Commonplace is the tale of the single industry monotown which gradually surrenders to low-priced imports and misguided globalization. It’s an all too unfortunate reality leading to talent-drain and the dwindling of local employment. Consequently, these small towns often become mind-numbing havens for the very old or provisional sanctuaries for the very young.
For those about to enter the workforce, those looking for a progressive future, a town like Scunthorpe holds little for anyone who isn’t interested in employment by the few industries which remain in the area. As it becomes increasingly difficult for this struggling community to combat the lure of big city prospects, what are its young local musicians to do?
Big dreamers from relatively obscure towns are nothing new, yet the universe always manages to produce a few surprises. Henry & Rupert Ruen, The Ruen Brothers, have diligently worked their way through the challenges of a modern music career to make their mark. Paying their dues by seizing opportunities, without being cynical, these guys have not only survived but are well on their way to living the “small-town-boy-done-good” fairytale.
At first glance, on stage, these polished gentlemen seem calm, poised and ready. Half-way through their first song it was apparent that their pretty faces complement a musical talent and rare confidence. I was immediately struck by their crooner-esque qualities akin to the likes of Orbison, Sinatra and the lot, reformulated yet completely original.
The last time I saw a young someone with these qualities was a few years ago in a small Jazz bar in Mexico City where a singer by the name of Sachal Vasandani owned the stage. I was equally impressed by both Henry and Rupert’s presence. Both Rick and I watched the duo, pleasantly surprised and subsequently charmed by Heney & Rupert who lit up the stage. At one point, I lay back in the soft grass, closed my eyes, and floated on peacefully enjoying their rendition of “Pretty Woman.”
AND mind you, The Ruen Brothers performed early Friday morning, wherein I was barely alive after a debaucherous Thursday late-night kick-off deluge in the Coachella Campgrounds. If it hadn’t been for this important interview you can bet that I would have waltzed into the polo fields at 3pm after a tasty morning breakfast burrito and leisurely walk through the hoards of hot sexy bodies.
After their set, buzzing around the Press Tent, these two spiffy lads graciously smile holding it together in this torturous heat with the pounding of the Sahara Tent in the background. They were also tolerant of the opportunist journalists who pounced on them for non-cleared interviews. How anyone can keep cool in these conditions is a miracle.
Citizen LA: I’ve been watching you guys working the press tent, seems like you’re in high demand here at Coachella.
Rupert: Everybody has been super cool. We’re very fortunate that people came to see us and interview us.
Citizen LA: As for me, I was the first one in the concert grounds this morning, so I could get to the freaking stage to shoot you guys. I didn’t eat. I didn’t take a shower. I thought to myself, well, they came all the way from England, so I’ll drag myself up after a hard night of drinking.
Henry: Thanks that means a lot. That’s a lot of love.
Citizen LA: You guys are from a little town in England. What do people do there?
Rupert: We’re from Scunthorpe, it’s an old iron & steel town.
Henry: At one time these works were the biggest in Europe. But now, there are rumors of them closing. On top of that, the shops are liquidating and going out-of-business. And there’s no university there, so jobs are limited. It’s all very sad. Everyone that wants to do something moves out of town. But we have a lot to thank it for because Scunthorpe gave us the opportunity to play in loads of pubs, clubs and parties, AND get paid for it.
Citizen LA: Oh! You guys are actually getting paid to do this?
Citizen LA: That’s even better!
Henry: When we were younger, places would pay us like $300 bucks to perform. They probably thought, “let’s give these kids a shot, they’re probably not very good…”
Rupert: And they’ve never had a proper job…
Citizen LA: Yeah, I completely understand you guys. We’ve all done a little table dancing in our time.
Citizen LA: You guys seem to be making the right decisions. I also noticed a positive energy. From where does all this come?
Henry: Some of it comes from growing up listening to our Dad’s record collection. But mainly we’ve never been afraid to take a chance. Whatever you don’t do in your life you’re going to regret went you get older.
Citizen LA: So behind you there are good people.
Henry: Many kids don’t get their parents support and discourage them from playing music. We had super-encouraging parents.
Rupert: We’ve also had training, a lot of gigs. It was a tough business, but we made the right decisions, yes. And… well… we didn’t have “plan B.”
Citizen LA: But it could have gone the wrong way. You know all the sad stories.
Rupert: Could have, very easily.
Henry: When you’re from Scunthorpe, and you live in this little town, you don’t know anything really. Now we’ve experienced all these things, and we appreciate what came before. If we had stayed in Scunthorpe, and continued doing gigs every weekend, or weddings, or whatever, it wouldn’t have bothered us THAT much because you don’t miss what you never had. Sure we may have hoped to have done whatever, but we would still be playing music.
Citizen LA: With those intentions that you are sending out, you are manifesting this. You are making this happen, and it’s very commendable.
H&R: Thank you!
Citizen LA: Both of you do a good job of sharing the spotlight, so when do you guys just get drunk and fight?
