Ruen Brothers - Breaking the Rules of Modern Music
With modern takes on classic sounds, the Ruen Brothers have crafted a unique style that will have listeners pining for the days of record players and vinyls. From the small steel town of Scunthorpe, England, brothers Henry and Rupert Stansall made waves after some of their songs were featured in the Netflix original movie, The Half of It. Their twangy 50s rock influences and urgency blend together to make a compelling listen that will either have you up on your feet dancing or emotional due to the personal nature of their songs. I was lucky enough to sit down and get to talk to them about their new singles “Saving Me, Saving You” and “Alone” that were released last Friday, September 4.
I love how your music blends 50s/60s classic style with more modern current day sounds. What made you guys decide to craft this unique sound?
Rupert: Initially when we were very young we only really listened to older music because that was what our parents played us - it was all music from the 50s, 60s, 70s. When we started picking up musical instruments (guitars to start with), we wanted to learn songs which we had been listening to forever. We were very young at this point. When we both started playing instruments and wanted to play them together we went from not only learning those songs but performing them live. We did try to learn a few modern ones here and there but it was the case where all the older stuff went down best at the pubs and clubs and we would get booked because we were playing 50s and 60s music. As time went on in the pubs and clubs circuit in our hometown of Scunthorpe, our music became more and more specifically 50s and 60s and that’s where we found our niche so to speak. It went from playing them in the pubs and clubs to then transgressing into songwriting. We couldn't help but get away from those kinda chord structures and melodies which we had been using to perform all of the covers.
Henry: Funnily enough, in the northeast of England there’s a pretty big appreciation for classic American music from the 50s, 60s and onward. People love Chuck Berry and Johnny Cash and Roy Orbison and the Everly Brothers. So, as Rupert was saying when you grow up playing that week in and week out - sometimes we’d play 2, 3, 4 gigs a week around our hometown of Scunthorpe. When you then go away from the pub gigs, you’re at home and writing music and all the music you’ve been playing is in your head and inspires the way that you write and create songs. I think that’s how we naturally slipped into writing music that has that sort of retro feel, or a nod to decades gone by, but it has a modern feel because you know, we’re writing it from personal experiences as well, or when we’ve been inspired from watching a great film.
Rupert: Modern technology allows you to really have fun with the sounds. We can do things in which other people in eras we appreciate the most couldn’t because of computers. We don’t like to admit that the computer is as much of an instrument as the ones we play, but it kind of is. It does influence the sounds I would say if not more so than many of the instruments which existed previously.
Absolutely. You guys also had 2 of your songs featured in the Netflix film The Half of It so what was that experience like?
Henry: It was something that we hoped we were going to start getting into. Film has always been a big inspiration to our writing and our music. The biggest examples coming from things like Casablanca, Paris Texas, all these classic films. There was a Pulp Fiction trailer from its release, that we would run all of our demos up against to make sure it evoked the feeling on the screen. We were very much inspired by all that sort of stuff and I think when we got the opportunity to start writing for film and getting very specific. The director Alice Wu sent us all of the scenes that she wanted us to write and ideas for song examples, like Neil Young’s “Harvest Moon,” which is obviously a bit of a daunting challenge. It was honestly a real pleasure doing it because it’s something we enjoy. Alice and Tracy McKnight, the music supervisor, were also very sensitive to the fact of not asking us to do too much and be ourselves. We didn’t have to follow every word that they were saying in terms of getting to the final piece of music. We loved the process of working with them and getting the music to where they wanted it. It wasn’t too distracting, it built the scene up and helped compliment it. It was just a super fun process and something that Rupert and I really love to do and something that we’ve been getting more into the past couple of years.
Rupert: It starts out slightly daunting because you’ve got to try to get the gig. I think initially we just tried to write a few ideas to inspire and give a gesture to the direction we were going to take the film in but after that it was just surprisingly easy. Having the concept of the film and the direction given by the director, it kind of gives you the story and the path without you having to do it yourself. You’re confined in a way and those barriers stop you from working endlessly to try and achieve something which is interesting. The story’s already interesting. At no point did we find it very hard, apart from the quick turnarounds. With film you know you have to turn around songs in a couple of days, but it wasn’t hard, it was just enjoyable.
Yeah, and recently I saw you guys started a Patreon account to try and connect with your fans more so what kind of special content are you putting out there?
