Born Ruffians are undeniably a band of merry, charming folk and their most recent endeavour, Birthmarks, is a record that really is a mark of their ever-evolving sound: nowadays a little less manic and a little more explorative. In Birthmarks, the band comes together and elaborates beyond the music of their budding years, when they were celebrated (and still are) for their cheeky hollering and boyish rollicking. These days, they seem to have a rather gingerly approach to their music resulting in excitingly unfamiliar confectionery. Birthmarks sounds nourished, which was the premise, says vocalist/guitarist Luke Lalonde, because these songs were cultivated over the span of roughly three years.
Luke explains that 2010’s Say It was created slightly out of haste, what with the band living apart since their first studio record, which meant having to utilize a booked rehearsal space, something they weren’t too keen on. “Where I felt like that failed, is that we had a finite amount of studio time, so we just had to commit [the songs] to tape and be finished,” he explains. “But, with this new record, I was really craving the opposite of that. I wanted time. I wanted to be able to do a lot of pre-production on these songs. I wanted to be able to hear them before we would take them to the studio and hear how I would want them to be produced.”
Which brought them to record demos together in what Lalonde insists was a potentially haunted farmhouse in rural Ontario.
“The reason that we thought it was haunted is because it was once lived in by this old playwright who died a long while back,” begins Lalonde. “He had a room that was in the attic of the house and when we went, the only rule we were given was to not go into that room and to not touch anything. We saw the room when we got there, and it was just filled with dust and books and just a random assortment of stuff and it gave you like this moody, haunted-room vibe and just knowing that we weren’t allowed to go in that room, and just being in the middle of nowhere in this rickety, old house and sometimes in the middle of the night you’d hear sounds or whatever.” He laughs, “It was just that one ominous room.”
But apart from the spectral vibes, the Ruffians had a grand ol’ time in each other’s company, documenting in what they titled the Farmhouse Video Blogs, the general spastic, hyperactive weirdness (for Pete’s sake) that’s inevitable when four delightfully impish chaps forsake the city life and settle in the middle of nowhere for awhile.
“I think if you’re playing in a band you need that kind of closed-off experience, it’s important that you get together and get familiar enough to the point where you can create and shape the sound of a band.”
And apart from eating dinner, drinking beers, they also chopped some wood and played some board games, meaning they were without a particular hurriedness in their approach to the making of Birthmarks.
“It was all about having that feeling where you could just wake up and go jam, maybe eat some dinner, have some beers and just go back and play whenever we felt like it. It was great; it was kind of perfect, actually.”
What feels wonderfully familiar within Birthmarks is that penetrating, rousing Ruffian vitality we have all come to know and love at the crux. But, the band ventures in sound and the record develops into something lovably newfangled.
“I mean, I hear that there are songs on this record that still have the ‘Born Ruffians’ thing, or what I feel is the ‘Born Ruffians’ thing is, at least,” he muses. “But, some of the sounds in these songs are also absolutely stuff we’ve never done before and it’s exciting, but it’s also nerve-wracking anticipating how our fans are going to react to it. I think there’s a little something for everybody on the record,” I can hear his smile through the phone, “…I think.”
Catch Born Ruffians at the Palomino (Calgary) on March 22, at Avenue Theatre (Edmonton) on March 23 and at Park Theatre (Winnipeg) on March 27.
By Nivedita IyerAB, Alberta