Ry Cuming – better known under his musical moniker RY X – has been making waves in the past couple of years. His stunningly raw sound is conquering Europe and is sure to go grab more attention with every song he puts out.
We had the pleasure of catching up with Ry during the Open Source Festival, right after his set, in a big green field behind some little hedge, isolated from the crowd… After walking a little to find the right spot, we sat on the grass and had a nice chat. Here’s how it went down.
You started playing guitar at a very young age, and I read your first riff was a Doors riff when you were about seven. Where you brought up in a musical household?
Yeah I was… I was born really far from everything, in a little town on an island. My dad played records all the time you know, so that was my understanding of what music was. I didn’t have this idea of pop music, it was just really all vinyl, so I had a real love for 60‘s and 70’s music growing up for sure.
Surfing is a huge part of your life. Did you ever consider taking that route, or were they both always intrinsically linked?
They were for a while, and I thought that I was going to be able to have them together. I did a deal with Quicksilver at one point, when I was surfing and playing music with them. The whole package thing.
Yeah I saw you did some film with them in Indonesia…
Yeah… It was all about sustainability, which is in my heritage, as my dad is a sustainability planner. But I don’t know, there was some part of me that didn’t want to compete with the surfing, it didn’t feel like that was what is was all about. And I guess I struggle in the same way with music sometimes. To come on a beautiful stage like that, there is almost a feeling you’ve got to impress people, or turn it on for people, and I guess I’m just not very good at that… or at least I’ve never tried to be. So after making music and going on this journey, I started making music I really cared about, and seeing that received was beautiful… and I think if I could free surf and people could appreciate that, without having to compete, then if I was good enough, I could have gone down that route.
Do you still take the time – whenever you can and you’re close to the ocean – to go out and surf?
Yeah man I do, but I really miss it at the moment… I’ve been on the road so much the last year. I’ve been living between Berlin and Southern California, which doesn’t have great waves… they’re fun waves! But not as good as Australia or Indonesia… so I kinda was spoilt growing up. I was just thinking about this this morning. I woke up in the hotel and I thought
fuck, maybe I should just move back to Australia, where the fuck am I right now, I need the ocean!
So after school you went traveling to Costa Rica, where you were spotted by an LA producer, which then lead to the deal with Jive Records… tell us a bit more about that journey.
It was really strange… I was in a very free state of mind, I was 17/18, and I just wanted to travel… I surfed a lot… there were no cellphones, no internet out there… the internet is so recent we forget some times. It was a bit of a pilgrimage I guess, as I wanted more space to develop what I was doing.
So I was sleeping on the hotel room floor of a friend of our family, and I didn’t have enough money to stay at the hotel, I was busking, playing music around the place. At that time it was the world Longboard Championship, so all the girls from Roxy/Quicksilver Crew were there. And yeah a film producer saw me and came up to me the next day asking if I wanted to come to LA. At first I didn’t really connect to it, I went back to Australia and he called me up saying that the people who heard my music wanted to invest in me and bring me back out, which is quite beautiful when you think about it. Flew me back from Australia to LA, and it was great! Very organic.
I guess at that point it starts feeling quite real…
Yeah it was really real, and I guess I was from such a small town (around 200 people) that the idea of getting on a plane and flying to LA was this crazy thing to all my friends… At that point I didn’t know what the music industry was, I just wanted to make music. I arrived in LA, skating around, no shoes, no shirt…
and I guess people saw that and thought “oh cool, we could sell this” or “we could sell the idea of this” and I didn’t know what was going on man…
Just young and innocent with all these people hyping you up…
Yeah exactly! And then I turned 20/21 and now I want to look like James Dean you know? You go through these phases. I was just doing what I wanted to do, but the industry was taking that and commercialising it. I didn’t understand that that until much later. I was writing songs and some other producer would produce them, and I was like “cool man, let’s go with it” until I turned around and realised “wait, this is not what I want the record to sound like, this isn’t really representing who I am anymore. I think it’s time to step away”…
So it took 2 years, and I literally left the industry, and to be honest, I didn’t think I would ever come back. Just make music for my friends, and art projects, and experience the depths of art making. I’ve been an artist for most of my life, but I hadn’t really pushed. And I really wanted to go deep with it, and push it to places I hadn’t done before…
So on that note of stripping back, and going for a more organic feel. How did the transition come about with Magnus Bohman at Dumont Dumont and Imperial Recordings? Can you tell us a bit more about that?
