A week on from the release of their second album Hoops, Menangle five-piece The Rubens, are contending with beat master Dr. Dre for another top #3 ARIA charting album, after their self-titled debut entered the world at a podium position back in 2012. But when we sat down with frontman Sam Margin and bassist Will Zeglis, Margin admitted he was surprised he bore no sophomore nerves whatsoever.
“I’m not even nervous about people hearing it, not as much as I thought I would be. I’m confident because I like it I guess. I just want people to hear it, that’s all. It’s just so exciting that we’re there! We’ve been waiting for this for ages, and like, the last two months leading up to the release feels like two years to me! I’m just raring to go.”
With an upcoming album tour on the horizon, the boys are thankful they had such an incredible platform to sample some of the latest tracks at last month’s Splendour In The Grass festival. With sing-a-longs galore at the drop of fan-favourites ‘Hoops’ and ‘Hallelujah,’ both Zeglis and Margin agree that the songs went down as well as they hoped they would in front of the massive crowd.
Reminiscing on the festival highlights Zeglis prompts Margin to tell of his blow-up dingy crowd-surfing experience.
“It was so good! It was so much better than going in on your back! You get groped a lot, and then you disappear for a bit, and then you come back. Whereas I was in this giant inflatable thing so it was kind of like, everyone could see me, and I was standing up for one bit, it was so good…”
With three of the band’s members brothers, and two of them practically relatives they’re that close, it’s no wonder The Rubens are able to workshop such spontaneity and playful banter into their live sets without knowing quite what will happen next. And that’s exactly how the band work best; mixing things up a bit. In fact, Margin calculates that Hoops was written across eight different locations, including five months in Coledale, and a time at the Margin brother’s Aunty’s holiday house at Jindabyne in the Snowy Mountains.
“I feel like, to keep inspired, or so I don’t feel stagnant, I need to just change the scenery, you know?”
The boys both tell me the majority of fun was had whilst attempting to ‘knuckle down’ in Coledale for five-months. Though some nights were more productive than others.
“Most of the stuff came out of there. There was also a lot of boozing. It was fucking awesome! It was sunny, it was right on the beach, everyone’s there, like friends would come round for BBQs and beers, it was really hard to get focussed! Especially on the weekends, like all your mates would finish work and they’d be turning up there with slabs and we’d be like ‘Right so we’re not working tonight are we? Alright.’”
This is precisely the kind of scenario in which one of the album’s tracks ‘Switchblade’ was birthed. Margin laughs and tries for a more serious tone at first which quickly becomes lost in the reverie,
“I think that, in that same weekend or like the day before it or something, I’d wrote ‘Cut Me Loose’ so that was actually a pretty good couple of days where two songs came out of it… But yeah, the next night I’d ended up drinking beers and just getting too pissed. I didn’t realize how pissed I was, and then I sort of rediscovered this song the day after, and was like ‘Oh shit…’ so I had to work out what I was talking about and make sense of it.”
The two boys laugh as the frontman continues,
“I still don’t know if I actually did yet, like I’ve been trying to think about it. ‘Does it make sense?’ But I kind of don’t want it to. I mean there’s lines that make sense, it’s not complete jibberish. But it’s not like a linear kind of thing. And I’m like ‘I don’t know what it means you guys… I was pissed.’ And that’s the only excuse I have. But it’s good, because with every other song, you don’t really have an excuse for making it nonsense. So, it’s good to have one.”
Post songwriting, beer-guzzling, five-month lockdown in Coledale, the boys once again turned to producer David Kahn to work the album’s 11 tracks. I asked if it was any easier or harder the second time around.
“I’d say easier. Well easier in one respect in that we knew what we were going to do, and we knew how to work with Dave and he knew how to work with us. Harder in the way that we weren’t going to be, like, not pushed around – that’s probably not the right word – but we were going to stick to our guns. And we knew that that was going to be tough because you’re not always going to agree with your producer and he is not always going to agree with you. But we really care about this, and we knew we were going to fight. Because the easiest way would be to just say yes to everything that everyone ever says, whether it’s the record label, or producer, or whatever, but then it’s not The Rubens anymore. So it’s sometimes hard to keep it your band. But it was really worth it because I love it, and I’m happy with it. We’re happy with it.”
It’s around this point in the interview that I’m interrupted by a giggling Zeglis, who notices his name written on the interview paper as Will ‘Hog’ Zeglis, which prompts Margin to join in the hysterical laughter. The bassist and singer have no choice but to explain the story of the nickname. Zeglis begins, in short breaks between laughter.
“Ok, so I really enjoy like eighties music and you know when you look at, say Slash out of Guns ‘n Roses, how they all have like a separate name? Or like Sting out of The Police? So just for like shits n giggles, I wanted something really cool like ‘Cobra’ or something like that, and then I think Zaac or someone came up with it, and I was like ‘That’s not that cool, I don’t really like that’ and everyone was like ‘Nah, it’s Hog!’”
Margin goes on to elaborate about how the nickname has now stuck, and they even got their newly appointed bandmate ‘Hog’ an embroided Yankee jersey when they were in the states.
With all the playful banter that the band get up to, it’s sometimes difficult to comprehend that these same people, can produce an album of such intimate and at times somber themes, and stories of lost love. Margin puts it straight when he says:
“Obviously our songs are kind of just ups and downs, mainly negative. Or it generally seems to be always ending up with something going wrong or whatever. I think Hoops, the whole record, I’d say would be like Jack Nicholson in ‘One Flew Over The Cuckoos Nest’. Bipolar as fuck.”
With deep bass-heavy riffs, smooth lower-register hooks and powerful choruses that rise to soaring heights, not to mention the album artwork which the lead singer designed himself, it’s no shock to hear Margin shamelessly admit that he’s heavily into the old school hip-hop of acts like Destiny’s Child and Questlove.
“The kind of shit that you thought was really kitsch back then, and even five years after you listened to it in say Primary School you were like ‘Oh I can’t believe I listened to it!’ But now you listen back and it’s like ‘That’s a fucking tune!’ It’s awesome.”
Zeglis can’t help but agree.
“I was talking about that the other day! About how that happens when you’re at school and it’s like kinda uncool to listen to it. But then you leave and you’re like ‘Actually that song was really good, but I was afraid to listen to it!’”
Margin nods in approval, adding:
“Seriously, the production’s amazing! The sounds are amazing! There was some cheesy DJ that was playing our local pub up in Cambdon near Sydney, and we were there the other day having beers and he’s just playing this set that had heaps of that in it. It was like Ja Rule and shit, the good stuff. And I was like ‘This is fucking awesome!!’”
“I was listening with fresh ears, you know, like musician’s ears for once; for the first time. I was like ‘Alright I’m going to literally just go and get So Fresh and for the next record, that’s going to be the inspiration!’ It’s just the beats, those cheesy beats. Just shameless hooks you know? The were the best players in the world.”
We’ll just have to wait and see what cheesy beats lay in stall, the next time we here from these original gangster-lovers. But until then, you can get your fix of The Ruben’s timeless element of cool, that extends the scope of their own musical boundaries in a way that is both amendable and enviable.
Hoops is out now via Ivy League Records. For upcoming Tour information head to the website.