An Interview with Ry X for Spindle Magazine
I arrive at O2 Shepherd’s Bush Empire, dead on the hour of 4 o’clock before Australian born, LA-based Ry X (his real name, Ry Cuming) has to soundcheck for his show that night. We go in for a hug, and within seconds he offers me a peppermint tea, which despite being a devout advocate of English Breakfast, I gladly accept. I notice Ry squirting honey into the cups, “You’ve never tried peppermint tea with honey before?! Wow”, he says.
The first thing I notice about Ry is his unassuming, modest attitude to his music and his warmth of character, so noticeable it’s almost tangible. Undeniably passionate about communicating his own personal experience through music that could resonate with any set of ears, Ry has been travelling the world and working on his other projects, The Acid and Howling, but it’s ultimately under the title of Ry X that he is able to truly be himself.
He falls back into the comfort of the leather sofa in the dressing room and we begin to talk. As an avid fan of Ry X since my school days, I have a lot of questions. What the hell happened, for a song such as ‘Berlin’ to sound so sad? I should have known his answer would have something to do with love and past relationships – and this is the tone adopted by his debut album, Dawn, released earlier this year. Beginning as an interview and ending as an in-depth 45 minute exchange, we talk about surfing, using his ex-girlfriend in his music videos and about where ‘the personal’ and ‘the creative’ meet when it comes to making music.
From the beginning, how and when did you first recognise your relationship with music?
Thats’s a good question. I think I had a relationship with music from a little kid. My dad loves music. Both of my parents do but my dad especially. He just played tonnes of music. I think you’re relationship with music always starts there, if your parents love music then you really fall into it. Or you kind of do a counter-culture move in your teens, which I did too and went kind of heavy into that grunge and punk. Tonnes of grunge and shoegaze stuff, too. But you know, the obvious ones were the ones that made it to Australia, the Nirvana’s. Music has just been a massive part of my life for as long as I can remember.
So what were your parents listening to?
Police. Sade. My dad also listened to just tonnes of records, his record collection was just really dope. So I listened to a lot of stuff from the 60’s and the 70’s, a lot of folk-scene stuff like Joni and Joan Baez and Woody Guthrie, Bob Dylan through to stuff like Zeppelin and Frank Zappa and that world. And then Jimi Hendrix, too. So I guess I had a pretty good schooling because if I got brought up in a house that listened to Harry Connick Jr. playing on repeat or like smooth jazz, it might have been different for me.
Led Zeppelin, my favourite. But you never would have thought from your music now that you listen to all that kind of stuff, like Nirvana and what-not.
Oh really, my dad was a big Zeppelin fan too. I love Nirvana. So much. I have an old tape collection and I had this old Cadillac in California and it has this tape deck and I would just blast grunge and drive around. I love grunge.
Did you always see yourself doing what you’re doing now? What were you doing before?
I was just living life. Surfing and travelling the world.
Ah, a nomad traveller.
Yes, a nomad traveller. Very much so. The touring part is strange. My mum is a yoga teacher, a homeopath, a naturopath. Both of my parents have kind of done what they wanted to do in their lives. My dad’s like a social planner, like sustainable planner and a surfer and a poet, so I think I didn’t know any other path. I had to follow my love, and my loves were the ocean, surfing and music and they’re still the things that I love.
Talk to me about your Australian roots. Do you think your background has contributed in anyway to your sound and style today?
Yeah of course. I mean I think all of our backgrounds influence us until now and beyond, you know? For me, I grew up on an island and grew up with a lot of space and a lot of time. My elementary school, there was like 10 or 11 kids in the whole school. I think that lent itself to me having a lot of space to explore things. I never felt time constraints. I never felt like I desperately needed to be somewhere or like we were rushing. We lived in this kind of rainforest and we kind of grew our own food, we had goats and chickens and all that. So I think that is still who I am to this day, even though I live in big cities I still want to grow vegetables and surf.
And how has that effected your actual music?
I think that gave it space. A lot of longing, too. I think it gives a lot of longing to be back in that environment, sometimes, or a context like that. But also just in the same way that Iceland had a massive influence on Björk or Sigur Rós, you hear this like longing and this beautiful sadness and this beauty in the music because they grew up in this environment that reflected that.
And how is London for you at this time of year?
[Laughs] It’s a little bit depressing. You know I think the reason I live in a place like LA, not just for the sun but the ability to run away and the ability to be in the wild. You can run away from there and really quick you’ll be in the mountains or in the ocean. Surfing or hiking to hot springs, or just being in the desert. You can find space and what’s hard about touring and I come to London and we drove from Brighton last night so we were close and we arrived in London this morning but, we leave tonight. It’s like we get hardly any time. We’re driving to Munich, we have like another 12 shows to do in Europe. I love mainland Europe and I love London, I have a lot of community here and friends, so I always love just coming here and connecting in but it would be nice if I had a bit more time.
