The Rubens: Million Dollar Men

Former Features Editor

ARIA-nominated, sold-out shows and winners of APRA’s Rock Work of the Year Award. Even with all that success, The Rubens have still managed to maintain a low profile on social media – at least compared to their contemporaries. But make no mistake, The Rubens are back.

Renowned for leapfrogging Major Lazer and Kendrick Lamar to claim victory in triple j’s Hottest 100 in 2016, The Rubens make a welcome reappearance this week with new single ‘Million Man’.

‘Million Man’ clears one of the biggest hurdles faced by bands returning with new music – remaining fresh enough that people pay attention, without too much of a departure from their signature sound.

Brothers Sam and Elliott Margin have co-written most of the tracks on the album – which Sam says has a gospel and almost acapella feel to it. The album will drop sometime in April or May next year.

Before the boys head to New York to put the finishing touches on their full length, TMN spoke to Elliott about ‘Million Man’, the new studio they recorded in and the influence of new the record’s new collaborators, Wilder Zoby and ‘Lil Shalimar (aka Torbitt Schwartz).

The new single is a fresh sound for The Rubens. How did the song come about and what is a “Million Man” exactly?

The song itself came about really easily and quickly, which is a rare thing. A lot of the time we labour over a song before we get it to a place where we’re happy with it, but this one didn’t have that problem. It wasn’t a conscious decision for us to go for a new sound – it never has been when we write new music. We kind of just see what we come up with and what’s exciting and interesting for us.

The “Million Man” in our song is someone who is living their life in pursuit of pleasure, sometimes debauchery, and kind of feeling bad about it. They question their decisions and whether they are doing right by themselves. In the end they embrace who they are and shed that god damn shame because life is for living.

You’ve been working out of a newly-created studio is Sydney’s west. How important is a change in environment in fostering the creativity required for a new album?

Any change in environment when we’re writing new music can be really helpful in getting us excited and creative. It won’t necessarily change the sound of what we’re writing (recording by the beach didn’t make us sound like Jack Johnson), but it helps to get us feeling good about pursuing new territory and experimenting with ideas.

Working in the [ex-world war communications] bunker was awesome for us because it was such a relaxed environment and so close to where we grew up. We could have friends and family drop by and hear what we were working on as we were recording, which helped to make us feel less isolated [and] more sane.

What was the most exciting part of bringing “Million Man” to life? Did you do anything differently or play with any new instruments or technology?

I think the most exciting thing about bringing ‘Million Man’ to life was seeing what Wilder [Zoby] and Torbitt [Schwartz] could bring to the song as producers. The demo already had a lot of bounce and energy that we hadn’t really done in a song before, [and] Wilder and Torbitt had roots in hip hop with Run The Jewels, so it was an exciting combo.

Obviously you enjoyed plenty of radio success with “Hoops”. The lines between what each station plays are a little more blurred now (e.g. Vera Blue now gets played on the Hit Network). Do you think that works in The Rubens’ favour?

It’s cool to see commercial stations supporting Australian artists and playing their tracks. Every artist wants their music to be heard by as many people as possible, so when artists cross over and get support from both commercial and non-commercial stations it can only be good.  

What can we expect from The Rubens in 2018?

2018 for us is touring, album number three released and more touring. We cannot wait.

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