The Ruby Suns “I’d never been to a baseball game, and it blew my freakin’ mind.”

With their sophomore album Sea Lion, New Zealand's The Ruby Suns have left behind the simple Beach Boys-inspired psychedelia of their self-titled debut and vaulted into the 2000s. Released in January, Sea Lion is a carefully crafted album dense with energetic percussion, reverb-doused atmospherics, big vocals, and healthy doses of 1980s nostalgia. They certainly aren't the first band to try and capture the sunny vibes of summer through a psych-pop lens, but it's rarely been done with such beauty and pathos.

Much has been written about Ryan McPhun, the man behind the music, and his move to New Zealand after growing up in southern California. His passion for travel has been cited as a major force in shaping some of the eclectic sounds on Sea Lion, and when I met McPhun and bandmate Amee Robinson before a show in Seattle, the press didn't seem to be too far wrong -- they appeared anxious to hit the road after a few months of taking it easy in the Emerald City.

Over the course of an hour, we talked about their stay in Seattle -- courtesy of friends in the band Throw Me The Statue -- the (unlikely) prospects for a Ruby Suns release in 2009, and their process of songwriting.



So you guys have been staying in Seattle the last few months; you definitely chose the right time of year to be here.

Ryan: When we got here, it was hot and sunny, and we were swimming all the time. I was looking at the 10-day forecast, and it's been getting pretty crap.

Amee: We've been to four Mariners games. I'd never been to a baseball game, and it blew my freakin' mind. It was everything I ever wanted in a baseball game.

Ryan: It was the American dream.

Amee: I couldn't believe there were actually peanut shells under my feet and people yelling, “Get a beer! Get a beer” [said in a moderately successful American accent]. It was exactly like in a movie.

Yeah, it's a fun time. You can hang out outside with your friends in the sunshine and talk; you don't even have to pay attention to the game.

Ryan: Oh, we paid attention.

Amee: I don't really like sports, so I was surprised by how attentive I was to every bat.

Why Seattle?

Amee: We've been here a few times touring, and we liked it. We met a band called Throw Me the Statue, and they were gone on tour while we weren't on tour.

Band's should do that more often.

Amee: I know!

Ryan: They really should.

Have you guys gotten much of a chance to travel? I noticed on your MySpace that you have a picture of Crater Lake as the background. Did you go there?

Ryan: We've never been to crater lake, but we kind of wanted to put it up there.

Amee: I've seen it from the plane though. And taken pictures.

Ryan: we've definitely done some travel, maybe not as much as I wanted, but we've gone to Rainier a couple of times.

Amee: And Snoqualamie Falls; we did the Twin Peaks thing.

Are you guys getting tired of touring?

Amee: Well, we haven't done anything for a while, so no.

Ryan: I think I'm getting tired of not touring. Yeah, in a way I like touring because it keeps you busy. And I'm not good at keeping myself busy when we're not touring.

Do you spend much time writing new songs?

Ryan: That only happens when the inspiration happens. I wish I could just sit down and write a song; I don't think I've ever done that before. It's always been, I've gotten an idea from nowhere then fleshed it out.

All your press focuses on traveling and how big of an impact that has been on your music. Is that overstated, or do you think that place has a huge impact on your work?

Ryan: Almost all the press has been derived from the bio we made up and people look at the bio and copy the bio. So, that's why they all say that. But it definitely has an effect, a pretty big effect. I get inspiration from going to new places and traveling and being fresh everyday.

Do you think if you'd written Sea Lion here in Seattle instead of New Zealand, it would have turned out drastically different?

Ryan: Well, I think it does reflect a lot of the music I was listening to in the years that it was made. There's a lot of New Zealand influence in the album, so I guess it would sound different if it were written somewhere else. New Zealand is a pretty summery place, the north island anyway. Lots of sun and amazing beaches.

"I don't know; I can never think of answers to these questions."


Your debut would fit in very well alongside lots of the Elephant 6 bands and many psychedelic bands from the '60s, and then there's this huge jump from Lichen Ears to Sea Lion. What caused that?

Ryan: The first album is way more straightforward, because I was learning how to record and learning how to make music. I wrote some of those songs when I was 18 or 19. I was listening to a lot more simple music and straightforward music. And a lot of Beach Boys.

