s about how things were better for me growing up than they are at the moment. (Everyone laughs).
DAVE: It’s good to have this because I don’t think I’ve ever talked about it. I think of it as a love album but as far away from the traditional sense, like, broken love, tortured love, absurd love, contrived love. It’s all in there.
LEE: ‘The Fear’ is about domestic violence and it’s something that’s not talked about a lot. ‘Refuge’ got onboard with that and we made a few bob for them because we gave them all the proceeds (when the single was released). There’s no particular subject that I start off writing about, it’s just the way it flows.
DAVE: We’re the anti Barry White!
NIGE: Where did the idea for the album artwork come from?
DAVE: Agreeing the artwork was like choosing the paint colour for your bedroom. I don’t know if you’ve ever tried to have that conversation with your girlfriend or wife, but it’s like having that discussion with six wives, it’s really tough.
MIKE: Phil had the idea and everyone just said, “That’s a good idea” and when we did we thought right let’s do it because if we waited any longer we would never have decided. A bit like a band name.
DAVE: There’s a real attempt to reflect the music from the title in the collection of songs and a very conscious move away from putting just us on the front cover.
NIGE: Dave, you’ve mentioned before that you can still hear the blood, sweat and tears in the album. How much hard work was it? Was there ever a point where you thought it wasn’t working in the studio?
DAVE: I think the only time we argued was over the Bacon Butties and the discovery of Barry’s breakfast dessert, which was a Chocolate Eclair. The arguing in the studio was never with each other, only with ourselves. More the frustration of not getting where we needed to be as quickly as we wanted to. Martin was very good at pushing us and everyone wanted to deliver, so the frustration we felt at being pushed and unable to deliver did come through.
MIKE: Martin’s a man who really knows what he wants and with this being the first studio album we’d done together we had a lot of faith in him. He was massively enthusiastic when it went right but told us straight when it wasn’t what he liked.
LEE: Dean was instrumental in that as well. He did a lot of the engineering. He’s only a young lad but got a great ear on him. He could hear things that we couldn’t hear in the songs and he brought something extra.
DAVE: I think when you go through the process there’s a trust. You trust everybody to do their job and it was a humbling experience to sit there in the booth and listen to us all step up to the plate one by one and have to deliver. The first week was fine, we all loved it. Three weeks later we just wanted to get out of there and that’s no reflection on Martin, it’s just the recording process. It’s tough, it’s pain, don’t let anyone tell you that it’s a walk in the park.
LEE: You can see why there’s so many arguments within bands when they’re recording.
MIKE: You can see how second album syndrome comes along, knowing that they’ve got to go through all that process again.
LEE: We never argue amongst us, maybe over a chord change or something like that but it’s never an argument. Amongst ourselves we’re all great friends.
NIGE: You’re all slightly older than the stereotypical new band with their first album, and you must’ve all been in previous bands, but how does the experience and connection as ‘The Rubys’ rank?
MIKE: Whenever I was in a band as a kid we all argued and bitched about each other but that doesn’t happen here, we all have an absolute scream.
BARRY: Well Dave and I were in a band together in our youth. We probably did more drinking than playing back then, whereas now we’re more mature and it’s all about the music and that’s probably where we’re more detached from our younger peers.
LEE: I think there’s a lot of ageism in music. If you hear someone on the radio you don’t know how old they are, but it’s what you like to listen to. Because we are a little bit older we’ve probably got a bit more depth in our musical knowledge and that’s helped us along the way. We all like different styles of music and that’s also helped develop the sound we have now. It was only the other day we discussed the idea of slapping a cover song in at a live show for an encore, but we wouldn’t be able to agree on that because there’s so much diversity in the songs we like.
BARRY: I think the difference is drinking!
IAN: We’re hard to take advantage of as we can do a lot of things ourselves like organise tonight. But I can see how a teenager in this business can be taken to pieces.
DAVE: The thing I found is that the older I get, the less I know. When I was eighteen I knew everything. I know bands who have been crushed under the wheels of industry because they think they know everything, but they don’t.
