“It’s a really special thing”: Rüfüs Du Sol’s James Hunt talks touring and being an album-band

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Rüfüs du Sol | photo by Le Fawnhawk | courtesy of the artist

Australian electronic group Rüfüs Du Sol are no strangers to touring. They’ve been on the road almost constantly since their formation nearly a decade ago. Those years of touring have turned the band, made up of Tyrone Lindqvist, Jon George and James Hunt, into a well-oiled performance machine. They understand how to grab and keep their audiences’ attention, and how to curate an audio-visual journey for them.

On August 6, they will get to showcase their knowledge at Franklin Music Hall. As James Hunt explained to me over the phone, they’ve grown a lot in the three years since their last headlining show in Philly and they’re ready to prove it.

The Key: You guys have been touring pretty consistently since the release of Solace. How do you motivate yourselves to keep going and put yourselves out there again?

James Hunt: It’s pretty easy to stay motivated for us, because we just love playing live so much. We really enjoy the process of putting a live show together. Also the fact that we try to keep it a little more interesting for ourselves these days… I remember earlier on, maybe five years ago, if we had a pre-set setlist and we were doing it night after night, it could become more tedious. You’d get to comfortable with it. These days, something that we find keeps us on our toes, and also, if people are coming to multiple shows, what keeps it interesting for them is to mix up the setlist night after night. We have a few different covers we’ve been playing. We mix up different jams and interludes, so then from night to night it is a different experience for everyone. That keeps us pretty motivated and interested.

TK: What are you looking forward to most on this next leg of touring?

JH: I always love when we get to do headline shows. We haven’t been back to Philly for a long time, so I’m really excited for that. Also, playing festivals, like Lollapalooza, and other iconic festivals… I’m really excited about that. It’s a different energy playing at a festival. You have the opportunity to win over people who might not be your fans. It’s more of a gamble, but there’s a lot of excitement in that and playing in that space.

But also, we’ve had like six weeks off touring and I kinda just miss it. There’s so much structure and vigor to touring. There’s such a routine to it, so then when we have like six weeks off I’m just like “woah, what am I doing with myself?” We’ve been setting up the ability for us to start writing more music again, but I’m definitely excited to be back on the road.

TK: Earlier you mentioned making different setlists for different night and keeping things interesting. What’s the process of deciding what you’re gonna play on a given night?

JH: From one tour to the next, there are a few songs that are pretty key. Pretty much a given that we’ll play certain tracks. Other tracks might offer a similar vibe or a similar mood, or create a similar kind of moment, so we’ll use one song one night and a different song the next. We just sit down as a group and have a discussion.

We also work and chat pretty closely with our production crew – our lighting engineer, our lighting technician, our audio engineer – and they might have different opinions based on the impact on the sound or the lighting color journey. It’s a very team-involved thing.

TK: How do you decide what visuals and lighting you’re employ for the larger tour?

JH: We work really closely with our lighting technician. He comes to the table with a lot of ideas and things that are specifically based on lighting modules that can do this and that. We’ll go “oh that’s really cool! Why don’t we utilize that for this song and this song…” We work really closely with him.

One of the guys in the band, Jon, his younger brother, Alex, has done maybe 90% of our video clips and has been a really involved artistic director from day one. We work really closely with him as well. We sit down for a few weeks before we start a tour and we go through the actual journey of the set and make decisions throughout. We’re all very involved in curating the tour.

TK: This last record, Solace, is definitely a lot darker than Rüfüs Du Sol’s previous work. How have you found mixing those moods together in a setlist?

JH: One of the driving factors in making that record was allowing and opening ourselves up to different kinds of moods. Not with the intention of working it into the live set, but there was the knowledge that when we do play it live it will allow us to go into softer moments that are more somber and create a bit more “light and shade.” It can be more of a dynamic journey instead of just going, going, going for the whole set. Allowing it to undulate a bit has been really good to play with for us. It makes it easier to design the setlist because we know that one point we’ll have the track “Solace” where we can withdraw and become softer and then things can be more impactful after that again.

TK: Are there any tracks from the new record that are too dark or upsetting to play overnight?

JH: We allow ourselves to play every single track from the new record. It’s more about where it sits in the set on a specific night or in a setlist. But definitely when we play “Solace,” that is a bit more a heartbreaking one. You do see people having a really cathartic experience, crying, and such. It definitely feels important to be open to for us, seeing how much of an impact it can have.