Henry: I’ll give credit to Rupert here. We wanted a space where people felt a little more personally connected with us and we could share things that we wouldn't really share on our main social accounts. There’s been a core group of people that have come to support us on that and that’s been amazing. We put out things like unreleased music or unreleased demos or songs that wouldn’t usually make it out into the public space online.
Rupert: We have to be a little bit precious about what we have to put on Spotify and other platforms. We like to have a bit of an image which is consistent across Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter so people kind of get a very quick idea of who we are if they’ve just discovered us. Patreon gives us the opportunity to share things which may dilute that image if they were put on those social platforms. On Patreon we can be a bit more experimental and show people things which are a little closer to us and broaden the image and the knowledge surrounding us. For instance it probably wouldn’t be appropriate for me to post something on Instagram about me loving potatoes, but you know, I could put that stuff up on Patreon and know it’s not going to affect the general look of things. It gives people a little bit more of an insight into us. We’re planning on expanding it more - we’re just in the initial stages of it at the moment but yeah, clips of music, images, that’s what we’ll be putting up monthly. We’ll be having a gift shop which is exclusively for the motel people and that’s all getting made at the cost it takes to produce it. We’re not profiting off any of that.
Henry: We just want to give it to people. You’ll get it at the cost of whatever we get it at. If you want to have it, whatever it might mean to you please grab it. We just want people to have stuff that they like or it brings them closer to us.
Rupert: We’re tinkering with the idea of a room for this magazine which will be even more insightful and it’s something which you can download and it’ll have some interesting facts about what we’re up to there as well.
Henry: Some doodles and drawings cause Rupert is a great artist as well as a musician, producer and engineer, he’s very good at drawing so… it might be like a nice thing for fans to see that there’s other facets to what we do and that might be really fun for people to have.
So far do you guys think that the fans have responded positively to the stuff you’re putting out, even if it may not fit the image that you’ve already put out there?
Henry: Totally. I think so, Ru?
Rupert: I absolutely do. I’m interested to see what they’ll think about the new stuff coming up. We’ve been quite busy the past couple of months. We feel a lot of people have supported us on Patreon for the kind reason of supporting us and asking very little in return. Where as I think in the coming months, I think it’s going to be a case where we can really provide more content, more quality and therefore I think we’ll get more feedback. At the moment people have been very lovely and I think they’ll be lovely no matter the amount we put up. There are no negative words which is great. At the moment it’s like a Go Fund Me or so it seems, but it’s going to develop into something more substantial
Henry: More like a club - like an online club.
That's great. And of course I have to ask about your two singles coming out Friday. Is there a story behind these two songs?
Henry: Well there’s a story behind these two songs and I can’t tell you the full story behind it because it just wouldn’t be appropriate for the Internet, or anything [Laughs]. This one song, “Alone” is not the focus track of the release. I know I certainly have and I’m sure there’s other people out there who feel a bit removed from society and removed from the things that make you feel positive. I’m sure other people have felt loneliness or alone throughout this terrible pandemic. So we thought it was an appropriate time to release something that other people would have similar emotions to when Rupert and I actually wrote the song. And with that song as well, the recording process was actually pretty cool. It was actually something that we pitched to Logan Marshall-Green’s first movie with Ethan Hawke, called Adopt a Highway. I read the feedback coming back and they said ‘it's a great song but it’s just too strong’ for the scene and it kind of detracts a bit. So we knew it was something that had an emotive feeling and we wanted to put it out there alongside the other song, “Saving Me, Saving You,” which is the focus track from the single release on Friday. That was actually written for a Netflix film, but I won’t say which one it is because I don’t want to get in trouble. It came through a supervisor and we got the script and they asked if we could write something that kind of suited those scenes and we came up with this song.
Rupert: We didn’t actually get any visuals so it was quite hard. Usually when we write for film we are able to make something suitable for a scene, but this was much more broad. It was an early demo version of the song that we developed further. And then before the pandemic, we actually had the full album done, recorded and mastered. So we thought we might as well continue releasing music and we couldn’t think of any better songs than “Saving Me, Saving You” and “Alone” and touching on what’s going on at the moment. Not that we try to be too political or try to get anything on the nose too much but we they also go well together sonically, we feel.
