The Rubens have always been a booming voice in the fight to revive Sydney’s struggling live music scene. The Menangle locals performed at Sydney’s ‘Don’t Kill Live Music’ rally in February and spoke at the NSW Parliamentary Enquiry regarding the state of live music in the nanny state last year. The tragic irony that the boys cut their teeth and kick-started their career touring Sydney and around NSW isn’t lost on The Rubens either.
That’s exactly why they launched Chucka Buckas in November last year. Over the last few months, The Rubens invited emerging artists to play at Sydney’s Botany View Hotel with the goal to give up-and-coming musicians a platform to perform and provide music fans with a new outlet to catch fresh artists.
The shows have been so successful that the five-piece are taking it on the road with the inaugural Chucka Buckas Regional Tour. Joining them on the tour are two of The Rubens’ favourite emerging artists from Sydney, Milan Ring and Shady Nasty. Over July and August, they’ll be stopping by nine towns across NSW from Bathurst to Gerringong.
Ahead of the tour, we chatted with The Rubens’ keyboardist Elliot Margin about fighting the good fight with Chucka Buckas, their spot on this year’s Snowtunes Music Festival and hints of new music on the horizon.
Music Feeds: You’re about to take ‘Chucka Buckas’ on the road. Can you tell us a bit about the initiative and how it started?
Elliot Margin: It’s pretty much just us reacting to what’s been going on especially in Sydney and the music scene in NSW. We were feeling like if we’ve got this platform where maybe we can help out and give back a little bit to other up and coming artists, bands and musicians, we should do our best to. Chucka Buckas is our little way of doing that. It started out as a band night where we put on different acts and have it be a free night where people come and watch.
We eventually realised that this is something we can expand and take on the road and take these acts out to places where maybe they haven’t toured and to communities that maybe don’t get a lot of live music. It’s kinda like the best of both worlds thing. You get artists out to communities where they wouldn’t go usually and then people who live in those communities may not get live music that often either.
MF: As well as the musicians and the fans, it’s a great way to support local venues as well. Was that part of the plan too?
EM: Yeah and the response we’ve had from venue owners and promoters has been really nice to see that people do care and they’re excited by that. They want to put in the effort to make sure that there are events happening where new artists can play for audiences and build their craft and survive.
MF: It helps battle the misconception that people no longer leave the house to see live music too.
EM: Yeah, totally! We’ve seen heaps of excitement from people and, like you said, showing the opposite and that people do want to see live music and support the arts but the environment right now is stifling that. It’s nice to see people respond to that in a positive way and to take the time. You know, if they’ve just finished work on a weeknight and there’s this gig happening, people actually do put the effort in to go take their free time and go see these bands and pay money and buy merch. People do care about the arts and the music scene, which is nice to see.
MF: You guys forged your career touring in this local music scene as well. Do you think you were inspired to do this as well because you understand first-hand how important it is for young artists?
EM: Yeah, exactly and it’s nice to give back. It’s exciting for us as well to see these younger artists grow and hopefully give them the leg up that we had from artists when we were growing up and coming up on the scene.
MF: With such a rich pool of local artists to pick from to support you on the tour, how did you narrow it down to Milan Ring and Shady Nasty?
EM: Well, we just love their music. We played with Milan Ring last year, I think. I can’t remember what tour it was but we played in Newcastle and caught her set before we went on and we were just blown away by what she does on stage. We’d heard her music but had never seen her play live. She’s crazy talented and was playing all of these different instruments just by herself on stage.
And then with Shady Nasty, we actually had them on the first Chucka Buckas night that we had in Sydney at the Botany View Hotel and we were just blown away by their music and energy on stage. Their live show is amazing. They’re one of those artists where you’re like “I’ve never heard anything like this before and I really fucking love it”. There’s just something really new and exciting about them.
So to take new artists like Milan Ring and Shady Nasty on the road and have them play in front of audiences that might not have heard of them before is a really cool opportunity.
MF: How have you been handpicking the artists to choose to bring along for the ride? I can imagine it would be hard to narrow it down.
