RÜFÜS DU SOL are bending the rules with their new live film and album Live From Joshua Tree. The 45-minute audio-visual masterpiece is far from your average band documentary. Firstly, the Sydney trio are performing to an audience of zero people. Secondly, it was shot at dusk in the eerily beautiful Joshua Tree of Southern California.
The film was directed by Katzki (or keyboardist Jon George’s brother Alex) who transports the trio into an alien-looking world. Surrounded by nothing but the sweeping desert landscape, the looming silhouettes of the mountains and glowing LED light poles, we couldn’t blame you if you mistook it for another planet.
Not only is the setting visually breathtaking, but it’s also a place of deep significance for the boys. It’s where they wrote much of 2018’s Solace, so it only made sense that they made the pilgrimage back to where it all began.
From ‘Underwater’ to ‘Innerbloom’, Live From Joshua Tree takes the listener on an 8-track journey through some of their biggest bangers. As they articulated in a tweet ahead of the release, the live experience wouldn’t be out of place whether you’re relaxing on the couch on a Sunday afternoon or at house party kick-ons after a rave.
The film dropped on YouTube on 5 March 2020 and the Sydney trio used the premiere to donate towards the bushfire relief. They teamed up with Chemical Brothers (who were screening their film Don’t Think) to donate all of the proceeds from the screenings at the Ritz Cinema Randwick and the IMAX in Melbourne to the Red Cross.
The morning after the premiere, we chatted with keyboardist Jon George about Live From Joshua Tree and when we can expect new tunes from RÜFÜS DU SOL.
Music Feeds: What was the original idea behind the ‘Live from Joshua Tree’ film and album?
Jon George: My brother, who is our creative director, came up with the concept and directed it. I think it just gelled so much with what we wanted to do in the future and to put something out that people weren’t expecting. It documents what our live show is at the moment and the feeling of it.
For us, Joshua Tree is such a special place. We’ve done a lot of writing out there and wrote a bunch of Solace out there. It’s such an inspiring landscape in itself. It looks like the moon. We always get really lost out there. I think that’s the idea of the Live from Joshua Tree album and video.
MF: I heard that the film originally started off as a joke. How did it become a reality from there?
JG: When we were writing out in Joshua Tree we were playing ‘Time’ by the Pachanga Boys and we were out there writing lyrics. We ended up writing a song that night. When it came time to talk about it and Alex was posing the idea, we were all in jest about that writing trip and getting lost out there. So we thought why not?
MF: There were discussions of it being a live stream rather than a film. What made you decide to go in this direction?
JG: We wanted to put something out and try to do some stuff differently and put something really creative out there. It seemed like the best chance we had of doing that was getting the full production out there and make quite an ordeal of it. We had a huge crew out there and it was a two-day thing. The shots that we got were epic, so to do a live stream just seemed like it would [be] undervaluing or cutting ourselves short. We’re really glad that we took the time to produce it properly.
MF: How long did you film the performance for?
JG: We did just do the actual shoot in one night but the whole set up took two days to get ready for it. We were only out there ourselves for the one night, just as the sun set.
MF: We’ve seen plenty of live concert movies and band documentaries, but what inspired you to perform without an audience?
JG: I guess in one way it was really intelligent on our behalf to do it with no one out there in this epic landscape. We took full advantage of it and got to sink into it. It was so epic just being there ourselves and watching that sunset. It was such a pinch ourselves moment to have this huge production there and to make this mini film.
I guess the other part is that we want the viewer to be able to experience something a little extra-terrestrial. Like I was saying, it’s like the moon out there. We wanted them to lose themselves in the music and that’s where we were at when we were performing. We were really in the zone and enjoying it. I think that makes for such a unique experience for the viewer too.
MF: Did you feel like you had a bit more creative freedom to play around and reshoot parts without a crowd there as well?
JG: Oh yeah, 100%. That cinematography and the way we filmed it, we were able to create something really beautiful that isn’t just the live show. It’s definitely something extra and more. That’s what we wanted to put out into the world. Something unexpected. We didn’t tell anyone we were doing it. We just paid for it all ourselves and put our heart behind it.
MF: The landscape is otherworldly and the cinematography is beautiful. What were some of your inspirations for how it would look?
JG: Alex is a bit of a visionary in himself. We’re very trusting as to what he was going to come up. He came up with the whole lighting concept and using the RED cameras and drone shots. We laid a lot of trust in him in how it was going to be edited to bring out the magnitude of the landscape, which he did really well.
We just spit balled on that idea for a while with him and we were able to pull it off. We’re really happy he was able to flex that muscle and create something so beautiful.
MF: Have you been happy with the responses so far?
JG: Yeah, for sure. My parents were there in the Randwick Ritz and my brother flew back to watch the Melbourne IMAX show. I’ve heard a lot of feedback from them and friends. I think everyone’s just blown away by it, as I am (laughs). It’s pretty amazing to have it out there. We also saw a big LA premiere of it in a cinema just before we came on this tour. We sort of snuck up the back of the cinema and experienced it with 500 people. It was so cool to see us on the big screen and in Hollywood and hearing the crowd’s reaction. It was pretty surreal.
MF: Do you think you’ll incorporate any elements from the film into your live shows?
JG: Potentially, yeah! We revolutionised the live show late last year, so we’re really happy with where the show is at right now. It’s such a fun show to put on at the moment. I think as we get closer to the red rock states and some more exciting things in the end of the year, we want to be pushing ourselves. Something visually could change and those landscapes are really cool to play with.
MF: The funds from the premiere were donated to the bushfire effort, right?
JG: We donated a large sum of money over New Year’s to the relief fund and we were trying to come up with ways to increase that. This seemed like the perfect opportunity. We don’t want to be taking anything back from those premieres. We just wanted to put it out and it seemed like a really easy way. It just made sense to put it towards the relief fund.
It was really cool to partner up with the Chemical Brothers, who we’re huge fans of and they were really inspirational when we were forming the band. It was really special for us to team up with them to create the event. We all know how much is needed to repair the damage that’s been done around Australia. We’re just trying to do our little bit.
MF: It’s been almost two years since the release of ‘Solace’. Are you working on any new music right now?
JG: Yeah, that’s the idea. I don’t know if that’s what we’re saying publicly but that’s what we’re doing (laughs). We’re in the studio at the moment and we have been since the end of last year. Once this tour finishes, we’re heading back to Joshua Tree actually. We’ve booked a writing trip for 10 days out there. We’re really eager and hungry to write some cool tunes already that we’re really excited. We’ll just keep plotting away and figure out how we want to put it out for the world.