The Ruby Suns will be heading the UK very soon in support of forthcoming album Christopher, which is set for release on January 29th 2013. Christopher itself is a sparkling listen, littered throughout with both amusing and thought provoking lyrics, all set to backdrop of addictive pop melodies and rhythms.

The 405 caught up with The Ruby Suns' main mover, Ryan McPhun, to discuss Christopher, as well as other subjects including "the importance of warm knitwear" and "getting started as a musician."

I last saw you in Bergen, Norway, for the Fight Softly tour. You asked the crowd to stick around for a beer afterwards but unfortunately my gig buddy and I had to catch the last bus home...

It's easy for us. We're just hanging around; we don't have anything to do the next morning other than catch a flight...

Everybody else has proper lives...

So you've moved to Oslo, Norway now?

Just outside [of Oslo]

Is it near a fjord?

Well it's in the Oslo fjord, but it doesn't quite look like a fjord, not in the quintessential fjord way. [laughs]

Is there a lake nearby - have you been swimming?

No, not lately [laughs]. There is a lake nearby and the ocean nearby... good mix. But they're all frozen.

Is there a lot of snow there at the moment?

Yeah. It snowed like crazy all weekend and the last week before that it was snowing quite a bit. It's gotten warmer actually, it's like one degree right now.

I woke up today and it was nine degrees. It was like some kind of balmy summer's day, when compared to the minus five degrees' of the past week.

Was it minus five degrees in London?

Pretty much and I'm yet to buy a coat.

The coolest thing I learnt about being here in the cold is that it's easy when you have a decent coat.

There's a funny anecdote - there is no such thing as bad weather, just bad clothing. I totally believe in that now, I've got a decent coat and I've got a couple of wool jumpers that I wear all the time.

Some nice Norwegian knits?

Yes, I'm wearing one right now actually.

There's a lot of Salvation Army shops around in Norway where you can get some really great ones...

I went to a really good one in Lillehammer actually and that was where I got my first proper Norwegian jumper. It's very warm.

So what was it that attracted you to the cold and to Scandinavia - (I enjoyed the references to it on Christopher's 'Desert of Pop' 'We drank 'til the sun went down/ But it was funny because it never did')?

Other than the fact I've always had some kind of Scandinavian fascination... the reason why I came back is because my girlfriend lives here. She lived in New Zealand for a year, but she's back here now. So I've been living here.

Do you find there are similarities between Norway and New Zealand; both have very inspiring sceneries...?

Yeah it can be [inspiring] in both cases, but also in both cases I just lived in towns, which are very much like towns. In Auckland I lived in a suburb which was close to the centre of the town, but you know, it felt like suburbs, sort of.

So you're not so keen on large cities?

It's sort of a necessity I guess to be able to do things and hang with friends of course but in Auckland my studio was in the same suburb that I lived in, that was kind of why I was there.

Here now, I don't have a studio, nor do I have instruments - it's a little bit frustrating.

I can imagine! I guess you have to be quite flexible in terms of how songs are made on each tour - you seem to have different numbers of band members for each album. How easy then is it to transpose your music onto different instruments?

I'm learning to be more flexible as far as the live presentation of the songs. But as far as recording goes, I've just picked up whatever is lying around. But when I've been living in New Zealand, what has been lying around is the stuff that I have accumulated over ten or eleven years of being a musician, and where stuff is sort of cheap and you can find pretty cool things that lots of people don't crave, for cheap prices.

Where do you mostly find your instruments?


I was hoping to buy some drums on eBay, but it seems you always have to pick them up which is annoying and to get them posted is so expensive.

I actually did buy drums, both in the States and in New Zealand and got them posted. It wasn't super cheap but I kind of had to do it. Where I bought them from, it was always on the other island or in a different state.

I guess you're missing it? Posting stuff to Norway is always a hassle.

You have to pay tax, though maybe it's just new things. When I was here last year I bought speakers and a couple of cables from a German website which is really great and I got it sent over here. The shipping was reasonable and I was quite excited about it. But then I got a letter from Norwegian customs, saying you have to come pay a shit load of tax for the package, and the tax is about half what I paid for the speakers, so I could have just gone down the road and paid the crazy Norwegian prices.