TK: What’s that feeling like when you see someone in the crowd crying? I’m sure on one hand you’re like “oh wow, our song is really powerful,” but on the other do you really want someone crying at your show?

JH: It is a funny thing! I remember the first time we started seeing that; it was more around when we put “Innerbloom” out and we’ve progressively opened ourselves up to more heartbreak and sad, but powerful and cathartic music. There’s a broader spectrum of emotions in out music. So when we started seeing that it was definitely really powerful. I’ve definitely been to shows and I’ve cried, even if it’s really positive music. When it moves you so much that you’re brought to tears, it’s actually such a rare and beautiful experience. I feel really lucky whenever we see that we can impact someone to that point where they relate so hard that they’re brought to tears. It’s a really special thing. I feel grateful that we get to be able to impact someone like that.

James Hunt working on “Solace” in Los Angeles | photo by Derek Rickert | via instagram.com/_jameshunt

TK: So you all made much of Bloom in Berlin and Solace in California – where do you guys see yourselves moving next?

JH: We haven’t really discussed it yet. We’re all kinda based in L.A. right now and we’ve been setting up our own places with our own little studio spaces. I think we’re gonna try a different process just while we’re still touring. Since all of us produce and song-write, we want to try a process where we all bounce ideas between each other; send beats and chord progressions and hooks and melodies back and forth between the three of us to see if that generates anything. At some point we’ll have to convene as a group again.

TK: Would you work with other people again like you did on Solace?

JH: Yeah! That was a really important process for us; to open ourselves up to doing that. Now, we’ve figured out a way of going about that. Especially considering there are three of us, by the end of it we got to a good point of figuring out how to approach working with a new person who is essentially like a fourth band member.

TK: Rüfüs Du Sol are definitely album-oriented, which is refreshing in this day and age. What role do you see the album playing in modern electronic music, especially in the context of streaming and playlists?

JH: It isn’t the most natural fit to the way electronic music in particular, or really music in general right now, but we just grew up with it. We’ve always loved the concept and dreamed of making albums. I guess we just stubbornly stuck to that. All of our favorite acts were album based, like Radiohead and The Chemical Brothers, who are probably more of a purist dance act than us. They are still album based. They put out one of my favorite electronic albums of the last 6 months.

At the same time though, we’ve also discussed being open to putting out an EP or standalone songs in between albums. We like the idea that we can play between those two worlds as an album-based band and as a part of the electronic music community.

TH: Looking at your discography you see songs like “Innerbloom” and “Another Life,” which are much longer than your typical song, especially in the streaming age. How do you guys go about that? At what point in the process do you realize that a song needs to be longer than 3:30 minutes and that it needs more space to breathe?

JH: The first time we went through that process was writing “Innerbloom.” I think we had been writing songs that were more succinct and maybe radio friendly, and once we found the track “You Were Right”… we were really happy with that. There was no pressure to have an end goal of making anything anymore and we started being open to writing things that wouldn’t necessarily be played on the radio. We were all listening to a lot of electronic music that was like 10-minute tracks, lots of house tracks, and we were like “why can’t we make one of those?” Seeing that that was one of the most seminal tracks for us was eye-opening, so from then on we were open to making songs that were longer and shorter and playing with structure.

TK: You mentioned The Chemical Brothers and Radiohead before, and the idea that there are certain albums that inspired you to continue making records. What electronic records specifically do you think are essential listening?

JH: There’s a group that I’m obsessed with called Boards of Canada and they put out an album in 1997 called Music Has the Right to Children and that’s one of my favorite electronic albums of all time. Pretty much all of The Chemical Brothers’ discography. Radiohead’s Kid A is a huge one for me as well. There’s a lot! It’s a big question.

TK: How do you guys decide what you’re gonna listen to on the tour bus?

JH: We fight over who gets the AUX. If someone is killing it, we let them go and do their thing. If someone is not killing it, then we have to wrangle the AUX. For the most part, we all listen to pretty similar stuff. It’s chill.

Find tickets and more information for Rüfüs Du Sol’s Tuesday. August 6 show at Franklin Music Hall on the XPN Concert Calendar. Solace is out now via Rose Avenue Records.

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