There’s something quite comforting to be found in the caffeinated, jittery sound that is Toronto-based Indie Rock band, Born Ruffians. The band, inspired by groups like Talking Heads and Pixies, has stayed loyal to the under-produced sound that is quintessentially indie. This remains true for their recent 2015 release, “RUFF.” The album sounds charmingly defiant, yet neat when it needs to be.
I had a chance to Skype with the band’s bassist Mitch Derosier in the midst of the band’s international tour to speak about “RUFF,” the essence of indie music and Bruce Springsteen-shaded dreams. As Derosier describes it in an ‘ou’- void Canadian accent, “RUFF” is a slight departure from the band’s previous albums as it exists as a compact “thing,” rather than a “time capsule” of songs that the band happened to make that year.
Q: You’ve faced a slew of reviews that describe your sound for you. How would you describe it?
A: I always find that to be a difficult question. Sometimes I think it is better described by other people because when we first started our band, we didn’t create a certain type of music or sound a certain way. We just started creating the type of music we make, if that makes sense. We started in high school when we were all still basically learning our instruments. I always think that we learned how to play them together more than alone, so our songs have that written into them. I don’t know — I agree with some ways that people describe us and disagree with others. I think were always trying to hone that sound into something. With each record we try to not perfect it, but we try to nail down what we really want to do. Song to song is different, but I’ve basically dodged that question. Next question.
Q: Who are your musical influences?
A: We kind of together have a lot of influences, and then have individual influences. As a band, I think we’re all pretty influenced by bands like Talking Heads, the Pixies and Violent Femmes. We started being a band partly because of the Strokes; when we saw them on SNL we were kind of like that’s awesome, let’s do that. And then personally, I feel like I have different influences for playing bass.
Q: How did Born Ruffians come into existence?
A: Luke (vocals/ guitar) and I are cousins, so we’ve known each other since we were babies. So it was the two of us and our first drummer Steve, who drummed with us for most of the band’s lifetime — we met in high school. Then when we moved to Toronto, we met Andy (guitar/keyboard,) who plays with us now. Adam — our current drummer — we have actually known since we were babies, as well. He’s a family friend. So, it’s weird: as a band we’re pretty close and have known each other for a long time.
Q: How does your song writing process usually go?
A: It’s kind of different with each song. On this record we had a rehearsal space that also had a studio in it in Toronto — just kind of like a converted garage. And we would go there and whether it was just me and Luke working on stuff, or just me alone or the whole band, we would spend a lot of time there demoing and we’d try to jam new songs in. There are some songs on the record that Luke wrote and demoed all on his own and then we kind of recreated and there are some that started as just Luke and I were working on stuff together and then brought in Adam and Andy to work on. There’s other stuff where we would just start jamming in a room and see what came out. And that’s kind of how its always been. Each song has its own blueprint and each comes together differently.
Q: How do you think the sound of “RUFF” is different from that of your last album?
A: The record itself feels really whole. Our past records have kind of done this thing where — I feel like a lot of bands do this — it’s almost like a time capsule of “well we wrote this group of songs from this year, let’s pick our favorite 11 songs,” and that’s the record. This time we still did that, wrote a bunch of songs in a time period, but when we were picking them it was less so just picking the best ones or our favorite ones. We had ones that were written to fit the record and we picked ones that fit the vibe or sound. With “RUFF,” there was an idea behind it and there was a theme in writing. Like lyrically, Luke tried to focus on writing as not a concept, but having familiar lyrics throughout the record, so a lot of the lyrics do have crossover with some of the songs. That’s to me, maybe, where the separation in our sound comes from.
Q: Favorite song on the album?
A: I don’t know, it’s hard. It’s weird: for all of our other records I see them as collections of songs, but this record I really see as its own thing. It’s harder for me to separate the songs because they feel so complete to me. I feel like if I had to pick though, I think “(Eat Shit) We Did It” is my favorite just because it’s got a humor to it, but it’s also weirdly — I don’t want to say an empowering song because that makes it seem like it’s more important than it is — but it’s just one of the first songs we wrote that has that feeling to it. I think with most of our other songs you either have the sad lyrics or something like that. But this one’s the only one that’s just like totally happy, and it’s kind of a cocky song, which we’ve never had before, so I really like that. And I think it turned out really good when we recorded it and it’s just really fun to play.
