Recipe #2: Born Ruffians [Mixtape & Interview]

The Midland, Ontario-based Born Ruffians are part of the backbone of the indie-rock scene. With a certain effortless energy that embodies the spirit of their music, the group has successfully been producing work in the sweet spot between the wisdom of maturity and the rebellious spirit of youth for quite some time. Their latest album, RUFF, is no expection. Released just this month via Paper Bag Records (Canada) or Yep Roc Records (for the rest of the world), RUFF is a seamless integration into the band’s current catalog and a clear sign of growth for the group.

You may remember the last time Born Ruffians came to Signal Kitchen—they left us with the full recording of their live set after a great show and pre-release of their 2013 album Birthmarks. This time around, for the 2nd edition of our Recipes series, the guys were great enough to give us a mixtape from their patented pre-show playlist, which they naturally call Hott Jamz. After rocking out to the chunes, we got with the group’s frontman, Luke Lalonde, to ask a few questions about the band and his creative influences.

What motivates you to create music? All kinds of things. Sometimes nothing at all. I find the best songs come out of nowhere when you are trying to do something else. All of a sudden a thing pops into your head and you grab a guitar and boom goes the dynamite, you have a song. Little thoughts that expand out into something in front of you and force you to turn them into something audible.

Do you find yourselves being influenced more from your contemporaries or from artists of other eras? It’s a mix of both. To go back a little bit to question one, sometimes a contemporary will motivate me to do better or to challenge myself. Sometimes I’ll hear something really famous like Rihanna or Drake and think “boy that would be neat to make people understand our music like they understand this.” Or I’ll hear something really artful and beyond my grasp and think “boy I have a lot to learn, I want to challenge myself and others more.”

I think when referencing sound as it’s recorded and produced in the studio we are more constantly referring to artists of other eras. There’s something foundational about taste. You can’t get away from those initial, older influences.

How much do you find that your environment affects the way you write & perform as opposed to your personal moods or any internal struggles? Environment affects ways in which I literally perform. For example if I’m in my apartment making a song (as I was two minutes before answering these questions) I will sing quietly, likely working with an acoustic guitar, because I don’t like knowing that people outside of my comfort zone (i.e. our band) can hear me. If I’m in a studio with sound proofed walls I’m probably going to be playing really loud guitar and screaming into a microphone. This really affects the kinds of songs I write.

I have never really centred lyrics around my physical environment. I find that very boring for the most part. When artists just name songs after places I feel like it’s a deflection from what they really mean or a lack of imagination. This may be because I don’t really feel rooted in any particular place. I like referring to more vague notions of a physical space like a field, a tree or an ocean, but I don’t like to get specific usually.

Do you ever look to other creative mediums for inspiration? Yes. I watch a lot of movies and stuff. I find really good performances by an actor, or a really beautiful shot by the director/cinematographer can inspire me greatly. You sort of log these visual things and they build up your inner aesthetic, like the posters in the bedroom of your mind. I think in general I am a very visual person. I also draw a lot and this kind of went hand in hand with the new album. I did a drawing for each song which helped me understand them better. They are in the lyric book.

As individuals in a band, you must have different personal styles and influences. Is there a common inspiration that you can look to as a group to help keep the course of your vision? I think with each song you try to learn the language. You try and translate or talk that language to each other while you’re working on it. You can tell pretty quickly when one guy isn’t really fluent. It can sometimes mean the song is no good or sometimes you have to just be firm and continue on the course and finish it. It is a challenge in general to any band to converge everyone’s best ideas and interests for each song. It helps to have a benevolent dictator like me who will just ignore everyone for my own interests!

Check out one of our favorite tunes by Born Ruffians: “Don’t Live Up”

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“A recipe is a story that ends with a good meal.” — Pat Conroy