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Interview: Ruen Brothers talk debut album, songwriting and working with Rick Rubin

The UK blues-rock duo also told us about their plans for the rest of 2018.

Ruen Brothers
Credit: Ruen Brothers

Originally from Scunthorpe, Ruen Brothers – AKA Henry and Rupert Stansall – got their start playing cover versions in local pubs and clubs.

After releasing their debut single Aces back in 2013 to critical acclaim, the duo attracted the attention of legendary producer Rick Rubin. They worked with him on their debut album, All My Shades Of Blue, which was released last month and includes appearances from Red Hot Chili Peppers drummer Chad Smith, The Killers’ Dave Keuning and the late Ian McLagan of The Faces.

I spoke to Henry and Rupert recently about working with Rubin, the album, their writing process and their plans for the rest of the year.

You released your debut album All My Shades Of Blue last month – what’s the response been like?

Henry: It’s been really great so far. We’re thrilled with how it’s been going. It’s a relief to finally get the album out there and we’re just thrilled that everybody’s enjoying it. The reaction’s been great, so we’re very happy.

Are there any songs that are getting a particularly strong reaction?

H: Yeah, I think All My Shades of Blue, obviously the title track is getting a lot of pickup and response. We just got the news that we’re the number one added song at Americana radio in the US for that single, so that’s really positive. Other people have been saying they like Evening Dreaming and Caller, which is really nice because Caller’s actually my favourite song on the album.

Rupert: And Evening Dreaming is actually about our hometown, so it’s nice to hear that song getting some love.

Were there any songs that were particular easy or particularly difficult to write?

R: Summer Sun was very easy, actually. That came very quickly, within about an hour and a half. And I think Walk Like A Man was the same.

H: Walk Like A Man, very similar, yeah. The really easiest song to do was Make The World Go Away which is the Eddie Arnold cover on the record. Obviously that was pretty simple for us [laughs]. But more difficult tracks – Aces actually took a period of time to write. We were writing lyrics over a period of a few months and changing ideas. That was one that took a bit more thinking and it took a bit more to finish that one off. But yeah, some of them like Summer Sun and Walk Like A Man came very quick. Songs like Aces took a bit of time.

 

Is that exchange of ideas and collaboration typical of how you write?

H: Yeah, definitely. I feel we both have certain strengths. Rupert’s very good with chord structures and we’re both quite handy with melody lines. Lyrics is very much a collaborative attempt. Usually when we’re writing Rupert might be like, “oh hey Henry, I’m playing around with this idea” and I’ll listen to it and go “oh that sounds cool” and then I’ll develop more of a melody line and a chorus to it maybe. And half the time the songs that come the easiest to us are ones where we’re not really trying to write a song, we’re just taking inspiration from maybe watching a movie or seeing something or watching a documentary. When we wrote Aces we were watching a documentary on Harry Neilson, and we were like “Wow!” That inspired us to want to write and that’s when we started writing Aces. So it is very much a collaborative attempt.

How did you get into rockabilly/beat music?

H: Yeah, our dad’s record collection was quite big and we listened to a lot of that growing up. He would just play whatever he liked obviously and we’d be exposed to it as toddlers. And as soon as we wanted to play instruments we’d be covering all these songs which we’d been hearing on the records and we’d be figuring out the chords. Then it got to the point where we decided that we wanted to play in pubs and clubs – this was a long time back when we about 12 – and it’s just what the people in the pubs wanted to hear. We’d get up and sing with the Motown bands, we’d play all 60s music and sometimes there’d be different turns on and they’d be doing old country and western songs and Neil Diamond and this, that and the other. So when we got up we were like, “OK, let’s play some of our dad’s record collection.”

R: Via requests and what have you over the years of playing in the pubs we learnt so many of those rockabilly songs – things like Johnny Cash and Buddy Holly and all those kind of songs. I think that seeped into our writing. There was no way to escape playing them songs two or three times a week.

You worked with Rick Rubin on the album – how did that come about and what was it like to work with him?

