Ry and Wil form the electronic duo, Earthlings. Just recently having supported Pendulum during their Australian sell-out tour; their latest single Runaway was self-produced in their home studio in Brisbane. I spoke to Ry about touring, on-set stories, Keanu Reeves and plans for the band’s future.
You recently joined electronic rock band Pendulum on their first Australian live tour in eight years last June and July respectively. What was the experience like and how did the opportunity come about?
It’s been a super fun one! We really appreciate Pendulum for throwing us a bone and sharing their tour with us. Essentially our job was to warm up the crowd, put smiles on faces and hands in the air. The tour was already sold out before we jumped on, so we had the easiest job in the world! There’s a large part of the Earthlings show that does invite people in to make them feel as comfortable as possible. I feel as though everyone had a good time, we made some new friends and hopefully significantly fewer enemies.
I got a call the day I got the news. Wil was away on a snowboarding trip over in New Zealand for the weekend with some mates, and I had to quickly call him to let him know we had the Pendulum tour. You know when you have news to break to your mate knowing they’re going to love it, so you’re excited about making that call?!
I finally got hold of him later that afternoon, when he got back from the slopes, to tell him the news. I was talking 100 miles an hour, so excited, I hardly took a breath and he was like, “You wanna hear my news? I just got back from the emergency hospital. I just broke my arm snowboarding.” That wasn’t the best start. Instead of rolling around Australia on the tour with four arms, we had to do it with three. Big ups to Wil because he played the entire tour with a cast on his arm and did a friggin’ awesome job! Those parts are the challenging silver linings of everything.
It can be a tough gig opening the show for a headline act. A lot of people talk throughout your set, pay no attention or some may not show up at all until the main act arrives. How did audiences respond to you and Wil as the supporting act?
I feel you know the challenge before you even sign up for it. You walk in accepting you’ve got a battle on your hands; but at times, you are that person in the audience who is looking forward to the headliner and you don’t want your time wasted, so you know how it feels. Some cities were better to us than others, but across the board the Earthlings fan base has definitely gotten bigger. One in three is usually a pretty good ratio and if you’re playing to rooms of 3000 big, doing the math, you’re having a win.
We take it as a challenge to give people something they’re going to remember, step out of the box of the conventional support act, and try to have people mention our name on the drive home. We’re not expecting for people to know who we are.
Playing in larger rooms to larger audiences is a skill that many newer bands don’t necessarily know how yet to master. Not only do you have to work harder as the support act but you’re also performing to sold out crowds. Is that something you learned how to do during this tour run or something you’ve experienced previously and are comfortable with?
The fortunate thing for us is the band that Wil and I were in previously, we had a bit of exposure and experience with the big rooms on big tours so we learnt very quickly how different the dynamic is when, suddenly, instead of playing to three hundred people, you’re playing to 3000. So, as much as that is a completely different step up, it’s something you adapt to pretty quickly.
I feel as though it’s one of things where you can easily get weirded out by and get super nervous, or you can get super pumped up and grab the bull by the horns! Both Wil and I are fairly confident people, so we’re probably bigger and better in the bigger rooms. I think that’s what every band aspires to be and we’ve had a lucky run.
Overall the Earthlings show is pretty much the same across the board. You tweak it here and there to make sure you’re real and present within that moment, and we try to throw as much energy in as possible from start to finish. We’re throwing out beach balls, doing mash-ups and giving people something they’re familiar with while appearing like absolute idiots and trying to make sure everyone has a fun time. It’s pretty fun.
It’s like a 100 meter race in a swimming pool – you’re Thorpie and you jump in the pool and don’t take a breath until you get to the other side. That’s how it feels. Your set’s not any longer – you close your eyes, make a run for the finish line and catch your breath on the other side.
Did you learn anything either personally or professionally from watching a band like Pendulum command the stage during all five of their Australian shows?
We get so much inspiration from everyone around us. They’re not just Pendulum, they’re [Australian duo] Knife Party as well. They taught us lots of lessons about an industry that is constantly evolving. If anything, they gave us big praise because they seem to love what we do and we’ve been in touch ever since then.
Because Earthlings is just a two piece, so often it’s just Wil and I sharing our own ideas and trusting each other. Suddenly when you go out on the road with people that are trained professionals and the pioneers of such a big electronic game for the last decade, it’s hard not to absorb everything they do and say, and learn from that when you’re around those people you look up to.
A lot of people sometimes forget how important that live environment is. You’re not just listening, you are visually watching it and that’s the whole reason why you pay your money and make the effort to see these artists doing their art right in front of you. There’s a couple of bands, when you see them, you can see the effort they put into their show. They definitely know what’s going on, and that’s what we and everyone is trying to learn.
I’ve watched videos of your live performances and it looks like you put on a very high energy show with a lot of chaotic fun. Can you describe what an Earthlings show is like to someone who has never seen you guys play?
We are two humans that act like spiders with eight different hands each. We’re multi-instrumental so we try to recreate every sound as live as possible throughout the set as we possibly can. Guitars, vocal, synths, live drums – it’s a bit of a circus up there! It’s taken a lot of work and effort to map everything out, but the priority has always been to try and recreate every sound as it’s supposed to be in a live form using that instrument.
We’ve worked really hard to find something that’s unique and unique as an Earthlings brand – and we’re super proud of it! Like anything though, that’ll evolve, strengthen, get better and change over time, but right now it’s two idiots running around like headless chickens, trying to play as many instruments at once whilst not falling over to the top of each other.
