THE INNOVATORS SERIES...LUKE LALONDE
Two Igloos had the privilege of talking with Luke Lalonde who is the primary song writer and singer of the well loved Canadian band “Born Ruffians.” Their 14 year career has seen them grow from wide eyed teens into wise pillars of the indie music landscape. Luke looked back on his journey through the music industry while we discussed his thoughts on working with producers, Print VS. digital, trends and staying relevant in the ever changing arena of popular music.
TI // So for the readers who aren’t familiar with you and your band, “Born Ruffians,” please introduce yourself.
I can give you the elevator pitch. Born Ruffians is primarily a three piece band that started in high school when we were kids in grade 10 as we say in Canada. It has continued now on through into our thirties. Toronto has become our adopted hometown. We started touring and doing things in earnest after moving to the city in 2006 and since then we've put out five records, some eps, and we've toured with bands such as “Hot Chip,” “Caribou,” and “Franz Ferdinand.”
We're just a three piece rock band basically. I don't know, that’s what I say to cab drivers when I get in with a guitar. So, yeah.
TI // You’re from Midland, Ontario originally right?
Midland. Yeah. We started in high school in Midland just like playing in Steve, our drummer's, basement. That was our after school thing.
TI // So the Ruffians have been a band for over 14 years. Can you describe how it feels to go from these teenagers, the 10th grade basement dwellers all the way to touring with around the world?
I think we got lucky in many ways but I also think the balance of our band has always helped us through everything. I've always been more of the guy that writes the songs and the one that would do the recordings. Steve was always more business minded so he would be out there hustling, trying to get us a manager and sending our demos around and that type of stuff. So these opportunities would come along and I would just be like, “okay, great!” I would just go along with the flow sort of. It always just felt like we were sort of simultaneously working for these things and then they would just kind of happen to us. I don't know any other way it could have happened. You kind of go through it and then you look back and go like, “well, that was a pretty crazy trip, huh?”
TI // Was there a moment when you felt like you had made it? Did you feel a change ever?
Yeah, I think it was, well, I think the first time I really felt like that was when I saw us on the cover of “Eye Weekly” in Toronto. The city was so exciting to me when I first moved there and it was a big city and to walk around and see our cover in the paper box. It was just that first summer that I was there. I still remember so clearly it was so exciting, all these local bands and you're just getting swept up in all of this. Then we landed that first big piece of media, which to me was always kind of the watermark or the signifier of success was seeing bands in magazine, seeing bands in print. I mean this is back in the olden days in the mid two thousands when the Internet wasn't quite the same, pitch fork was still in its early days. My space was just kind of coming about. And so physical print media was still a thing. So to see yourself on the cover of a newspaper like that was like, “Holy Shit.” That I remember picking it up when it came out at midnight and just being like, “wow… this is legit. Like we're a real band.”
TI // How do you feel about digital media VS. print?
as an artist? I mean I absolutely 100% romanticize and put physical print on a pedestal. I've grown up under the spell of rock and roll and its mythology. Rolling Stone, NME, Spin, and all these magazines are kind of monoliths.
Born Ruffians with Luna Li and Poesy at Danforth Music Hall, Toronto, 2019
They're just these giants of what you aspire to be a part of. I mean that gets broken down, I'm sort of disillusioned and more jaded now. This is the sort of kid in me talking, but, but yeah, it’s still legitimate.
TI // Do you keep your clippings?
I think the first time we were in “Time Out” magazine in London. I've always saved that one that's kicking around somewhere in my closet. So yeah, it’s something more, it's cooler. I mean there are those big blogs but even those are losing their impact. I mean we know that both print and blogs are kind of losing their power. I know I'm doing an interview for an in print magazine but…
I mean the art and the physical artifact is coming back. It's the same thing with vinyl, kids will just buy vinyl simply to have it because it's cool. So many people come up and they buy the record at shows and say, “I don't even have a turntable, but I just want this.” People like that physical artifact, it’s special. We’ve lived in that digital world too long. Eventually you start to crave more, you want a magazine, you want to pick something up and find it where not everybody can immediately also find it because they saw you liked it or something on Instagram. Next thing everybody's like, “oh, Luke, liked this. I like it too,” Whereas if you just find something in the real physical world that's your special little thing. It just feels, yeah, it's less mass produced. So I think there's always going to be a niche for the physical artifact.
TI // Do you feel like you had to consciously innovate or evolve at all?
Yeah. There are some conscious decisions to innovate and evolve. I think a lot of people go through the process. You see success, you see your friends get more successful, you see other people doing certain things and you think, “what if we try something like that?” Then you try it and either think it was great or it sucked and then you try another thing. Whether it's attempting to write a record or a song that's for the radio, you know, trying to follow whatever formula you think that is because you think that's where more success lives or whether it's getting more weird, artsy and cool because
that's where pitchfork wants you to be ultimately you kind of try these things out and you learn from them.
