Interview: Luke Lalonde of Born Ruffians (New Album: Squeeze)

BornRuffians
Luke Lalonde (left) and Born Ruffians (Photo courtesy Yep Roc Records)

Canadian post-punks Born Ruffians are known for their high-energy shows, full of bright guitars and biting lyrics. Frontman Luke Lalonde formed the band with his collaborators in 2004, and they have released seven full-length albums and at least another three EPs. In 2020, Born Ruffians released two albums — Juice and Squeeze via Yep Roc Records — after crafting a bunch of songs prior to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Usually, Born Ruffians are often on the road, including regular stops in DC, where they appear at venues like Black Cat and Rock and Roll Hotel. Indeed, Parklife DC considered Born Ruffian’s 2015 show at the Rock and Roll Hotel to be one of our Top 10 Concerts of the Year. While the pandemic has sidelined touring bands, Luke has been passing the time at home, and he chatted with Parklife DC about the lifeline of touring, creative writing, and the two new Born Ruffians albums.

Mickey McCarter: Our blog has had the opportunity to cover you guys live a few times. So a lot of my questions are going to be about touring and playing live.

Luke Lalonde: Cool.

MM: Personally, I very first saw Born Ruffians here in DC at the Black Cat when you were on tour with Tokyo Police Club in 2009.

You already a great set, and then you guys sold me when you came out at the very end with a big singalong to “Train in Vain” by The Clash.

LL: Oh, man. I actually forgot about that. That’s cool. I remember the show, but I forgot about the “Train in Vain” thing.

MM: It seemed very inspired and there was this sort of rush of energy and everybody was so very much in high spirits.

LL: I’m sure there was some drinking involved.

Watch the official music video for “Waylaid” by Born Ruffians featuring Hannah Georgas on YouTube:

MM: Whenever I see you guys, there’s this great euphoric rush. It feels good to be at a Born Ruffians show. Do you feel the same? Is that why you tour?

LL: If you had to distill it down, it’s probably one of the reasons we do it. It’s funny, because just like anything, if you do it every night, it has ebbs and flows. I talked to some people that claim that every show is a euphoric high or whatever, but I sometimes wonder how that can be. There sure are shows where at some point during or after you’re going, man, I feel weird. But ultimately when you’re on stage, you’re trying for that high. You’re trying to put yourself in that head space and you’re trying to interact with the crowd and have some kind of cosmic energy exchange with the audience.

I think it’s probably one of the highest compliments if someone says, “You guys make me happy. It’s a joyous experience watching you.” It’s great!

That’s why *I* go to shows. At my favorite shows, I feel stoned or something. It’s just this amazing feeling you get from really good music. It makes you feel like nothing else does.

MM: Before COVID, you guys were on the road a lot, and I’m wondering if that part of your DNA of being a band?

LL: I guess so. It’s part of how our band survives for sure. I mean, just logistically it’s part of increasingly becoming a way to make a living. There used to be a time maybe back in the salad days of music biz where touring was not necessarily a moneymaker. Maybe even for big acts, it was a break even proposition. You would go to promote the record so that people would buy your record where the money really was, and your tour would lose money or just break even. And now, nobody’s really going to buy your record. You might sell some on tour, but you’re going out to try and make a few bucks, to try and connect with your fans.

For us, it’s about the connection with doing something that’s real and going out and playing is such a real experience. You don’t really get that from, as we’ve learned now in a really clear way, just sitting at home. Not touring now is such a funny feeling. You’re really disconnected from everything. And it’s nice to provide some music for people that really want to hear it. But yeah, the touring is such a lifeblood and such an important part of what we do, and what a lot of bands and acts do.

MM: Well, you guys seem particularly comfortable on stage. At the other end, you see those bands that give a very perfunctory performance, and they’re off the stage and then you see them again three years later. But you guys are usually around, you seem like you love it, you seem like it’s just part of who you are.

LL: We have fun on tour. A lot of bands maybe don’t, but we really do have fun just hanging out together and that becomes a big part of it. It is just a trip with your friends in some ways. We make an effort to cut out the bad and focus on the good when we’re on tour. What we’re doing is just basically a road trip with our buddies where we get to play music every night. We always try to remind ourselves not to lose perspective of that.

It’s sort of a hedonistic lifestyle actually.

Stream Squeeze by Born Ruffians on Spotify:

MM: You are very prolific. I’ve talked to a lot of songwriters who would love to be able to put out as half as much as you do. And in the past 12 months, Born Ruffians have had two albums. You’ve had a solo album. What’s the secret? What keeps you writing?

LL: I’ve been asking myself that question lately, because I haven’t been writing. So it’s funny. I mean the last six months or so I felt so useless, so tapped out, so dry. So feeling like, man, I don’t know if I’ll ever write another song again. And I have to remind myself all the time, no, this happens all the time. It comes and goes. And there was definitely a huge spurt of creativity between 2016 and 2019, I think, where we started writing together as a band, the three of us. I had a bunch of songs and the faucet just turned on, and we just came up with so many songs that we liked.

Because a lot of the times you will come up with stuff and you will ditch a lot. You will whittle it down. You’re refining this thing. You’re ditching songs, you’re cutting the fat, and you end up with 10 songs, 11 songs, whatever that you really like. But we had a lot that we liked. We were cutting songs like crazy. So it’s not like we’re just putting all of our junk out and throwing it all out there. These are all songs that we liked that they all survived the gamut of the three of us, and everything that goes into a band working together and making songs where a lot of them don’t survive. These ones all survived and we liked them all.

