Phono del Sol players Born Ruffians talk band milestones, beer brewing, cult followings
Born Ruffians (photo: Laura Lynn Petrick)
Born Ruffians are a band of enduring, humble sensibilities. Hailing from Ontario, the band has seen lineup changes (original drummer Steve Hamelin left the band to go back to school), label jumps (Warp to Yep Roc), and infamous reviews (Pitchfork gave their second record Say It a 3.8 rating), but through their four records and countless EPs, they’ve amassed a fervent family of fans, especially in the Bay Area, who gather lovingly around their brand of spastic, wry, cathartic indie rock. Ahead of their day in sun playing our Phono del Sol festival this July, we chatted with the band’s bassist Mitch DeRosier about the happenings of the fairly eventful Born Ruffians camp, including punny beer brewing adventures, surreal website hacks, and reflections on playing in the Bay Area.
The Bay Bridged: Obviously, you’ve been a band for longer before, since your first Born Ruffians EP was released in 2006, but how does it feel to have 10 years of released music under your belt?
Mitch DeRosier: It feels kind of crazy. It’s weird. It’s hard to think of it because we started so young, like we were playing in high school and stuff before we got a record deal or anything. That alone feels so long ago. When we realized that the 10th anniversary of that EP was coming up, we were kind of like, ‘That’s insane. Let’s not think about that.’
I don’t know, it’s cool. I mean, 10 years or longer or whatever as a band or in the music business is an accomplishment in itself, so we’re proud of that even if we’re terrified of it at the same time.
TBB: When you guys started out, did you see you guys continuing on for at least 10 more years?
MD: I kind of, but also…I don’t know, it’s weird, because we always just had the dream of being in a band and touring and that being our job, and it happened and it just felt right. It felt like…We didn’t really have a backup plan if that didn’t happen, so…I don’t know if we thought that far ahead really, but we were just always on the path to doing it.
TBB: It’s been about a year since you released your last record RUFF, right?
TBB: I saw you just put out a deluxe version with other songs, and I’m wondering: Where in the Born Ruffians vault did these bonus tracks come from, and what made you guys decide to put out the deluxe edition of RUFF?
MD: Whenever we make a record, we always end up recording more than we use, and we end up picking the songs that fit the record the best. It sucks kind of having what you loved and you’ve worked on for so long, and even recorded, and kind of have them disappear, so we always like to do something special, whether it’s an EP or a deluxe version, and have those songs be heard because the other songs were part of the writing process. It’s not that we like them any less, usually, it’s usually that they just don’t fit the blueprint of the record as well. That kind of was devised from these extra RUFF songs. It’s cool to have it come out.
TBB: I feel like there’s been a lot happening in the Born Ruffians camp lately. I saw you’re releasing a documentary about your three-night run in Toronto you guys just had. I’m wondering what was it like to have cameras following you guys everywhere.
MD: It was cool. We’ve done a documentary-type thing before, which was a little more intense and around-the-clock-type following us around, so this wasn’t as bad as we felt before. It was just cool having people capturing it because it was a special three shows for us in downtown, and we were glad to do that. I’m also physically following everyone in the band around with a camera all the time, so we’re getting used to…[laughs]
TBB: I’ve been following your beer crafting and naming saga a little bit in the past couple months, and I’m wondering: What’s the story behind that, and is the beer going to be released?
MD: Well, hopefully. It’s kind of a funny situation where we partnered with Muskoka — they’re a craft beer company in Ontario here — because they like to do this collaboration every year for this beer festival and we were the first they thought of, I guess? We were super into it. We like beer. It’s been really fun to do and just be a part of. Actually, right after this, I’m getting to go try it for the first time because we haven’t tried it yet. I hope it’ll be good. Then for having it be released, we have to win this beer festival that’s coming up in June, so if we do, it’ll get a wider release and people can try it, which would be amazing.
TBB: So the beer festival — are you playing it as musicians or as people crafting beer?
MD: Yeah, no, we’re just going to be there. I’m mostly just there to drink beer and hang out with my dog and get people to vote for our beer, basically.
TBB: Did you guys come up with a name for it?I was seeing all these punny thing people were coming up with in the comments.
MD: There were, yeah, a million good names. I was blown away by how many people threw something in the ring, but we ended up going with RUFF Draft, which was as punny as it got, so we were down with that.
TBB: I’ve been also been noticing your website has taken on this surreal “Rock n Roll Las Vegas” theme, and I’m wondering, where is that coming from and is it hinting at some future project you’re working on?
MD: I wish we were that clever. I wish that was something that we determined. At this point, it’s up there and staying up there for now because it’s so hilarious, but that actually came from a domain issue we had with our website where we ended up losing the domain rights for the name, and we’ve been fighting to get it back. Yeah, it was through a mix-up through management. It’s a long story. So one day, we saw that someone had taken it over, and that’s what they had posted. It’s a real bush league thing on our part, but we decided to just have it remain that was until we could get it taken down and get the rights to our domain name back. We’re bornruffians.ca for now. I have no idea what…I wish that was our creation because it’s hilarious. I don’t understand it, but … yeah.
Yeah, it’s very surreal and kind of esoteric.
MD: Yeah, I know, but I’m like, ‘It kind of works! Let’s let that happen.’ But it’s so bizarre. I’m looking at it right now, and just going, ‘What the hell is going on?'”
TBB: Yeah, it’s almost like performance art.
TBB: I know a lot of the times you’ve been in San Francisco, you’ve been at Slim’s. Are you excited to venture to another part of town to play at the Phono del Sol festival this summer?
MD: Yeah, we’re looking forward to it. I can’t remember, we’ve played Slim’s like…I don’t know how many times. But it’s always awesome.
TBB: Yeah. I feel like every time you guys have been here in the last few years, at least.
Since I’m sort of part of it, I totally know that you have a rabid fan base in San Francisco and surrounding areas, so I’m wondering: Do you plan shows any differently when you know you’re going to have such a crazy fan reaction in that specific city?
MD: I don’t know if going into it…Maybe. I don’t know. We know coming to California, there’s certain cities obviously that we kind of know what it’s going to be like going in in terms of being kind of crazy, and California’s been like that for us for a long time, San Francisco, especially, and it’s…I don’t know if we purposefully do anything. They’re just really fun shows to play. It probably comes through naturally. We get extra adrenaline or something, but yeah, I don’t know, we just always look forward to them. When we do our big North American tour, reaching California and San Francisco, it’s like the peak of the tour. It’s amazing. It’s just what we look forward to the most.
TBB: Do the crowds ever take you by surprise or are you used to them by now?
MD: Definitely our first shows, when it first started happening, it blew us away. We couldn’t figure it out, and I still can’t figure out why San Francisco, LA, like it’s all so insane for us there, but…yeah. Our last few shows [there] were among my favorites we’ve ever played, so I look forward to it every time and my expectations are always exceeded by everybody there.
TBB: Are you already planning any secrets or old or new songs for your appearance at Phono del Sol or any of the festivals this summer?
MD: Um, I don’t know. Tomorrow, or this week, we’re starting to go and start really working on new stuff, so we might have…I don’t know. It all depends on how this writing period goes, and we might have something new to show off by then. That would be wicked. We always like to mix up some old ones and stuff like that and make it a good time.
Hailey is a recent Cal grad and full-time cat & music lover. When she's not writing words for The Bay Bridged, you can find her spinning tunes on KALX Radio or downing copious amounts of Philz coffee. Follow her on Twitter @hailey117.