Was there something you were listening to in the period you were writing Sea Lion that blew your mind and made you want to take it in a new direction?

Ryan: Both Sea Lion and Lichen Ears were made between 2005 and 2007. One of the songs from the EP is directly inspired by Tom Ze. One of his albums -- I don't know the name of it, I got a burned copy from a friend -- it was really amazing and inspirational. When I first heard about Animal Collective, it was right when Sung Tongs had come out. I got into the Animal collective acoustic-y stuff and Panda Bear's second album and lots of other random bits of music from other places. Six of the songs were almost finished in 2005, the acoustic-y sounding ones.

You recently contributed a song to the Amazon / Tribe: Songs for Survival charity compilation. Have you been working on much new stuff? Plans for a new LP?

Ryan: I have to think of the songs first, which takes a long time for me. Maybe in 2010 we might be able to release something. I'm working on a few different things right now, but I don't have a plan for the next album yet.

Do you always write in a room by yourself?

Ryan: Yes. Not that I prefer it that way; it's just how I started making music, and I don't know -- I do it the same way still.

Does it ever get claustrophobic?

Ryan: It would be nice to have a big band to jam with, but I never knew enough people that I have music tastes in common with. I'm lucky to do a song every couple of months. I worry about it for some reason and dilly-dally a lot and have a hard time making decisions.

Do you mostly write on a computer?

Ryan: Yeah, though I had a four track in New Zealand that I did bits of songs on. I've done parts of things on tape and digital 8-tracks, but I mostly use computer. We've been gone from New Zealand since February, so I haven't had all my normal instruments lying around, so I've been doing lots of sampling and just messing with sounds.

Lots of found sounds?

Ryan: A little bit, not as much as I was using for Sea Lion. I used lots of sounds I recorded wherever and plugged them into songs. That was something I did at the end of the process -- I would write the song, record it, and put some stuff that I recorded on my dictaphone on at the end. Who knows, maybe I'll do that again.

Do you guys have day jobs?

Ryan: No, we've both been thrifty the last couple of years. I've had a part-time job on and off, and Amee has had a part time-job. In New Zealand, we live cheaply and rent cheap rooms and don't spend a lot of money. We've both spent large amounts of time on the Dole, which is unemployment benefit -- that's helped.

So then I guess you must be a citizen of New Zealand?

Ryan: Yes, my dad is a New Zealander.

I've heard the New Zealand passport is one of the most desired passports to sell on the black market. I guess it's because New Zealand has never pissed anyone off, so New Zealanders aren't suspicious.

Ryan: When me and Amee were in Europe in 2002, they still had borders between the countries, so every time we drove into a new country we were showing our passports and they looked at our kiwi passports and thought, "What is this? Just go!" It's really good for that; you generally don't get hassled.

You guys have recently decreased the number of band members. Has tht affected your live show?

Ryan: At the end of last year, we went from four or five people to three people and used samples and backing tracks and stuff. So when we went from three to two, there wasn't much of a change really.

Have you been enjoying the two-piece? Any challenges?

In some ways, I do miss having a fully live band and having that flexibility, because for some songs, we don't use a lot sequenced stuff, and it's all samples we're hitting or pressing or whatever. But some songs do have sequencing, so we're playing specific things that we have to do at certain times and can't deviate from that. So, I miss the flexibility of having a fully live band. I'd like to change that, but it is enjoyable. It's been fun making new configurations and having a new set up.

I'd imagine it would make traveling a lot easier.

Ryan: It makes it a lot, lot easier.

What are you listening to these days?

Ryan: On the last tour in the states, we were listening to that Kate Bush album Hounds of Love; it was new to us.

Amee: I've been listening to Karl Blau.

Ryan: You know El Guincho?


Ryan: Pablo the guy from El Guincho has another band called Coconot, and it's good. I don't know; I can never think of answers to these questions.

North Island or South Island?

Ryan: North Island.

Amee: North Island pride.

Ryan: Both islands are good, but the North Island has more summery beaches. The South Island has big snowy mountains. The North Island has a couple of big volcanoes that have snow, but it's known for its beaches.

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