Yeah, like I said I stepped away for a couple of years and I started recording some stuff with some friends of mine in LA in this tiny little back house. I was just doing live takes only. So much stuff is over produced these days… and it’s a little bit of a formula, which subconsciously, I was trying to move away from. I was doing this very live thing, one mic, one take… and I thought “oh cool this stuff feels good, maybe I’ll put it out somewhere” and then I never put it out, and started making a few other things. Then Magnus reached out to me online and he said “look, I’ve heard a couple of things, could I put something out”…
But you were their first artist right?
Yeah, well actually Magnus did Jose Gonzalez on Imperial, and he said he’d love to put me on. So I looked at the roster and since Jose I hadn’t really fallen in love with with anything on their records.
So I said why don’t you start another label for me, so there is no preconception of who the label is and of who RY X is. We didn’t expect anything man, we pressed 500 vinyl, and we sold out, and there was this really beautiful buzz happening in the underground Europe scene…
and suddenly it was in the charts. It’s weird because it’s such an organic, raw thing, and I guess for me part of the challenge now is how can we build from this and expand. How do you keep that sense of intimacy when you get on a stage in front of 3000 people?
I wanted to talk a bit about your music and your various collaborative projects… You initially wrote these songs only for yourself, and it wasn’t intended for a wider audience. But now that you’ve reached a stage where you know that whenever you put out music there is going to be an audience, how does it impact your songwriting process?
It’s fucking scary man! I mean ever since the Berlin EP came out, the industry suddenly starting going nuts and all the big labels started reaching out, the Capitol’s and Polydor’s and all these people offering big deals and stuff…
Where you ever tempted?… Be honest!
You know, I went in and I had meetings with them and I said “look if I’m in this building, I’m in it because I want to make the music I want to make, and if you agree to make the music I want to make, and put it out exactly that way, without questioning it, and trust what my team do… and have someone like Magnus be involved, and bring in my family to this family. You take this very raw organic things, and you use your machine to push it out”. And they were all like “we would love to do that, we would be honored, this is incredible”… but then it came down to the contract stuff… and they wouldn’t do it! I got to a place when I was looking at Universal music contracts and I called my manager like “fuck it, I don’t wanna be there, I don’t wanna do that…”
I had that track “Sweat”, it was one microphone in a bathroom, one take. And I thought, I don’t wanna do this big machine thing, so I just put it up to see and it was like “Fuck! 100,000 listens in a week!”. People are still hungry for that rawness! So for me its really about (with all my projects) getting to that raw place. I think of stuff like Elliot Smith or Arthur Russell… super special music… and there’s not many people trying to tap that organic, raw source at the moment… so I’m trying to go there with RY X for sure.
So how do you differentiate with your various collaborative projects – notably The Acid – which is musically and visually much more experimental?
It happens naturally you know. Im so honest as an artist now, when I walk into a studio space I’m gonna do exactly what feels right for me. So when I met Adam and Steve, we started talking about stuff that was inspiring, from classical composers to Indian Raga and we just started playing around. It was really amazing to see that stuff come out… most of it were just sketches, Iphone recordings, and most of the times we would end up using those same recordings, or use tape recordings and build tracks around it. It’s different to RY X in that – as you said – it’s more experimental… and at first I thought it would be confusing for people. But there is something beautiful about sharing all parts of yourself.
You directed “Fame” with Dugan O’neal. What was the idea behind the video? And who is crazy electro ninja?!
Fucking amazing man! Well like I said I always love directing, photography and that aspect of the world as well. And we did that first video “Basic Instinct” with this idea of floating bodies. We went to see WIFE, a collaborative group out of LA they are just incredible artists and dear friends of mine (they’re the girls in that video). We had this beautiful team with Dugan O’neal who is a well known director in those circles and is one of my best mates. I think making art should be about a collaborative experience with friends… if you’ve got a good community, don’t outsource, keep it tight, keep it pure.
So when it came to making a video for “Fame” we used the same team, and brought in these amazing dancers – friends of ours – to be in the performance. And then WIFE were the Creative Directors, getting behind the camera this time. The idea was about this ritualistic state were you’re in the middle of a shamanic experience, like an initiation as a man. Part of that was questioning what fame is and that masculine idea of going through an initiation process, like aboriginal cultures, rocks cut across our chest, go out in the desert for 3 weeks and come back changed. But now we’re like “ooh man I don’t really feel like going on Facebook today, so I’m gonna have a Facebook day off as my initiation”.
