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When a group of best friends lock themselves in a house with a bunch of beer, some firewood and their respective instruments, it’s a situation that could result in charred guitars, wounded friendships and questionable morning after stories. Thankfully, Toronto’s Born Ruffians did so with the intent to write a record–Birthmarks, their third full-length effort and the follow-up to 2010’s Say It–and spent some weeks last spring and fall writing and recording some demos in between the sandwiches and sleepovers.
Born Ruffians hadn’t lived under the same roof in quite some time–the band lived together when they initially moved to Toronto and started playing together in 2004–but this country retreat to Ontario proved to work especially well, as Birthmarks is their most cohesive body of work to date. Born Ruffians have grown to be fixtures on both your television and the electro pop festival circuit, opening for Girl Talk, Hot Chip, and Peter Bjorn & John, among others, and popping onto the occasional Brooklyn stage for a cameo in an MTV sitcom. (Their song “Hummingbird” was on an episode of Skins, for anyone keeping tabs on the 10 Spot.) Though their touring schedule has amped up and they’ll be celebrating the drop of Birthmarks at the Bowery Ballroom tonight, the rural retreat is more representative of their collective growth spurt as musicians, in that they put their heads together to move outside their musical comfort zone. And they embraced a DIY ethos to do it.
For lead vocalist and guitarist Luke Lalonde, heading out to the farmhouse, closing the front door and throwing away the metaphorical key gave the band a burst of productivity and inspiration they wouldn’t have necessarily encountered otherwise. “We used to jam pretty much whenever we wanted to, and then we all moved out,” he says, referring to the band’s decision to shack up together to write. “The second record was done just in rehearsal spaces and renting and going in three days a week at certain times. I just really wanted to get back to the vibe of living together where you could just play until three in the morning if you want and just pick up an idea. It was good getting back together and feeling like a band.”
“Ocean’s Peak” was a direct product of this arrangement, as the close quarters kept the band from dropping the kinds of mindless chords and practice loops you pick when you’re alone in your bedroom. Had Lalonde not been making a sandwich in the kitchen at some ungodly hour while Mitch Desrosiers was messing with the song’s rousing bass riff in the adjoining room, the song wouldn’t have been built from this “two pairs of ears are better than one” mentality into an explosive pop anthem, as most of the tracks on Birthmarks are.
“A lot of the songs were written when we were demoing them in Ontario, and then they totally changed in the studio to fit how we wanted it to sound and to get the right attitude across,” he says. “When I listen to it, I feel like I can picture the size of the instruments and everything. Everything is a lot more separate and powerful on this record than we’ve done before. We’ve always wanted to make something more detailed and focus on the production and really get into making it bigger and thicker and just more of a studio record, I guess. This time we were able to do that. We had more time. We had a studio and a producer and worked in a way that worked really well. And I co-produced it with him too, so now it’s more of a personal statement production-wise as well, along with the songwriting and everything. I feel like I have my own imprint on the production. In a lot of ways, it’s the record we’ve always wanted to make, but now it’s just finally come together and we’re all pretty excited about it.”
Born Ruffians celebrate the release of Birthmarks at the Bowery Ballroom on Tuesday, April 16.