And I don’t know why really aside from that, we hadn’t been together the three of us for a bit, Steve [Hamelin], our drummer had gone back to school for a few years and he rejoined us and started jamming with us again in 2016. And I think, he was feeling, I think really rejuvenated in terms of wanting to play music again after going into academia finishing school and stuff, and being like, “You know what? The grass is greener on this side. I really want to just do this more.” And I think that really helped me and Mitch [DeRosier] get back into it. And we just had a sort of rejuvenation in life force or something, and it just created this huge wave that is just now washing up onto shore with all the records that have come out this year.

Stream Juice by Born Ruffians on Spotify:

MM: So you say you haven’t been able to write much in the past six months. So I got a couple of reactions. One, weirdly I’ve heard the same from a lot of other songwriters, that COVID has not been good for the creativity, which you think being forced to be shut in maybe something would come. Right?

That also implies you were finished with Squeeze before COVID hit?

LL: Yes. Very much so. We were all wrapped up and ready to go well before these records came out. We had this plan in motion. We set this plan in motion back in 2019, getting ready for 2020 and looking forward to it being this big year of two records, all kinds of tours, all this stuff. As these plans changed, we decided, let’s put the records out. Let’s not hold off. We looked ahead, and I don’t think there’s going to be a good time to put these records out on tour. Let’s just put them out, and see what happens.

But it’s reassuring to hear you say that, that other musicians are feeling similar, because you wonder, why? When I have all this time to just be at home, why aren’t I just writing a bunch of songs? I don’t know. It’s funny. I don’t know what it is. It’s just been a bummer, I guess. I’ve been trying to do other things, writing instrumental stuff or trying to learn piano better, and trying to learn covers and stuff, but really not much creative writing happening for me.

MM: Right. The covers on Instagram are very well received!

LL: Yeah. Something to do. It was just something to do.

MM: I want to ask you more specifically about song writing a little bit, because Born Ruffians lyrics are among the best lyrics ever.

LL: Really? Thank you.

MM: I think so. I was listening to Squeeze, and for example, in the song, “Rainbow Superfriends,” there’s this really great descriptive moment of feeling like a dead pixel on an otherwise colorful computer screen. And that imagery is just so vivid. You get it right away, right? You don’t have to wonder, what’s he trying to say?

Then, also you’ve got that very irreverent side of Born Ruffians, which also comes up on the new album. And I’m thinking of in particular, in “Leaning on You,” when you sing about “pissing her name in the snow.”

LL: You write down the ideas that pop into your head that you like, and you try and use as many of them as you can. And it’s hard to know where they come from sometimes. Your mind’s just going, you think of something, and you’re like, “oh, that’s funny.” Or you’re singing and you’re playing guitar, and it just comes out of your mouth. And you’re like, “oh, that was pretty good. I like that.” It’s about keeping the good stuff. As I write more songs as I get older, I want to use the stuff I like whether it’s silly or not.

It doesn’t always have to be a big statement on something, but it’s important to have everything resonate emotionally with me as I’m writing it or singing it. Really, it’s just sort of the way I do it, and I’m just happy that there are people that like it, and I’m really, really tickled that you would say that about my lyrics. I listen to other songwriters that I just am blown away by them and just go, how do they do that? How do they do that? And you try to do it on your own, and hope for the best.

Watch the official music video for “I Fall in Love Every Night” by Born Ruffians on YouTube:

MM: One minute you can write a heartfelt love song and the next minute you can write a more humorous tongue-in-cheek song, and you can feel the shift.

The new album also has more of a psychedelic bent to it. And I’m wondering, why? Was it something your producer bought in or what?

LL: No. Graham Walsh did a great job, but a lot of the demos had everything laid out. we enhanced or built on in the studio. And not to take anything away from Graham, but we were going from my demos and our vibe. We had a bunch of songs and we started recording them. At the outset, we didn’t necessarily know we were making two records. We didn’t even know what we were doing when we first went into the studio. We started writing in 2016. We wrote a bunch of songs that became, Uncle, Duke & The Chief, which we put out in 2018. And we recorded that with Richard Swift.

And then right after we recorded that, before it even came out, we started recording a bunch of other stuff. And then that eventually led to the albums Juice and Squeeze. And as we were chipping away at that over the course of a year, we would go in with Graham. We realized, man, we’ve got 18 or 20 songs here — and we liked them all. What if we split it into two records? And Squeeze just ended up being guided more by “Sentimental Saddle,” the first track. “Sinking Ships” feels like The Zombies or something to me. It was stuff that we felt was a little bit more of that ilk, and we separated them in that way, Squeeze being a little more Odessey and Oracle, a little more psychedelic.

MM: One last question for you. What are you hoping for in 2021?

LL: Where do I start? There’s so much that we’re facing. It’s sometimes hard to focus on the band and music. Maybe that’s why I haven’t been writing much, because the world is feeling low. The stakes are so high in terms of what’s happening in your country right now with the election, which Canadians are so focused on too, because it affects us so much — the politics, the social climate, and the actual climate, climate change. The stakes are getting higher and higher as time goes on. We are hoping we all get smarter about that. And then where does music fit into it? If we can’t tour, I don’t know.

But we’re hoping that we can tour in some way, even it’s just in Canada. We would love to get back to the States, and we hope that things can get under control. And in the meantime, I’m hoping I get back to writing and we can make another record. By the time that comes out, perhaps we can tour? That’s the big hope.

Visit Born Ruffians online for more music!

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