H: Yeah, so basically the way we initially got connected was through an old manager of ours, Scott Roger. He had sent Rick Aces and Rick had listened to it and thought it was really cool. So when we heard that we were like, “wow, that’s amazing”. That was spring of 2013 and then about eight months later our A&R guy at Republic Rob Stevenson played Rick a demo of Summer Sun, just a bedroom recording that we’d done, when Rick was in the Universal building in New York, and Rick said, “I really like this, I think it’s very cool, I see some potential in it and I’d like to meet the guys.” So when we heard that we were like, “Wow, that’s amazing!”

Then in early 2014 we were on a trip to America doing some writing. We were in Nashville and San Diego and we went to LA for a few days, and we got the call to say, ‘hey, Rick would like to meet you.’ We were told ‘don’t be late, he’s a very busy man’ – Rupert and I have a habit of being late to places occasionally – and so we set off in such good time that we were an hour early. So we had to sit nervously waiting to meet Rick. And when we met him he’s got quite a presence. Even though he’s a very peaceful, nice, quiet guy it was still all of his past and all the fantastic records that he’s made. It was kind of a surreal feeling to be transported from Scunthorpe to Malibu to meet the most legendary producer of all time.

It was very easy. We all enjoy the same sort of music. It was a very natural process talking through how we wanted to make the album and it was a very easy working relationship. Rick just wanted to get the best out of us and that’s what he’s very good at doing – getting the best out of artists, not really trying to change them to make it his sound but just trying to make the best sound you can make. So it was really a great experience working with him.

You’ve also got some pretty major names collaborating on the record. Was it daunting to work with them?

H: Again, another really kind of surreal experience. You’re working with people whose music you’ve grown up listening to and they’re almost like an untouchable thing, like something that’s so distant from where you are that when it came to us being put in the same room making music together it’s a dream but again it’s a surreal thing. It’s almost like you can’t comprehend it as much. But all those people are very lovely, super down-to-earth human beings, and it was a little daunting to play with some of the best musicians in the world so you can’t slack. You can’t suck basically [laughs]. So again there was a little bit of pressure there but I think it helped to get the best out of us.

R: Yeah, it was a real honour to get to work with all those people.

What have you learnt from touring?

H: To always take your equipment into your hotel room and bolt your door. Bolt it shut [laughs]

R: Take an auxiliary cable for the car stereo.

H: Yeah. Oh we’ve also got Colin our drummer here. Colin, what would you say is your essential tour tip?
Colin: Always go to Cracker Barrel. [Henry and Rupert laugh]

H: We don’t have Cracker Barrel in the UK but if ever people make it out to the US to tour or travel, Cracker Barrel is where it’s kind of at for our home-cooked meals.

What’s the one song you wish you’d written?

H: Ooh, that’s a real tough one. I would say In Dreams by Roy Orbison.

R: I’d maybe say Tired Of Being Alone, Al Green.

What does the rest of the year look like for you?

H: Yeah, it’s pretty jam-packed actually. We’re currently pulled over doing this interview because we’re on our way to Louisville, Kentucky. We’ve got a radio thing tomorrow and a big showcase event in Louisville. Then we’ve got some dates coming up – we’re opening for Pat Bennetar next month and then we’ve got a month on the road with the Mexican band Cafe Tacuba, which will be a lot of fun. That’s through September/October. We’ve also got pretty much our next album sort of in the pipeline and being worked on so we’re going to be finishing that ready for next year. So we’ve got a busy year of touring, recording, promo. It’s sort of just non-stop at the minute, which is great.

Will the new album be a similar sound to All My Shades of Blue?

R: I think it’ll be similar.

H: It’s actually been a few years since we recorded that debut so it’s been a little while getting it out there. We’ve written a few new songs in the process but we can’t get away from our roots. Production may differ slightly but essentially it’s gonna be singing and playing the same way we always do so there’ll be continuity between both albums.

R: Yeah, continuity but it might be a little bit of a different song. But the songwriting and the singing and the playing’ll all be similar sort of stuff [laughs].

 

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