MIKE: It’s nice to look twenty one and have that energy and perspective on the world, but what fascinates me is what someone who is seventeen makes of alternative music. Every era has had its own identity and they’re all pretty radical, strong scenes you can identify with, but that’s not the case anymore. Everything seems to happen behind closed doors because of the internet.
NIGE: My personal favourites are ‘The Fear’ and ‘Echo’, but what are the songs that seem to be the biggest crowd pleasers?
TAT: ‘Sun’ is definitely a crowd pleaser because it’s got big chords in the chorus.
IAN: If we hit ‘After All’ in the right mood then that goes down well.
LEE: The people who’ve been listening to us for a while have their own favourites, but ‘Good Times’ is my wife’s new favourite song. My personal favourites are ‘After All’ and ‘Ten Seconds’, but I do love ‘Sun’. That really gets people going but we’ve slowed it down for the album.
NIGE: If there was one song you could pick to surmise ‘The Rubys’ to a new listener, what would it be?
LEE: ‘Good Times’ is probably a reflection of where the band is now. In the States they like, ‘M.L.E.’ and ‘Last Night’, but I’d imagine in Manchester they’ll like ‘Good Times’ and ‘Sun’.
NIGE: Are you planning a tour on the back of the album?
DAVE: We’ve got a few festivals lined up but they’ve not been confirmed yet for some reason, it might be because of the Olympics. We’re trying to get some dates around that. Me and Barry are keen on playing in Camden and north of the border so watch this space really.
NIGE: I believe you’ve got plans for an American tour too?
DAVE: This is going to be the craziest thing. We’re going to somehow fund a trip to America in early October. We’ve got the dates all lined up and trying to get them clustered in one state so we’re not killing ourselves on eternal travel, but it’s proving difficult. I think the thing for us is that it’s all brand new, we’ve never played in The States so it’s a pretty good reason to do it if people want to listen, we’d be more than happy to turn up.
NIGE: How important is social media for bands like yourselves who have formed in the last 2 years and about to release their first album?
MIKE: It’s massively important, there’s no getting around it now.
BARRY: I think it gives you the opportunity to hit different audiences like America. People can hear our music all around the world now. Twenty years ago when Dave and I played together you’d be unheard of. Even organising gigs in Manchester was hard enough.
MIKE: I think everything can be more specialist now. There’s loads of people our age who listen to music so they don’t have to worry about what’s being played on the radio, they can find us on the internet. People can be more selective in what they listen to so there’s loads of niche markets. It’s changed so much.
LEE: There’s no specific movement in music anymore which I think opens areas and makes people open to different genres of music and a broader spectrum.
DAVE: I characterise it as the difference between love and lust. When you love something you already know about it. The lust if you like is people searching for sound to fill the silence and they’ll find you on the internet. There’s millions of people out there searching for the right sound. It’s not just us searching for the right song. I think that’s what’s exciting for us this time around as it wasn’t available several years ago. We don’t deserve this kind of luck, but we’re going to take it anyway.
MIKE: I think it’s a new world and it’s there to be taken advantage of. People can say their victims of piracy but it swings both ways, it means more people listen to it.
DAVE: It’s gone full circle because twenty years ago a musicians income came from selling CD’s. Now you’ve got to be a great live act and that’s absolutely where it should be, but I think the other part to it is that you can’t put a song on the internet without it being pushed around, but I think it’s great, bring it on, because it means you’ve got to be a good live act, and that’s how bands should cut their teeth.
MIKE: It’s easy to find a band’s whole back catalogue nowadays, whereas when I was young it’d take me months to be able to afford buying one CD. But that impacts on influence and will hopefully create some decent musicians as teenagers can listen to huge amounts of music now from different eras.
NIGE: Where do you hope to take ‘The Rubys’ over the coming years?
LEE: I think we can only get better because we play together week in week out and know what each other can do and that’s creating better songs.
DAVE: In one word, ‘relevance’. If you’re relevant, people will want to listen and come and see you. What we’ve shown on the album is a real progression from stuff we were playing eighteen months ago to stuff we wrote just a few weeks ago, and that’s all there on the album. I think for me, if we’re giving ourselves a health check then I’d be saying it’s pretty good right now, but the better stuff is in front of us and I think that’s what the album has taught us.
Read the album launch/review here.