Henry: We didn’t initially intend them to be a thing about what’s currently going on. It just seems that they may speak to people that may be feeling the burdens or the pressures of the situation that we’re currently all in. It may speak to them so we thought it might be a cool time to get those songs out there.
Rupert: You’ll probably be able to tell from the instrumentation it’s guitar based. I’m just very happy in “Saving Me Saving You” to play some Western guitar riffs, which I felt suited nicely. And then Alone, despite me playing acoustic guitar in the music video, that was actually Henry playing and singing together in one take on the acoustic guitar. He sang that on this brilliant old ribbon microphone made by a company called AEA and it’s based on a model from the 1930s. So it’s recorded using some pretty old technology there and the reverb choice which we used was very old sounding. “Alone” is very much recorded like it would have been 50 odd years ago but it’s modern mastered and modern mixed so it’s brought up to date in that respect. And “Saving Me, Saving You” is very similar.
Henry: Yeah, Rupert’s a very good multi-instrumentalist so we’re very lucky when it comes to that respect when it comes to building and layering songs. But we were writing “Alone” in London years ago, kind of after a crazy all-nighter which we won’t go into, but we started writing that song then. Rupert started writing it, I think, as I was passed out on a couch and--
Rupert: Makes sense one of us being alone I suppose.
Absolutely. So are the sonic choices and sounds in the song why you decided to pair them together?
Henry: Definitely! I think that they both fit together sonically. The way we approached recording this second record was that all of the songs got a similar approach when it came to instrumentation and the way we recorded that instrumentation. There's a coherency between all of the songs on the record so I think they just naturally have a similar sort of tone and instrumentally they kind of are in the same spectrum. “Saving Me Saving You” is a little more heavily produced and a bit of a bigger track. Essentially the bare bones of it are kind of the same, so it kind of works and ties together.
Rupert: It’s funny cause we never aim for old modern sound so much as the technology and everything we use enables us to give it those modern twists. I think we always aim to do things a bit old school. But with “Saving Me Saving You”, that’s a bit more produced than “Alone” and the mere fact that we don't have to sing the vocals in one take means that we don’t [Laughs]. So elements of being able to rerecord little bits and layer vocals makes it different from an old recording so I think naturally it develops into this more modern thing because we can try anything and we can also copy and paste.
Along with the songs, which are great, there’s two music videos that you guys are planning on releasing. Did you guys record them before all this stuff happened or was the process different?
Henry: Actually it was interesting with those. We’ve done a couple of visual representations of the songs. Some were out on the West Coast with a director, Ryan Lumley, and we had our friends who were also models and creatives, David and Emily Rose. They were sort of characters that will come in throughout the visual rollout of our second record. We also joined together with Ben Sherman, which is a classic, British, mod clothing company. We discussed doing a campaign for their autumn-winter 2020 collection. We recently went out and shot a bunch of new material that was in correlation with the upcoming single releases. We sort of lined it up in correlation so the imagery with the clothing brand and with the music sort of felt organic and authentic together. We went out and we created that. We shot a lot of visuals on 35mm film.
Rupert: We didn’t intend to have music videos. Where Henry was going initially with the stuff we shot last year with Ryan Lumley in Los Angeles, we intended to go out and shoot like 30 seconds of video footage for each song. Then, with this Ben Sherman ad campaign coming along we thought we’d go out again and shoot some stuff wearing Ben Sherman clothes. Previously, we only had 30 second videos for “Alone” and “Saving Me, Saving You” but we just left the camera rolling and played all the way through them. And then we thought they’re going to be simple, but let’s just do them as full music videos and that’s sort of how they came out. The camera was at quite a distance for “Saving Me, Saving You,” but we zoomed it right in and were able to get quite a few different cuts out of that. It’s just one take though.
Henry: And as Rupert said, they weren’t even intended to be music videos. We just happened to be shooting. We were just trying to get a bit of video content for the brand and we were like why don’t we just sing the song through. They ended up coming out pretty cool so we were like why don't we just throw them out.. Hopefully people enjoy it and it was a bit more of a creative way to do a lyric video.
Of course. I’m sure you guys can’t say too much about the album, but could you describe what’s coming in 5 words or less?
Henry: West coast, cinematic, emotive, and eclectic.
Rupert: 10 of our best songs (I hope).
STREAM “SAVING ME, SAVING YOU/ALONE” HERE