You just have to do what's most genuine to yourself, you know, and whatever feels right for you. I look at certain super ambitious people that clearly have this need to be famous, they have this drive to just always be hustling and working towards that end. For some people that works but I don't think we've ever had that. We've been a bit stubborn, being like, “fuck that, we're not gonna sell out.” We've always just trusted that our sensibilities as a band are commercial enough that we're not going to be doing some avant garde thing that's will screw us over. We're always going to be kind of in the realm of something that can be commercially viable while also interesting enough that we're satisfied with our artistic merit.
It always feels like a permanent shift. As though from this point forward, this is how we want to do things. Then you do it and you realize maybe not. For instance for our album Birthmarks, a big influence around that time was Phoenix. They had broken through and I was watching all kinds of videos about how they produced that record and getting really inspired. Phoenix utilized the studio in the most modern way and took it to the max. We found a producer (Roger Leavens) who would help us do that and spent about a year chipping away at that type of record. We made that record and went through that process and thought, “well, fuck, now I just want to go make something live off the floor.” just play, you know, like set a vocal mic up and do something simple. Uncle Duke and the Chief was kind of more of a culmination of that. Also, just the types of songs I was writing towards that record. What I was making really indicated that the flavor of the songs would be more live, live to tape type vibe with these big plate reverbs and just single hand claps, that type of thing, more fifties inspired. Then we found Richard Swift who and he was a big part of that record, Uncle Duke and the Chief. I mean, finding Richard and recording with him, we had an instant he got it. He set the mics up and was like, “hey, let's go play.” That record was just this great kind of confluence of things happening and all these things falling into place and finding our guy, you know, like thinking this is our guy from now on.
I think one of my last text from him was just like, “more music to come!” I think if we could have, we would have definitely loved to go do another record with him. (Richard Swift passed away in 2018)
I was always looking for a producer that will really get in there and produce the record so that I can feel them, I can sense their role, you know, that it's not just a basically an engineer or a guy that's like helping us use pro tools and edit stuff. Richard was pretty hands on. We would track a song and next thing we knew he would be overdubbing a Juno part and we'd be like, “cool, great, that sounds awesome!” He would just hear an idea and he would go do it and he would help be that fourth musician. He knew when to call a song when it was done, he just wouldn't over think things. He basically enhanced all of our good qualities and muted our bad ones. He helped us make the record we needed to make without over thinking anything. That's always what we're searching for. It was so nice to find somebody like that. He was a brilliant artist and really when it comes down to it and there's just not a lot of those out there, he was a pretty one of a kind guy. Those people are not a diamond dozen. You don't meet those types of people very often and you certainly don't get to work with them very often.
TI // Do you guys feel like there is a battle against relevance for you? Do you actively try to stay relevant with the changing trends and tastes?
No. I mean that might be one of the reasons That we are not more successful. We don't try and stay relevant. We'll share music with each other and, and obviously word of mouth and people like you and people that I know who have good taste, if they recommend something to me, I'll check it out but I'm not constantly researching trends, bands and seeing what's relevant, what's happening. Trends are becoming much harder to not only predict but to even figure out. Aside from in the super mainstream, but in the rock realm, there's not a ton of things that you can mark.
You could maybe say like, “oh, it seems like slide guitar is really in.” I guess so but, hasn't it always been in? Or there's a lot of people using saxophone right now, but they always have used saxophone. That might just be me getting older though.
I think it's like fashion in a way. I find myself following fashion trends without realizing I am. I'll go into a vintage store and buy a yellow jacket because I think it's so cool, I love this color, and then in three months I'll realize that everybody's got the yellow jacket now. I didn't even realize it, but I was following this trend and my wants and desires just happened to coincide with something societal that I was following it and I didn't even know.
I think sometimes I desire to make something sound a certain way and then I start realizing that a bunch of other bands are also feeling this way. I wonder if I am selective hearing? Am I just hearing things that reinforce what I like and going with that trend? I think that you can go out in the world and find any kind of trend you want right now. Everything is happening all the time. With your Twitter and Instagram feed and everything being so customized, the trends cater themselves to your tastes. The algorithms, figure out what you like and they show you that version of reality. It's all in this kind of post truth Internet world, but your Facebook shows you the trends and the stuff that it thinks you would want to see. So it's just so much harder to kind of measure what an authentic trend is.
If there is a young man or woman who is starting a band and wants advice or whatever, one piece of advice I could offer from experience is having a mixed dynamic. For me there is something about the three of us, which if I boil it down, it's like you have, the creative driver who's driving the vision, somebody that's helping with like your PR, whether it's like they're out on the street or they're at the parties and their the guy that people talk to them, or they're the ones that run your social media cause they know how to present your personality online. And then you have somebody that's like much more business minded and can figure out things like how to buy a van or how to file your taxes. You need these types of people, this mix of elements, to help it all balance. I watch people do it alone and it's inspiring but hard. They don't have a team, it's just them and they're trying to figure it all out. I am lucky as hell that I met these two people It just works. #blessed man.
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