Ruby Suns’ new album!!

Courtesy: Pitchfork

With last year’s Sea Lion, the New Zealand band the Ruby Suns made a worldwide beach album that allowed all sorts of sunny influences in, from African rhythms to California psych to Animal Collective experimentalism. Putting the record on in a cold rain makes no sense, unless your aim is escape. So maybe that’s why Sub Pop is waiting until the early signs of spring to release the band’s follow-up, dubbed Fight Softly, on March 2, 2010.

We recently rang up singer-songwriter Ryan McPhun while he was on tour with the Dodos (“you should include that the Dodos are dicks,” he joked) to find out what we can expect from the new LP, and why he’s making fight music now.

Pitchfork: The new album is called Fight Softly, which sounds like a contradiction of terms.

Ryan McPhun: We came up with it as kind of a joke; it’s a way of saying “don’t fight.”

Pitchfork: When’s the last time you got into a fight?

RM: I’ve gotten angry, but I’ve never been in a fistfight. Maybe I’m just super passive-aggressive.

Pitchfork: What kind of fight would this album be the background music to?

RM: You know in West Side Story, when they have that huge dance fight? Something like that. It would have to be like a contact-less fight. 1950s hairdos are optional.

Pitchfork: Your last album nailed a winsome Tropicalia vibe. Are you going for the same type of style with the new one or something different?

RM: With this new album, I just wanted to do something different because doing the same thing would just be boring to me. It’s probably the opposite of what I did for the last one.

Pitchfork: How so?

RM: I used a lot more synths. And there’s a shitload of effected guitar on it. But I didn’t use a lot of live drums. Going into it, I wanted to use organic sounds but I didn’t want them to sound organic, which is the opposite of what a lot of people do. It’s safe to say the new stuff is more bass-y.

Pitchfork: The thing about the last record a lot of people liked was how it fused a lot of styles from different parts of the world. Would you say that you’re continuing with that technique?

RM: I guess so, but not as consciously. On the last album, I would sometimes think, “I want this to sound like Tom Zé.” But I didn’t have moments like that on this one. I tried to move away from any discernible references.

Pitchfork: So, in terms of being opposite, would you say that’s the case as far as its mood, too? Because the last album was very bright.

RM: Some of the themes are darker. One of the songs is quite an angry song– even though it doesn’t sound angry– which I haven’t really done before. It’s called “Cinco” and it’s about this guy who was basically trying to kick me out of my studio space in New Zealand because he wanted to totally revamp it into a storage room. He was in there knocking down walls, and they were literally dumping wood and rubbish right outside my window. I got pissed off, but never actually met the dude. And I didn’t get kicked out.

Pitchfork: Are you, like, yelling on the song?

RM: No, I’m singing in my soft voice. [laughs] The first track, “Sun Lake Rinsed”, has kind of a slow r&b thing to it, and that’s sort of an angry song, too.

Pitchfork: Who feels your wrath on that one?

RM: Some European label dude.

Pitchfork: All these people are trying to shut you down.

RM: I know, man. [laughs] This guy seemed like a douche bag. We were on tour with the Dodos in Europe last year, and we had the exact same label people. This guy was schmoozing with the Dodos and he probably didn’t even know who we were. And, technically, he’s supposed to be selling our records. But I didn’t say, “Hey! We’re on your label too, do you care?!” So I wrote a song about it.

Pitchfork: This whole passive-aggressive streak is really coming into focus here.

RM: You’ve made it really obvious to me. [laughs] There are some positive songs, too. One is about this black pit bull named Mingus we met while staying in Seattle between tours. He’s a really amazing dog. Half the songs are me just bitching and moaning, and half of them are me not bitching and moaning. [laughs]

Pitchfork: You mentioned you have weird taste in music. What do you mean by that?

RM: Weird in the sense that I listen almost exclusively to commercial pop music. When I’m driving the van I just put on Michael Jackson, Madonna, Robyn, Justin Timberlake. I’ve always listened to and loved Michael Jackson, and when he died it was really strange– I listened to Bad with totally different ears after that. The production on that album just blew me away when I listened to it again.

Pitchfork: Did any of that sort of stuff bleed through to the sounds on this album?

RM: I was trying to incorporate more classic pop stuff. A lot of the reverbs on Bad were really inspirational to me– though that might sound silly. In the last year or two, I had a break from guitar music. I’ve just been appreciating pop music.

Pitchfork: If you could collaborate with anyone from the pop realm, who would you pick?

RM: We were just talking about working with other producers, and how Teddy Riley– who worked on Michael Jackson’s Dangerous album– might be available. But, unless we start selling a shitload of albums, I don’t think our recording budget is going to be sufficient to get him.

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