Could get your instruments in New Zealand shipped over?

I could. Yeah, well. I guess that would almost be cheaper. I haven't figured that out quite yet...

I have been thinking a lot about the lyrics to a couple of your songs on Christopher, namely 'In Real Life' and 'Starlight,' (which contain the lines "I never want to live a real life/ I'm not ready for the real life/ Real life wasn't what I wanted/ What I wanted was a waste of time/ If time is money/ Then money means nothing' and 'We won't ever ever have this time again/ We won't ever live this life again'' )

I guess these lyrics are about importance of doing what you love (music) and also thinking about how short life is...

From this, how easy or difficult was it to start out playing music full time?

Well I had a job for almost a year in New Zealand and I was playing in a band there called The Brunettes, and they were starting to do some tours, which I wanted to be a part of. So I ended up quitting my job to be able to do a couple of long tours.

When I came back to New Zealand, I basically went on the unemployment benefit for three years - I figured I paid a fair bit of tax so far - and you don't make any money New Zealand from music, or its very difficult to. So when I was on the unemployment benefit I made my first two albums and then I started touring more internationally in 2007/ 2008. When you've started touring it's kind of ok; you can get money from shows and you can be kind of be self sustainable.

But we had also to fund the first couple of tours, so we got some help from a funding body in New Zealand. They basically helped with some costs - you have to front all the money which is the hard part- but they pay you back for some of it. But it just means that you're not tens of thousands of dollars in debt when you finish tour.

Could you talk a little more about those lyrics?

When I was doing 'In Real Life' I was sort of thinking how warped a life of a musician is.

Sometimes I think it's hard to relate to other people, and I feel most comfortable around musicians but that's more to do with my own personal, social anxiety.

I'm trying to think - when I wrote those songs it was at least a year and a half ago...

I think I was thinking at the time - maybe - it was probably like a friend, or a friend of a friend or something. It was probably a conversation I had with somebody about feeling obligated to have a job and fulfil all these things and do what you're supposed to do and be responsible.

A lot of people are creative but they just, I don't know... It's totally fine, anybody can do it, you just have to learn how to be really poor...! Though it depends what the welfare system is in the country, or how cheap it is to live in certain countries. You can - it's getting harder and harder - but you can get by without making too much money.

Yeah I think, people just kind of get trapped into making normal amounts of money, which means they can buy normal amounts of things, normal amounts of clothes, and all of these things. But it's really easy, it's sort of easy to get used to, just living more cheaply, and more creatively and try and do art all the time!

You've toured and travelled extensively. You have another tour coming up for Christopher soon. Is there anywhere you'd like to go that you haven't yet been?

There's places I haven't been where I'd like to go, like Japan. I'd really like to go to Mexico and South America if its possible at some stage. Yeah, but there's lots of places... I've got used to the idea that if I go somewhere its to play a concert. It's hard having a holiday somewhere where I'm not having a trip subsidised by a show fee, unless it's a cheap holiday.

I listen to music all over the place, when I travel, on the tube, up a mountain... Do you ever think about where and when someone is listening to The Ruby Suns?

I don't think I have ever thought about that!

Haha - you should. There was a world map on the internet a while ago, where people could post where and what they were listening to at any one time. It was great.

I guess when I've been going to really exciting places I don't think music is usually a part of it. I'm just trying to think if I have any examples, uh, wow... I guess I've gone to a lot of cool places in Norway, but often sometimes we would go cross country skiing or something like that, or even ice skating (we did some ice skating recently - that was nice) or go for walks, some things like that.

Ice skating on a frozen lake?

I haven't actually ice skated on a lake yet; it was just an empty carpark.

Haha. It was completely iced over?

The city council had froze some water, or put some water over it. I don't know how they did it. Maybe they just put little areas around it and then sort of flood it with a few centimetres of water. Leave it for a couple of hours and...!


For Christopher, you worked with engineer Chris Cody (Grizzly Bear, Beach House and Gang Gang Dance amongst others). How did it come about and how did it go?

