Being in an up and coming Canadian band in Canada is one thing; being in one that’s rising steadily in the U.K. is another. Born Ruffians, the three-piece from Toronto, Ontario has been gaining steady attention from the island’s music lovers and television watchers alike for two years now, and it looks like it won’t be stopping any time in the near future.
It all started when the group recorded an episode for season two of the popular Bristol-based drama Skins (doppelganger for Degrassi: The Next Generation, yet raunchier and with more drugs involved), where they played their fast kerplunk-with-handclaps of a single “Hummingbird” in New York City. Since then, the same song has popped up in an Orange mobile phone commercial and an episode of a 2009 television show Free Agents. Their other single, the cute harmonica driven tune, “Little Garcon” has appeared in a Halifax bank commercial and another episode of Skins. Both tracks are from the band’s 2008 debut album, Red, Yellow & Blue.
“It’s really strange,” says bassist Mitch DeRosier about his band’s UK takeover from his Toronto home. “I don’t know what is the better music people who make commercials are drawn to, but we get offered more than I would ever expect to get offered just having commercials in the U.K. That’s really helped us. I can’t put a finger on why we’re the band that gets to do that.”
But what really moved DeRosier and his band mates, Luke Lalonde and Steve Hamelin, to their highest point of amazement so far has been the fact that they’ve been accepted by Glaswegian band Franz Ferdinand. On December 4, 2008, Franz Ferdinand was in Toronto to perform the then-upcoming tunes to Tonight: Franz Ferdinand, and the opening band dropped out. Born Ruffians was chosen to play just the day before. They impressed Alex Kapranos and his band mates, and will now be heading out on tour with them in Canada and the States through April and May.
“We’ve been really lucky with who we’ve been playing with,” says DeRosier, sleepily, as they just returned the night before to Toronto from playing in Ohio. He reflected back on other bands they’ve toured with, including Cadence Weapon, Plants & Animals, Caribou, and Peter Bjorn & John. But the band’s first tour was with U.K. techno greats Hot Chip. “Besides the Franz Ferdinand tour, that was the biggest tour we’ve had.” That’s something special to a band that started from a high school in Midland, Ontario.
But when it comes down to it, DeRosier is proud of the band’s Canadian music roots. “When I get home, I’m pretty happy, especially after a long tour,” says DeRosier. In March, the band played sold out shows with Akron/Family in Toronto and Montreal, Quebec. “The last few [shows] have been getting bigger and bigger. It’s a really cool feeling to have all of your friends and family at one show.”
Recently, the three band mates split from sharing a house and are all living on their own in Toronto. “It’s a good time to start fresh again,” says DeRosier. “We started touring together so much more, and we needed a little space from each other… after being on tour for six weeks you see all the same people all over again.”
But with moving away, DeRosier, Lalonde, and Hamelin have lost their common recording space. For Red, Yellow & Blue most of the demos originated from Lalonde’s bedroom. DeRosier has found it hard to write for their second full-length album on tour, and prefers the quiet comfort zone of a home. “Sometimes if we’re in sound check we’ll fool around with something we’re working on, but most of our writing happens in Toronto, it’s much more comfortable that way,” says DeRosier.
Red, Yellow & Blue was recorded with producer Rusty Santos, who has also worked with indie kings Animal Collective. Born Ruffians will be working with him again on their upcoming album and will start to record in June or July, with hopes of it being released in early 2010. DeRosier has high expectations for the album, but is also very calm and excited for what he knows will happen. “It will be better because now we know each other,” he says in relation to Santos.
With all of the constant touring, DeRosier has found patterns in their live performances and has taken lessons from them for the upcoming album. In the pursuit of creating a fun show (and possibly slight boredom of playing the same songs over and over) DeRosier admits that the tempo in their live performance has quickened. “The songs just naturally speed up and so when we listen to a song on our record, we’re like ‘woah, that’s snail speed!’ It’s crazy slow only because we’re used to playing crazy fast… I like up tempo, but I’ve got to slow down.”
Check out footage I shot of Born Ruffians on December 4, 2008 at Lee’s Palace. This is the night they opened for Franz Ferdinand: