The Sydney indietronica band RÜFÜS DU SOL – formed by lead singer/guitarist Tyrone Lindqvist, keyboardist Jon George and drummer James Hunt – have resurfaced with their fourth album, Surrender, just as the international live circuit reopens after the COVID-19 pandemic. And in expanding their signature style – communal deep house with electroacoustic aspirations and euphoric Balearic peaks – the group might have the perfect metaphysical post-lockdown soundtrack. Says Jon, “It’s very good to finally put some stuff out – it’s been a long time coming.”
In 2020, RÜFÜS DU SOL quietly celebrated the 10th anniversary of their origin as RÜFÜS (they subsequently modified that handle, so as not to be confused with the hallowed Chicago funk ensemble Rufus). Signing to Sweat It Out!, the label the late Bang Gang DJ Ajax initiated, the self-contained trio crossed over with 2013’s debut album Atlas, followed by the mega Bloom – recorded in Berlin and encompassing the epic ‘Innerbloom’. Meanwhile, RÜFÜS DU SOL cultivated an international profile via blog coverage, streaming and solid touring (they’ve played Coachella three times). Eventually, the band relocated to Los Angeles, California, co-sharing a pad in bohemian Venice. RÜFÜS DU SOL ventured out to the Joshua Tree National Park to conceive 2018’s darker, ruminative Solace – their most critically acclaimed LP. For the first time, they collaborated with outsiders: Mark Foster of Foster The People and, as producer, Maroon 5 associate Jason Evigan. RÜFÜS DU SOL received two Grammy nominations in the Dance/Electronic field (they lost to their heroes, The Chemical Brothers).
Life in LA has been fruitful. RÜFÜS DU SOL have developed a label, Rose Avenue Records – its name a tribute to their old address in Venice, curating DJ/producer Cassian and Gold Coast siblings Lastlings. Yet the three have also navigated personal change, Tyrone becoming a dad to Ziggy in 2019 and later marrying.
RÜFÜS DU SOL cut new album Surrender amid the pandemic, again travelling to Joshua Tree to write, only to discover themselves secluded in the desert as LA locked down. The experience enabled them to focus on self-care, reconnection and gaining perspective. Led by the simultaneously jubilant and lachrymose banger ‘Alive’, Surrender has the psychic depth of Solace, but any undertones of anxiety and tension give way to resolution and restoration. If Solace was spacey, then Surrender is grounded, launching with the romantic ‘Next To Me’, its piano widely compared to Kanye West’s ‘Runaway’. RÜFÜS DU SOL reunited with Evigan, while the album has additional vocals from psy-soulster Curtis Harding, Basement Jaxx diva Vula Malinga, and a children’s choir.
RÜFÜS DU SOL have long prided themselves as a credible live electronic band, even airing a live album and concert film. Furloughed last year, the musicians returned to the road this August, performing at Red Rocks Amphitheatre in Colorado – where they likewise shot the video for their latest single, the proto-industrial ‘On My Knees’.
In fact, as Jon chats to Music Feeds, RÜFÜS DU SOL are rehearsing for The Governors Ball in New York, being billed alongside Billie Eilish. “We played some shows at Red Rocks recently, which were our first shows back [and] which were amazing,” he enthuses. “We played for over 20,000 people there. It was a really good reintroduction to the live sphere for us.”
Music Feeds: You guys are based in LA now, but are you still in Venice?
Jon George: No, we were there for a year during the writing of Solace. Since then, we have sort of gone in different little pockets of LA. I’m in West Hollywood at the moment and our studio is in Hollywood where we write every day. So the guys are not too far away, either.
MF: You’ve been playing shows again. What is the mood like in the States as the scene rebuilds?
JG: I guess everything’s feeling a lot better right now. There’s obviously the mess about this Delta strain and it’s creating a few more problems. But I think that [with] everyone being able to go to shows now, there’s a lot more hope out here at the moment. For us, we get to play shows, so we’re very excited.
MF: Yeah, we’re in eternal lockdown in Melbourne – but they’re really worried about Delta.
JG: Oh, I know… I speak to my family often, all back in Australia. It’s pretty sad to hear how everyone’s locked up there at the moment. Hopefully, it doesn’t go on for too much longer and everyone can start experiencing some more freedom soon.
