If ‘Born Ruffians’ is a tongue-in-cheek, parodic proclamation of softer sounds and cherubic jowls, in 2015, the band is morphing into, or at the least warming up to, the self-appointed nominalization. On their fourth release, Ruff , the touring 4-piece, hailing originally from the small city/big town of Midland, On (Georgian Bay area), ventures into darker, more morose territories. Track names like “Fuck Feelings”, “Stupid Dream”, “Don’t Live Up” and “When Things Get Pointless I’ll Roll Away” should serve as case in point.
Balancing out these tracks, however, are others with names like “Don’t Worry Now”, “We Made it”, “Let Me Get It Out”. Aptly the album finishes off reflecting this oscillation with the track “Shade To Shade”. This latest release, as such, is not simply a kickabout with surly themes but rather an invested struggle to dig through a range of more honest emotions including those sullen pangs of despondency.
“There was a theme pretty early on,” says lead-singer/principle songwriter Luke Lalonde over the phone from Toronto when we talk about the album, “I wrote this song ‘Shade To Shade’ and it was the song that encapsulated how I was feeling, how I was feeling towards the world at times. That’s where the record came from. It’s kind of a darker place and trying to figure out where these mood swings come from… the extremes, like being really fortunate and happy to have this audience and loving to perform, and then the sort of darker places you can go. If you’re a person who tends towards depression or mood swings or whatever, being on stage in front of others can be the worst place to be at times. I have had shows where I’m not able to fake it. I still perform and play, and I’m trying to play well, but some nights, for whatever reason, you get off stage and you’re just really bummed out – you just didn’t have a good time – it’s this weird little play, this weird little performance.”
You might get the sense that embarking on yet another tour has got Lalonde feeling handcuffed to a downward-spiraling minecart. Yet this, however, isn’t quite the case. Lalonde is concerned with creating, and performing a genuine sentiment, and as he seems to suggest, it’s an effort that is perpetually tinged with touches of melancholy.
Growing up in Midland, tucked away from the “crazy clubs” of the big city, Lalonde felt that there, in that town, was this kind of “oldschool, Wonder Years, sheltered, happy, glowing, childhood thing” going on. It was a unique and beautiful place but also one well out of the way for touring bands. What this provided for a group of young musicians was the chance to bond over and solidify a shared and somewhat unique vision.
“We were kind of outsiders in highschool in terms of what we were trying to do: Indie Rock” recalls Lalonde. “All the other bands were doing emo, scream, hardcore. We were definitely aware of that and didn’t want to be that. I think that we were able to carve out more of a strong identity because we were the only ones we felt that were doing that thing. When we got to Toronto (in 2004), we were like a unit from this town in his bigger city where we felt we had this special thing. Maybe it was just the naivety of being young,” he laughs, “but we could be what we want[ed] without being crushed by the big city.”
When Lalonde saw his first concert at the age of “16 or 17”, which was a Vines show at Toronto’s Kool Haus, he remembers being smitten with it all. “I remember being blown away by everything – the lights, the smell of the smoke, the dry-ice machine, the atmosphere… the air on my arms was just constantly standing up,” he recalls, “I loved it.”
“I remember the opening band, and I don’t even remember who they were, but I remember thinking – fuck, I want to be the guy up there. I want to feel what that’s like: being backstage, hearing the crowd, coming out and seeing the lights come out, having the power of a band, feeling the volume, feeling the power of music – however cheesy that sounds” he says with a chuckle. “The first couple times you go see a show like that, you can’t get the feeling back.”
Hearing Lalonde describe his affinity for live music, especially for those first magical concerts of youth makes his lamentations of life on the road (ostensibly on display in the video for “Don’t Live Up“) seem a little less like grumbling and a little more like a search for something honest – something that will remain honest night after night for more than just a couple weeks. “I was kind of planting seeds for my future self,” he says about the new record, “singing about things that I am going through, things I can connect to in the moments when I’m performing.” And while this sounds authentic albeit perhaps a touch contrived, one gets the sense of nostalgia permeating these words.
It’s a nostalgia that everyone feels, certainly, but it’s also somewhat different for those from the rural countryside. There’s arguably a lack of pretense out there, or, at the very least a lack of such carefully constructed representations of ideas and motives – constructed with, at times, such alarming efficiency. If this is something with which Lalonde finds himself struggling, it’s not yet something that’s keeping him away.
Born Ruffians will play Ritual this Friday shortly before heading off to Europe and then the U.S. Speaking of Ottawa, Lalonde reflects on their last visit to town. “It was a crazy show last time. It was honestly one of the craziest shows of the last tour. The crowd was insane – in a good way. Maybe there was too much drinking going on.”
Apt613 has a pair of tickets to give away to this show. To enter, just send an email to email@example.com with Born Ruffians in the subject header. We’ll select a winner by random draw at noon on Friday, Sept 25.
Born Ruffians play Ritual (137 Besserer St.) on Friday, September 25, 2015. Weaves opens the show. Doors at 9pm. Tickets are $16 in advance and available online or at Vertical Records and The Record Centre.