He had done some stuff with some people I knew - two bands that I knew - and both of them really, really enjoyed working with him. One of the bands, Hooray for Earth, who I really love, their record has a lot of this kind of stuff all over the place, as far as the sounds go.

There's a lot of things happening that's often really difficult to make everything fit, or to choose which element gets to take the lead on certain parts of songs; I always have a hard time mixing in those types of scenarios... I want you to be able to hear everything at all times, which is a cluttered way to work, so that's why I wanted to sort of get some help.

So I just sent an email and we started talking and it just worked out -really cool- and then I went over there to New York and sat in on the session for a few weeks, and it went really smoothly.

It was cool to see how he worked and to be involved. I've never done anything of my own music in any kind of studio before - I'd done it in my only little personal studio- it was weird. It's funny because it's what pretty much every band does. This was my first taste...

Would you work this way again?

If I have labels that want to pay for it!

Did you go out with Chris a lot in New York?

[Chris'] totally insane, in a good friendly way, and I don't mean it it any bad way - I'm kind of teasing - he works like crazy and I've never been around somebody who works as hard as he does.

We pretty much go from 12pm - 1am or 2am in the morning, especially as we were kind of waiting to do renders or mix downs of tracks or mixes, so most of the time we would get to the end of the day and need to go to sleep. But yeah, a couple of times we did go out and it was really great.

It was really cool to be there because it was sort of an insight to how New York seems to work, [and to see that] New York is just a community like any other community, even though it's a billion times bigger than any community I've ever lived in.

The musician community or whatever, it seemed kind of tightly knit in a weird way, even though it's so vast. I would meet somebody who knew somebody that I knew, who also knew somebody I knew. Little kinds of weird circles like that.

The assistant that Chris had in his studio was a musician of course, and he was in a couple of bands, as you do... But the funny thing about that was that the bands he was in were The Drums and Pains of Being Pure at Heart. It was weird telling him what kind of Vietnamese dish I wanted him to get me for lunch!

It was just kind of funny, because he seemed like an awesome, normal dude... Yeah, he was just in New York! Especially in New Zealand - and I think almost everywhere internationally - New York has this crazy reputation of being the best place in the world, it seems like you can say you're a band from New York, and people are like 'awesome, cool, great!' And then it seems like half of all the popular bands are from New York, so it's easy to feel like there is something weird in the water, or something crazy - well actually - the water does come from upstate New York so it is a little bit weird!

It's just funny because so many outlets and huge media sites are based in New York, and it kind of just made me think, hang on... New York is the same as everywhere else, so like everything is based there. It's like if Brooklyn Vegan was in Auckland or something, it would be the exact same site but it would just be New Zealand bands. It just seems situational because all these bands live there, and they're playing there all the time.

Also it makes it seem like its worth living there.

Would you want to live there?

Well if I did I'd have to get a job.. and I don't really have any skills! And the rent is very expensive in New York.

I imagine it's pretty steep in Oslo too?!

The same - I don't know if its more expensive.

Probably more expensive than New York - it must be.

How are you surviving on the beer front in Norway? A beer is around seven pounds...

Yeah and seven pounds is fourteen New Zealand dollars. It's about two and half times. [Norwegians] earn two and half times the amount of money [New Zealanders do] at least... so it's great for Norwegians.

So any plans tonight?

My band is still in New Zealand and we have a tricky situation where we have a small amount of time that we can rehearse for two months of touring. So we're trying to get started by having Skype meetings, and go try figure out as much as we can over Skype; just kind of organisationally.

How many are touring with you this time?

Two others. We need to work out who has to learn which parts.

So I look forward to seeing the results on January 29th at the Sebright Arms...

The London show is our third show I think, and we haven't played there in a really long time.

Before you go - do I detect a Bowie influence on Christopher's artwork?

I think a little, I've never been a massive Bowie fan, though I've got nothing against him. Yeah, maybe subconsciously it was influenced by him a little bit. But it more had to do with the songs than anything else.

Do you pick covers after the album is complete?

Yeah, it's the last thing to be finished usually.

Christopher is released on January 28th in the UK via Memphis Industries, and the following day through Sub Pop. Head here to find out more about the band.