Rupert: All the time. Hahaha…
Henry: Behind the scenes, when no one else is really around–
Rupert: It’s usually creative differences–
Henry: It’s not even that. It’s stupid things like, you let the fucking toothpaste out the side, Rupert. What’s your problem?
Rupert: I don’t find that annoying… and my toothbrush is always clean, by the way.
Citizen LA: So there no smashing a bottle on a table, and lunging at your brother?
Rupert: Well it’s not quite as aggressive as that, most of the time.
Henry: Apparently, if you smash a bottle on the table it will shatter completely. And it wouldn’t give you the jagged edge, unfortunately.
Rupert: But if they smash the bottle ON you, now that’s bad.
Henry: If you want to see a true bottling, go to a bar in Scunthorpe on a Friday evening.
Citizen LA: Describe your magical collaboration process.
Rupert: We like the same stuff, so were often inspired by the same things. So, for example, if we watch a highly emotive film together, we’ll both want to write afterwards. And the sparks fly.
Henry: We often get inspired by watching a lot of movies, old films, among other things.
Citizen LA: So the magic is… you two sitting in front of the television with the remote.
Henry: [laughing] But it’s never forced. We write a song when it feels right; it kinda just comes in the moment.
Citizen LA: So when does it get tough?
Henry: It gets tough when people around us say, “why don’t you guys try writing a song with whoever or whatever.” I mean, I get why they say it, but…
Rupert: Doing that is often a forced situation, so we’d insist on hanging out with those new people for a few days before picking up an instrument together.
Henry: The majority of the album is just Rupert and I, but some of the songs have been co-written with some lovely people like Brendon Benson from the Raconteurs. We went to Nashville and like hung for like a while, got to know each other, then so slowly we went in. But we generally don’t like to do it–
Rupert: Well, I suppose we co-write all the time seeing that we’re brothers.
Citizen LA: And, you know, Xbox has only TWO controls. So to bring in a third person, it’s like, “dude we gotta get another control, this sucks…”
Henry: And you gotta split the screen, all tiny and stuff…
Rupert: Yeah, no thanks, it’ll be easier if we stick with two remotes.
Citizen LA: So how do two handsome guys keep their egos in check?
Rupert: We don’t.
Henry: Naw… we never expect things. If someone wants to interview us, like this, we really appreciate it. Our parents brought us up to be very respectful. I really don’t get that ego thing–
Rupert: For the record, Henry’s got a bigger ego than I do.
Henry: Do not! Well, maybe.
Citizen LA: Are you giving the fans what they want?
Henry: The whole point is that you want to connect with people! It’s why we struggled for so long with no money. Every day I wake up and it’s like, “you have to go there and there and do that and that” and I’m like fucking hell, yes, I get to do that?
Citizen LA: And that circles back to why things are happening for you.
Rupert: Yeah, it’s great.
Citizen LA: Watching you perform, it was very apparent that you’re super-polished. Not only look-wise but everything seemed really tight, like suspiciously polished. My first thought was, “are these guys the product of a producer?”
Rupert: At the beginning, we didn’t have money for a studio so we learned how to use our equipment and recorded all our music, but it worked out because we got out exactly what we wanted. After trying different producers, we met Rick Ruben we felt very comfortable. He tightened us up, got the vibe right, and got us to appreciate what needed to be prominent within the music. So we basically took what we could do on acoustic guitars from before, and built up around that.
Henry: Nothings contrived. We don’t use track. The record was made organically, with just people playing. We’re bare up there on stage and Rick isn’t in the back helping us out. We spent months rehearsing because we wanted to do the record justice.
Rupert: And it’s a different live band than what is on the record. So we naturally had to get players who understood our music, and the music we recorded, and we found some great guys.
Citizen LA: It’s nice to see that you guys are so young and owning the stage.
Henry: A lot of people say, well you got to be loose and all that, but you can only be good loose if you get tighter.
Rupert: It’s the pub gigs, the thousand gigs in our time. What we do up there is take all of that and make it work.
Citizen LA: You’ve captured the spirit of the Stones, Orbison, Sinatra and others; definitely a couple of velvety, budding crooners.
Rupert: Love it.
Citizen LA: So what’s the universal message?
Rupert: We like to work our songs on different levels emotionally, with a strong dynamic, even between the verses and choruses. We we’re definitely influenced by those old-school Cohen Brothers, Tarantino, Lynch movies and, of course, all kinds of musicians. I’m confident there’s something in our music for everyone.
As the boys walked off with Ricky Rocket for the photo, I couldn’t help but picture a version of these guys 50 years ago running from a swarm of hormone-crazy lovesick teen fans. I wonder if that’s waiting for them just around the bend. Posing comfortably, their blasé demeanor could have easily cast them in a much older light. Then an alarming thought hit me, they referred to the Cohen Brothers, Tarantino, and Lynch as “old-school”. I immediately pulled out my pocket mirror, checked for wrinkles and reached for the Vodka.
Work it while you got it, boys 😉