There are not many other live electronic arts on the Aussie scene like us. The hardest part when you try to do something different is it’s often tricky to find bands to play with that share a similar style to you – that’s something we’ve definitely found. We’re between a band and a DJ almost, so to play with other live, multi-instrumental, electronic artists, there’s just no one around.
You’re launching your new single Runaway this Sunday at The Bearded Lady bar in Brisbane. What is the song about?
We’re taking Earthlings as an opportunity to, not just create an awesome vibe and give kids something to jump around too, but also to leave them with a small message at the same time. Most of our songs are about world awareness and thinking about what’s happening around us.
Runaway is a bit of a poke towards that and all about, “Are you happy with the world you’re living in at the moment? Are you contributing to that? Are you contributing to change? What do you want to do? What would you like to see? What world do you want to live in?” … that sort of thing.
This is a tricky one. There is not a straight answer for it. We wanted to release a track that is punchy, energetic and electronic at the same time. It’s a fun one we wrote that has maintained its legs and hasn’t given up. We’re pretty stoked with it.
How did that message translate into the music video?
We wanted to find a way to bring that energy towards a live visual sense and create visual art. We could both see a more colour in this one and we wanted to have more fun – that was the reason we took our shirts off and danced around like idiots. We had a lot of fun. We shot heaps of stuff we didn’t even use, but it ended up being pretty cool.
We shot the clip with some buddies that had a similar visual to what we did, to create different live energetic scenarios pieced all together in a really fun artistic tapestry, that was still weird but also gave credit to the song itself. We spent a good couple of days hanging out as mates, drinking beers, eating a lot of pizza and listening to everyone’s ideas.
You always see the finished product but never really get to hear the stories behind the scenes. I’m always curious to ask – were there any funny or interesting stories that happened off camera whilst shooting the video?
There’s a story literally behind absolutely everything! There was one scene where I was dancing outside in my friend Tom’s backyard without my shirt on with a projector all over me. I had to keep dancing otherwise the mozzies would get me. That was an incentive to move and dance a bit harder, so I didn’t get eaten alive!
There was another scene where we are running down the street with masks on. We look like presidents that have just robbed a bank or something crazy. There was one part where we were running and Wil started running really quickly. I got to the end and he ripped his mask off. He’s like, “Oh my God! Did you see that?! There was a dog that looked ferocious and started barking and chasing me!” I think there’s a part of that that has made the clip.
When I first watched the music video, the presidential masks immediately made me think of the masks worn during the bank robbery scene in the original Point Break film. Are the masks a nod to the 1991 Keanu Reeves classic?
Point Break! Only the greatest Keanu flick of all time! “Utah … gimme two.” It’s not but it definitely should be! It’s more of a presidential power vibe that we’re putting across to represent the lyrics of the song. I hired them from a local art shop and had to pay an extravagant amount of money as a deposit to make sure I didn’t wreck them. I spent the afternoon cleaning them so I could get my deposit back.
Something you don’t see every day in a music video and something I also couldn’t help but notice is the large purple monster that makes an appearance. Who is he, and does he play a part in the overall Earthlings music arc?
I should properly introduce him because he’s the real star of the show. His name’s Freddie, he’s a yeti, so we call him Freddie the yeti. He’s got a massive personality, a fun haircut and all he does is dance. People can learn a lot from Freddie. We definitely have.
He was an animation piece we got from people in the Czech Republic to make for us. He’s going to be a big part of our live shows and our visuals moving forward. He’s a huge part of the show. He only appears two or three times in that clip but everyone loves him.
Runaway is also a self-produced track. Is self-producing important to you guys as a band and something you do when it comes to all your music?
Yeah, we’ve got our own studio and that’s where we spend most of our time. From the very beginning, we’ve done it all ourselves and we’re pretty proud of how far it’s taken us thus far. It’s been a credit to the relationship Wil and I have been able to muster together. To get as far as we have with just two ideas is pretty awesome. It’s a formula that works so well and we’re lucky to have found that.
We’re only at the moment introducing other producers into our music. Now is the time we should lean on the shoulders of people who have won some ARIA awards who could point us in different directions. We’re currently working with a producer called Matt Bartlem, who has engineered artists like Matt Corby and Jarryd James. Bringing in those extra producers to dissect your songs and give their two cents is always a blast as well, because you learn a lot and see the songs grow in a way you didn’t expect.
Every band is always writing music. Don’t let anyone tell you they’re not because they definitely are. They’re always working towards the next thing and we are doing the exact same thing. We’re looking towards writing as much new music as possible, so we can hopefully release another single around October or so later this year. It just comes down to choosing the strongest songs and trying to make them as good as we possibly can. We’re really excited about it. We’ve got lots of ideas.
Did you preview any of these new songs during the Pendulum tour?
We definitely did! Every song is kind of like one of your kids, and it’s hard to have a favourite, but you always do have a favourite. I’ve written songs I definitely like more than the other. Some songs stand taller than others and that’s one indication you’re doing something right. You can’t help but take that on board, roll into the studio and put more effort into that one to make sure it rules.
It’s amazing how much people remember a song. A song goes for like three minutes, you hear a chorus three times, so you’ve only got three opportunities to get that hook stuck in your head. It’s stuck in between and other six songs of music that are easily fighting for your attention at the same time, so to remember one song; that’s pretty special. If you walk away with a memory of a song, it must resonate with you and be pretty spectacular.