Q: How do you think you’ve been influenced by the rise of electronic music? Lalonde’s solo album “Rhythymnals” seemed to have a slightly produced sound to it.
A: I don’t know if we have any influence, but maybe we react to it a bit more. Like on “Birthmarks” we experimented a bit more with a different sound that was a little more produced and polished. And we kind of wanted to make a record that was in the studio and that we could not worry about how we were going to play it live-type thing. We didn’t use anything too out of our element on that record, but it was different, and I don’t know — if things had gone differently we could’ve gone further in that direction and embraced maybe a more electronic or at least maybe a more produced or over-produced kind of sound.
We kind of went the other way and were like no we kind of want to just make a rock record … a really live feeling rock record and one that’s fun to play and one that we can just pick up and play and jam. I think we, if anything, went in the opposite direction, and I really like that. It’s how we stated and where we came from. Luke’s record — I really love and I think that was him really coming into his own as a producer even and exploring that idea. I think its great and it was one of my favorite records of that year, but for us as a band to go that route — I think it would be putting on costume or something, playing pretend.
Q: Could you speak to your reaction to popular music criticism? Does it impact your work?
A: It’s difficult. It’s hard to not read reviews or not read any kind of criticism. You always kind of want to keep to yourself when you’re making music and when you’re on tour and stuff when it comes to that. But of course, you end up reading it. Who else is reading that but the bands that make those records or play those shows? In the end, if you start making music for someone to write about you or to like, if you start listening to that and changing how you write or what you do you’re so lost, like what’s the point of that? I feel like when it comes down to it, even with making music for the fans of our band, you still just want to make something that you believe is good or that you like and hope there’s going to be other people that feel the same way. When it comes to reviews and stuff, you just can’t get sucked into that. That’s when you start making bad music.
Q: What is it like being a musician specifically in the Indie music scene as opposed to the popular music scene?
A: It’s weird. They do seem like two different music scenes, and really, two different anything — two different art forms. It’s crazy: I went and saw Taylor Swift when she came to Toronto and I was just trying to wrap my head around the difference between what’s going on there and what we’re doing as a band, and they’re just not the same thing. The enormity of it all is so different — it’s weird to think someone might consider us in the same job. It’s just so different, in a better or worse way, it’s just different. And I think our aspirations as a band are always: when you’re making music, at least for us, you make a record and you take it on tour, and that’s what you do. Every time you do it, you are pushing to be better, playing for more people, playing bigger rooms, whatever. Your’e always moving forward and driving yourself forward because if you ever are at a point where you’re like there that’s good, then you’re kind of done. So you always want to play to more people, but you’re always realistic about it, too. We’re not on this record going “and now were going to play that same stadium that Taylor Swift was in.” It’s like no, we’re just always moving forward and we always have that drive to be better and play bigger shows. That’s always the goal … or make a record that you think is even better than the one before. That’s what keeps you going.
Q: What have been some of your favorite live performance memories?
A: We’ve had a lot of really good ones. I mean Toronto is obviously special to us because it’s where our family and everyone we know come to the shows. And two years ago we had a really big one where we went all out and got balloons and we had the fans do karaoke before the show and we had one of our favorite Toronto bands open up. It was just a really fun and big show. I just remember it pretty vividly.
Q: Is there anyone you’d really like to collaborate with?
A: I had an idea for our last records. There was a line or a part in a song that I really thought Bruce Springsteen would sound awesome singing, but I’d say that was a lofty goal to say the least. Or at least get him on karaoke. We’ll do karaoke, and that will be good enough for me. We’ll sing “Rosalita” and that’ll be the highlight of my life.
If you missed Born Ruffians on their stop in Northampton, be sure to check out their album. For all those abroad in London or Paris catch them in March and April, alongside their opener, Young Rival.
This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.