MF: I did wonder what kind of impact the pandemic had on Surrender. Did you make it wholly during this period or were you working on it before? To what extent did COVID shape it?
JG: Yeah – so we were trying to just get a couple of weeks in here and there in the studio before the pandemic hit. But we were mid-tour and we had the rest of our touring year cancelled when the pandemic really shut down our shows and took us straight off tour and back to LA. We sort of just tried to, yep, pivot and decided to make it a year of writing the record.
It definitely forced us into writing. We used that time to go out into the desert, to Joshua Tree, and we started – well, it was just gonna be a couple of weeks of writing out there and it ended up being eight weeks, ’cause everything was locked down here [in LA]. So we made the most of it. It was actually really good, to be honest.
I know it’s a really sad time for a lot of people but, for us, we were able to really reconnect as a band. I think we sort of let a lot of things slip with each others’ relationships and just being responsible adults – like [the pandemic] gave us a lot of time to reflect and try and be the best type of people we can be. With that, we made a really good record that we’re really proud of.
MF: This record is very existentialist, however. Was that something you were conscious of as you were making it? That you were asking big questions?
JG: Yeah, I think we had a lot going on. We’d all had big life changes over the last few years and, with the pandemic stacked on top of that, we were definitely bringing that energy into the studio and asking big questions of each other and trying to really work out what type of people we wanted to be. So I can see that would come through on the record as we were trying to shape our own lives.
MF: Obviously, it’s now 10 years since RÜFÜS DU SOL formed. You alluded to interpersonal relationships in the band. How has that dynamic changed over time?
JG: We’re best friends and, with every relationship, I think you need to take care of it. I think that, as the touring and everything was getting bigger and we moved overseas, we started to sort of stop taking care of each other’s relationships. That’s just natural with how busy we were getting – and how big everything was getting. So we were able to use this last year to become better friends and really work on that relationship, between each other. We were starting the day with a meditation and allowing ourselves to air any grievances and really try and not bring anything into the studio that wasn’t productive for work – and I think that really helped us.
MF: Airing grievances actually sounds like some quite hardcore internal therapy for the band. Was that a difficult process?
JG: Yeah! We were putting ourselves in an uncomfortable situation and trying to be real with each other; not just hold stuff in. And I think that, with that, there came a lot of ups and downs. Yeah, it was definitely uncomfortable trying to get through some of that stuff. But it was all for the best. We were able to really be open and honest and free with each other in the studio after those sessions and really appreciate each other because we were there ready to listen and ready to own up to anything that was fair or to sort of hear people out.
MF: This album has some really beautiful songs – ‘Wildfire’ is one of my favourites. Is there a song you’re particularly attached to?
JG: I think the title-track ‘Surrender’ is one of my favourites, for sure. We have the children’s choir that we recorded here in LA – and we recorded them for two tracks. So that one was a particularly really nice experiment for us to record – and then the way it’s turned out, it’s morphing between Tyrone’s voice and the children’s choir and then also to Curtis [Harding], who we recorded; he’s from Atlanta, he’s on the record as well. So, yeah, that’s the most beautiful journey for me.
MF: It feels like a really emotional album – release seems to be one of the musical and lyrical themes. But does music ever make you cry?
JG: Yeah, for sure! (laughs). I think that’s the beauty of music. I mean, we’re lucky we get to do it every day and when we strike a chord… I wouldn’t say my own music makes me cry too often, but I definitely appreciate and have felt myself crying before to music.
MF: It’s interesting you mentioned the children’s choir because The Avalanches also used a children’s choir on their last album, We Will Always Love You, and it has an innocent purity about it. But, from what I understand, your references on this album were the likes of Jon Hopkins, Bicep and Moderat. Are you all in sync in terms of influence?
JG: Nah, I’d say that we all have a fairly eclectic taste. So we all fit into a similar pool of music that we love, and then we also all have different influences – from Radiohead and Foals and Trent Reznor, [who] we were referring to a bunch on this record as well. We always just introduce each other to new different types of music and pull each other in different directions. I think Tyrone in particular, he just had a child, so he was really into this idea of a children’s choir. And we liked this idea of having that innocence throughout the record – it really pulled the record into a certain direction.
MF: Fatherhood would be a big life change!
