The other day we put The Ruby Suns' Sea Lion on ye olde rickety FADER hi-fi and were pretty shocked—jubilant drum rolls and rubbery Graceland style bass coheres around everything from chimes to what sounds like echoed new age pan pipes like the dudes in Times Square play. (Sometimes it also sounds like Panda Bear backed by an orchestra, and even though we never thought about it, Panda Bear backed by an orchestra would be pretty fucking awesome.) Mostly though, Sea Lion is full of good vibes, and even though it is January and grey we think we may have found one of those summer jam albums that causes us to pump our fists in the middle of the street, skipping over rainbows and smiling huge. Sea Lion comes out in the US on Sub Pop on March 4th. We briefly caught up with Ryan McPhun, and talked to him about New Zealand, playing in churches in small town Washington, and making music in general. Check their MySpace for some older jams, also check "Kenya Dig It?" from Sea Lion below.
What music did you grow up listening to?
All the stuff my parents were into: Michael Jackson, Phil Collins, Hall and Oates, older pop and rock stuff, The Beatles, Beach Boys, Led Zeppelin, Jimi Hendrix, Three Dog Night, James Gang...that sort of stuff. I was really into Nirvana when I hit my teens.
Are there any bands that you were or are into that weren't really very well known outside of New Zealand?
When I first moved to NZ, I got really into a few different bands, mainly the Tokey Tones and The Brunettes. I really looked up to those guys and the songs from our first album were heavily influenced by what those guys were doing at the time. Scott Mannion (of the Tokey Tones) is still completely unknown pretty much, but he's one of NZ's most creative songwriters. Stefanimal is really great too, we just played a show with her.
What's the scene like there now?
Hard to say. It seems like it's in a bit of a state of flux. There isn't much "new" stuff happening. So I'd say it's suffering a little right now. A lot of bands are spending more and more time overseas, thus destroying their presence at home. Also, a lot of my friends who have great bands have moved away.
How did you end up playing in a church in Kennewick, WA?
Funny story that.....we were travelling in a motor home whilst on tour in spring '06 and we were heading to Seattle to play a show when our vehicle caught fire and destroyed all of our personal belongings and music gear and everything. We ended up putting on a kind of benefit show, with the help of lots of kind people, at this church in the town where it all happened. Those people were very sympathetic. I think we were local celebrities there for a few days, we made the front page of their newspaper three days straight.
Do you get to play outside much? What is the best place you've played outside?
One of our first gigs was outside of a community hall for the NZ green party on an island not too far from Auckland called Waiheke. It was midday during mid summer, an amazing day, and it was a barbecue so we got free veggieburgers and organic sodas and stuff. After we played, we all went for a swim at the beach 10 meters away.
It looks like you are about to go on a long tour, do you guys like touring?
If we get a few days off here and there, yes! We had some time off in Paris last year and it made the whole damn tour worth it. But in general, I like it. Even if you barely make enough money to eat, it's still a better way to spend your time than most alternatives I can think of.
What's the best part?
I suppose that would have to be the days off to do touristy stuff, checking out mountains, going to the Grand Canyon, going to the Louvre, laughing at the manneken pis. that sort of stuff.
A lot of times the only stuff you get for free is beer. I love beer, but I'd prefer to get food for free. Also, not being able to sleep for as long as you'd like and not having much time in each new place that you go to explore.
What was the most important thing (instrument, reverb, other effect, whatever) used to create Sea Lion?
To start off with I used a lot of space echo and echoplex. I put everything through those guys. Then I started getting into using Reason, which is a sequencing program. I tried to use a lot of varied percussion. I chucked in a lot of dictaphone recordings from some of my travels of the last few years. Other than that, time was essential, it takes me a while to come up with enough songs to release an album!
Why the name Sea Lion?
I guess it was inspired by a trip my girlfriend and i took down Highway 1 in California where we checked out this sea lion colony and were sitting really close to them and watching them do their thing. It was amazing. Also, i came across a lone sea lion on the beach when i was travelling in NZ before I moved here, and that picture just kind of stuck in my brain. And we love animals, all kinds!