EM: Yeah, it is hard! We have a group chat where we throw in new artists that we’ve heard and try to keep up to date with who’s playing where and who’s available. We’ve cast the net far and wide a lot of the time. But it’s pretty much about us as a band and our group of friends talking about music and passing around artists that we love. But it is fun! We get to share new music amongst each other and find our new favourite artists and share them with the public which is really cool.
MF: What’s the plan for the regional tour after it ends in August? Is it something we can expect again any time soon?
EM: We’d love to keep the tour growing and make it something we do as often as possible, whether that’s annually or bi-annually, I’m not sure. But we’ve always loved going on the road and getting to regional towns where they don’t get live music as often as they should. You see artists respond to that and appreciate that you make the effort to get out there. So it’s something we’d love to do as soon as possible but it just depends.
We’d love to expand it outside of NSW as well if we can and get to more regional towns across Australia.
MF: That would be awesome, especially because so many tours in Australia only visit the capital cities on travel up and down the east coast.
EM: Yeah, totally and I think it’s good for artists to see that these are viable markets because there is a need for it and people do want to pay to see live music. It’s fun as well. You get to see places that you wouldn’t otherwise.
MF: Do you find that those smaller shows have a different energy than the bigger city gigs?
EM: Yeah, totally! In Sydney, Melbourne and Brisbane, we’re spoiled with awesome Australian bands and international artists coming through. You might become a little bit jaded because you have so much choice. Whereas out in regional communities, anything that comes through you’re going to be so excited for.
MF: You’re lucky enough to have a great platform to help action change. What tips would you give to other artists and music fans to help support the cause?
EM: It sounds cliché but just put yourself out there and play as much as you can. There are opportunities out there for artists. Maybe it’s a little harder in some cities like Sydney to find them but you can find them. I think you just have to push yourself and get out there and do it. Because like we said, people do want to see live music. It can look like everything has gone to shit and it’s all at a loss, but it’s not. It might be harder than it was before but it’s worth working for.
MF: You witnessed the impact first-hand when you saw the turn out for the “Don’t Kill Live Music” rally in Sydney earlier this year. Did that inspire you to keep fighting the good fight as well?
EM: Yeah, that was a nice night and good to play out there. It was bigger than I think anyone anticipated and heartwarming to see that people still care.
MF: As musicians, do you feel like you have a responsibility to raise awareness and fight for the music scene in NSW?
EM: Yeah, totally. Not just because it’s our livelihood but because it’s what matters. Life is fucking boring if you’re not doing fun things like creating music or enjoying music or appreciating art or whatever it is. If that’s taken away or harder to make or appreciate, I think that’s wrong. I think it’s everyone’s obligation to make sure it survives.
MF: Speaking of live shows, you guys are hitting up Snowtunes Music Festival in Jindabyne in August. What are you looking forward to with that show?
EM: Being at the snow! We’ve played shows at the snow before and they’ve been wild. The town is kind of asleep for six months of the year and then during winter it’s just chaotic and fun and the vibes are so high. So we’re super excited for that. Hopefully, none of us gets injured or breaks any arms or sprains any ankles on the slopes because that could be very detrimental (laughs). We just won’t hit the diamond runs I guess.
I remember the last show we played at the snow, I couldn’t even use my hands it was so cold. It was fucking disgustingly freezing. So the music performance wasn’t the best that it could’ve been but it was still a god damn fun time. And we’re excited to see the other artists as well. It’s an amazing lineup.
MF: You have a few unusual gigs throughout 2019, like your acoustic set at MTV Unplugged. What was that experience like?
EM: Yeah, obviously MTV was a massive one because there’s a lot of history to it and as an artist, it’s something you never think you’d get to do. But in your head, you have a dream of doing it and then it came around like “Oh, shit. We can’t fuck this up” because it is so special. But it was fun. We got to rework a lot of different songs and add strings to them and stuff and change things up. We’ve been a band for a while now and it’s cool to have those opportunities where we get to rework songs and make them exciting again for us and the audience.
MF: What else does The Rubens have planned for 2019?
EM: We’ve been doing a bit of writing and working on stuff in between shows. We’re kind of always doing that. There are some exciting things in the works. Some things I can’t say, which is annoying but there will be things happening later in the year.
The Rubens head to Jindabyne at the end of this month for Snowtunes, playing alongside the likes of The Presets, Vera Blue and a heap more. Head here for more details.