And what about that guy… the crazy ninja with the yellow fan…
Which one? Ah Maurice! He’s a fucking character man! He’s got such strong presence. He’s a friend of ours, he always does this stuff with fans and it’s really tied in with the gay and lesbian community, in LA especially. He calls himself the queen, and he comes out with these fans and high heels on “bam! bam!” and does these beautiful performances, but he owns the space, he is so powerful! And we were joking at first about it like “are you sure you want Maurice!?” and from the minute he came on screen, it became about him evoking the emotion to Raymond (the other dancer) and emancipating…
It’s hard because I always think of Bjork and stuff, and what would Bjork do in her video, and you think of “Always Full Of Love” as a video… they weren’t improvising anything in that video! They totally fucking knew what they were doing. But maybe I’m not quite at that point yet when I can go “yeah so I want two robots to come and make out, and it’s basically gonna be the sexiest lesbian robot scene you’ve ever seen in your life…”
I wanted to focus and give The Acid some time, and I didn’t want to convolute the process by putting out too much stuff at the same time. There was a fair bit of hype over RY X and I just wanted to pull all that away and see what’s real. And it’s been quite beautiful, when we come out to places like this, realising the community is real, and you can feel it.
So right now it’s about finishing a summer of touring, going back to California and really honing in on RY X stuff
There’s quite a few new songs, but just I want to make sure it’s a really special record. So let’s put out something that matters and connects with the people.
And I guess you want to capture the moment, but you also want something that you can look back on 5/10 years from now and be proud of it.
Yeah exactly! Exactly… and I think you only get one shot at really showing who you are. So I think around summer next year the RY X record will be out, and there will be other stuff coming out in the meantime, with Howling and Frank… So yeah, it’s been fucking busy man!
Haha! Yeah! Frank and I met through this French girl that I had fallen in lust of love with, I couldn’t really tell the difference… It was kind of a weird introduction, we met over Skype and then we started playing around with ideas. He had this little keyboard and it was this really natural connection there. So we just started talking to each other about music. And I sent him a couple of tracks, and one of them was “Howling” from a session I did. I think I recorded Howling, Berlin and a few other songs in the same two days…
What a couple of days!
Yeah, the energy was there and I believe something got caught on the tape in that time. He just put some kick drums, a few hi-hats and a drone underneath and he said “I’ve been playing it in clubs and people are going nuts”. It was such a cool thing, because it was just record a song, play it, no bullshit, and I felt so renewed…
suddenly we had this track at number one in the deep house charts, which was a whole culture I had never been a part of
I came to Berlin a couple of times and really fell in love with the idea of what Deep House and Techno is. But yeah the “…Teen Spirit” thing. Basically, I fucking love grunge, and he was like “we should do a cover of an old house tune and reinvent it” and I was like “how about we go to the guts and do some grunge”… and that’s a hard tune to cover you know, it’s fucking dangerous territory… but when we started playing it live it just grew and we never planned to release it, we took the vocals and made them half time… it’s a whole different version. So we’re going to put it out on vinyl with the Modeselektor boys and Monkey Town who are good mates of ours, so yeah, keeping it in the family.
Ok so lets finish off with some stupid questions… If you could be a cartoon character, who would it be?
Fuck, I don’t know… I’d be some anime character. I don’t know which one. If I was to be a cartoon, I’d like the idea to transcend the human body and do some really rad stuff. So I’ll take any “Spirited Away” something like that.
We’ve touched on your various projects and collabo’s. What would be your dream collaboration?
Bjork would be up there. She’s such a powerhouse, she’s a mum, an activist, an artist, and just a badass. There’s so many man… I guess it would be cool to work with Trent Reznor and do something like that… and Jeff Buckley was an idol and a huge influence on me. But I guess if I could do it with anyone right now, Bjork would be insane.
And finally, what’s next for Ry?
Finishing this summer of touring you know. Got a lot of festivals to play. and then go back to California, surfing, and start getting my head back into writing and the creating process, so that my album is ready for next summer.
Beautiful! Cool man, thanks for your time.
Yeah man! You’re welcome, thank you…
Much love to Ry and his team for making this happen and taking the time to sit with us. Big thanks to everyone at Open Source Festival – especially Alicia – for having us, and props to the big homie Martí P. Palau of the Zaina Collective for the snaps.