I’ve been listening to your music for years. I think it was in sixth form when I first heard ‘Berlin’. I used to have to walk miles home from school and I used to listen to through the fields. I would listen to it when I was feeling sad or when I was really freezing cold and everywhere was really desolate…
Ah beautiful! Yeah, sounds like a really nice experience…
But that’s kind of how I imagine your music. Even though you’re from Australia and live in LA, your music kind of makes me feel… cold? In a good way.
Yeah well, [laughs] that’s a beautiful story and I’m glad I’ve been with you for that long. The thing about that song is I wrote it in the middle of a Berlin winter. So I’ve lived in Berlin as well and it’s been a home for me as well. I really love that energy in Berlin, that kind of underground scene and I’d say in Europe, Berlin is my home base. So it was in the middle of a really dark, cold, snowy winter when I wrote that song. The lyrics are very personal, very direct. Literally everything I’m talking about is exactly what happened.
So that is kind of what you had in mind, for that track at least.
Yeah, I think I just kind of found a way to be really raw, and stripped down. A lot of the rest of the record, I wrote when I lived a house I rented a couple of hours north of LA in the mountains and I think I just kind of wanted to get that space, you know? It’s kind of easy to make an electronic record these days, and I wanted to make something that was really human, really raw. Naked.
Your music video for ‘Only’ that you co-directed with Dugan O’Neal… I really liked that. What stood out for me was the amazing visuals. What was the thought process behind that video?
Thanks. I’ve directed all of the videos – for the other projects too – The Acid and Howling. I really had this idea of this loss of control, this beautiful feeling when you’re falling into the sense of love or lust, like you really don’t have a lot of control. You think you might, but you’re kind of fucked. Whether it’s gonna work out or it’s not gonna work out, you still just have to fall. It’s like when you jump off something. There’s some beauty in kind of harnessing that idea of letting go. If your plane is going to go down, you can either freak out or you can just kind of breathe and go “ok, this is it”. How do you find that peace? There’s so many moments of just loosing that control in the video, in the slowest detail, obviously shooting in this extreme slow motion. This idea of the loss of control and just surrendering to that, instead of fighting it.
Hmm, that’s beautiful. And the pink?
Ah, yeah. Everything in the videos are kind of personal. The girl in the pink was an ex-lover, an ex-partner of mine. She was also in the ‘Berlin’ video, the girl with the short blonde hair. I try to keep it really personal and really real. I just feel like I love to be surrounded by people I’m inspired by. Everyone I have in the videos, they’re amazing artists of their own in what they’re doing, whether it’s dance, or performance art, or visuals or poetry and I just love to have that energy imprinted on the screen. That pink was an art installation at my friend’s gallery and I just walked in one day and I was like “we have to shoot in here one day”. Just go in really visual and really bold, because a lot of stuff before that had been really muted and I just wanted to push boundaries a little bit.
Your debut album Dawn was released in May, how would you place this album in your musical career so far?
I think I have many sides to myself. This is my first record as Ry X. So I’ve been making a lot of music in the last few years but it feels really beautiful to be put a record as myself and to be able to build on that and bring all the ideas and concepts of who I am now and who I continue to be into my next recordings. It feels like I’ve fertilised the ground and now I can plant and grow lots of different beautiful things.
What was the main premise behind the Dawn album?
I think just human-ness, you know? I think I’m a really sensual person and like, a lot of the record is kind of exploring the space between what is lust and what is love, and different relationships from the past. I know a lot of people’s brains don’t work like that but my world is really wrapped up in my understanding through the senses. It’s very personal in that way.
Your sound is very cinematic and consuming… What’s the process involved in-between starting with an idea for a song and ending with the final record?
It always has to begin with me sitting alone. I feel like I always have to be really truly alone too, everyone has to be sleeping around me if I’m in a place with someone else, or I have to be in a different room. I can’t really be surrounded by a lot of people and write something, so it definitely comes with some super personal space in that way. With Ry X, as opposed to the other projects I’ve done where I can create it in the studio on the fly and produce it at the same time, for me, doing this from my heart, I have to be able to sit and play it on a guitar for it to be able to translate. Then I go into the studio and try to record it live to keep that energy and integrity, that fragile-ness of it. Then I start building around it, and I think that’s why the record is really stripped down, I take a lot of time putting things on one-by-one. Put the organ on, put some piano on. Right after I start writing I’ll just go in and I’ll lay it down, I’ll record it first so there’s an imprint of it and then very slowly start putting in elements. But it happens quick because I trust my intuition, so in a day I can finish a song. Yeah I do that a lot, it usually takes me about a day to finish a song.
What are you looking forward to the most now for the future?
I think it’s really nice to have a first record out because there’s a sense of release with it. It feels like there’s a little bit more freedom in my heart to explore what happens next. I’ve already been producing and recording quite a lot, there’s already songs, so there’s more stuff coming out in the next year. Singles and B-sides and maybe do some 7 inches, and then I have some stuff coming out with Frank. Then after this tour, I go to Australia and tour down there. Hopefully a little time early next year to create some more so there’s more to release, but I really want to release consistently. Having a connection with the community in that way, rather than always having to wait to do the album formula. I think they’ll be much more small amounts of releases then there has been for me.