JG: Yeah, for sure – it has been for him and I think he’s handling it very well.
MF: Is he roping in you other guys to be babysitters?
JG: Ha, ha, ha, not so much – not so much babysitting going on just yet. I think he’s been relishing it, all the time he’s had. You know, that’s one of the things with the pandemic: we were supposed to be touring a lot more, [but] he’s been able to be at home with his son. So he’s happy to be babysitting himself.
MF: You’ve had phenomenal success in the US – and the Grammy nominations were really exciting. How did you feel about that? Did you have that sense of achievement? Or was it more like, This is just a stepping stone, we need to push ourselves more and capitalise on this momentum?
JG: Yeah, I think a bit of both. It was a very exciting moment for us. The last few years over here in America have just been pretty mind-blowing – the way we’ve gone from strength to strength. We’re playing to 70, 000 people in LA here next month [at the Banc Of California Stadium], so it’s insane. We’re pretty blown away by the whole thing over here. But I think that the Grammies in particular felt like such an amazing moment of recognition and sort of establishing ourselves here. But we certainly are looking at it as a stepping stone, too. We wanna just keep improving on our music and pushing ourselves to be the best we can be.
MF: You always think that pressure lessens with each album – and now that you’re up to your fourth, you can cruise a little bit. But it sounds like that hasn’t dissipated?
JG: No, no – we love making music and we don’t wanna make the same thing and we don’t want to just rest on our laurels. We love pushing ourselves. We took a lot of time to do that on this record and explore different beats – [working with] the children’s choir is a good example of us pushing ourselves. I think we’ll always be hungry to do that.
MF: Have you any Australian tour plans? I know it’s difficult in the circumstances. But The Kid LAROI has just announced a huge homecoming tour for next year. So the industry must be assuming Australia is going to be normal next year. Have you had any discussions?
JG: Well, we’ve had things on the books and we had to cancel them – like that’s three or four times now, I think, or two or three times at least. So we’re just waiting until we have a bit more assuredness about what can happen. But I can see us getting over there next year if everything pans out and Australia opens up a bit more and we have a bit more reliability. We wanna be back there more than anything!
MF: When were you guys last here, either as a band or as individuals?
JG: I was there for Christmas 2019. We played some New Year’s shows, I believe, that was 2019 to ’20. And then I got a house in Byron Bay during that time, too. So I was staying there at my house in January of 2020.
MF: So have you got intentions to move back at some stage then?
JG: For sure. I wanna end up back in Byron. I love it there. My brother lives up there and my parents just moved up there as well. So I do wanna end up back there.
MF: Are the other band members planning to stay in the States or do they want to come back too?
JG: I don’t know… I know James definitely wants to come back to Australia at some point. But Tyrone has an American wife and his son lives here now, so I’m not sure what his intentions are over the next few years. But I know that he’ll always be travelling back and forth at least.
MF: What are you most homesick for?
JG: The beaches! I miss Australian beaches. I miss Australian food and, obviously, my friends and family – it’s pretty sad to be away from them for so long. So, yeah, they’re all the reasons I wanna come back.
MF: In many ways, Surrender encapsulates how I feel music will be post-pandemic because it’s very open. It feels communal, like it’s designed to bring people together. We’ve had introvert music for a while – headphone music. Do you have any predictions for a post-pandemic music world?
JG: Yeah, we had a lot of intention throughout our record [regarding] how we want the album to sound live – and we would have tracks in there that we can envision how we will play them live. So I think that, post-pandemic, there’s gonna be a lot of people going out a lot more. We’ve been all starved of live music. I think that I can see some big performances and maybe more music geared in that way so people are ready to listen to music live, rather than just in headphones at home.
MF: Last question: What are you yourself listening to at the moment?
JG: That’s a good question… I’ve been listening to a lot of dance music, to be honest, ’cause we’ve been doing this radio show over here for SiriusXM. So I’ve been doing a DJ mix with James from the band every month. But I’ve been loving the new Tora album [A Force Majeure]; Tora from Byron Bay… And Paraleven – we just released [an album from] this talent, he’s an American guy, on our own record label Rose Avenue Records. He released a beautiful album [Apollo], which has moments of dance euphoria and some more soulful moments. So yeah!