Avenir in conversation with Ry X
In many ways, Ry Cumming aka RY X’s debut album feels like a completion of a circle. Three years after the release of the much-hyped EP Berlin comes Dawn - an album that is no doubt one of the most hauntingly intimate releases of the year. It is not an easy album but a heart breaking one. Baring resemblance to the likes of Bon Iver, Keaton Henson or Patrick Watson, Dawn is a personification of Cumming himself. It is a homecoming album that depicts a three-year journey filled with detours. A day after the completion of his tour, Kasimiira Kontio sat down to talk to Ry about the journey behind Dawn, the creative community around him and being true to oneself.
Hello Ry! How are you today? How was the final gig of the tour?
Ah, it was magic. It was a really good way to finish at Union Chapel in London. The energy in the room was really strong!
So could you tell me a bit about your musical background. Would you say you grew up in a musical household?
Yeah, I’d definitely say so. My dad loved music so I ended up spending a lot of time listening to records and kind of playing on the instruments he had lying around. There was always music around, you know? I used to listen to a lot of my dad’s vinyls.
Vinyl certainly gives the music a sense of tangibility. What records did you grow up listening to back then?
In the beginning I listened to a lot of sixties and seventies stuff mainly. Kind of whether it was Led Zeppelin or old The Beatles records. Singer-songwriters like James Taylor and stuff like that. Then I started venturing deeper into his collection and found older stuff. It was kind of like my own world. I kind of just flipped through album covers and decided based on the album cover what I wanted to listen to. After that I kind of started having a musical identity of my own, I guess.
Would you say this ‘world’ you describe influenced the artist you are now?
Yeah, definitely. Like the whole process of choosing and putting on albums. With vinyl, I presumed that it was still the way everyone listened to music. When you are a little kid, they are massive things.
You grew up in Australia and you’re currently living in Los Angeles. Can you tell me about the creative scene in there – do you think the album would have come out different if you were still residing in Australia?
I think wherever you are in the world, your environment really has an impact on who you are. I’ve kind of been in and out of California for ten years or more now and I do call it home now even though I call Australia home culturally and environmentally but for me, Los Angeles or California is a balance between these two. I was living North of LA when I made this record and I was away from the city and I could swim naked in a little stream all by myself or go down and enjoy sunsets between writing and producing. For me, you can have that sense of the wild and the nature I grew up with in Australia. Now I live in a big warehouse loft in downtown LA and you can have that Brooklyn/Berlin feeling lifestyle as well and that’s really the two sides of who I am so it’s nice to be able to mirror both of these sides in one place.
Also, I’ve also got a great group of friends who surround me who I really respect and we inspire each other and push each other. I think it’s healthy.
So ‘Dawn’ came out in early May and I feel like it’s been a long time coming – almost as if a circle has been completed.
Yeah, it felt like that for me too. I guess I was focusing on [side projects] The Acid and Howling for the last few years. I was kind of like in constant creation pouring my heart and soul into these projects but at the same time I was kind of waiting to get back into writing and to that state of mind when I did the ‘Berlin’ EP. You know, the quietness and the introspection and it took a while to get back there.
RY X is not a character or an alter ego, it’s just who I am. It’s the most raw version of myself – it’s nice to get back into that place to live there for now and to play shows from that place and to make records from that place. It feels really nice and to me, it feels really important to have an honest, heart-based album. You know, not to try to be on the radio or not to try to be too hip but make a really beautiful piece of art.
I read somewhere you wrote some of the songs on your first EP ‘Berlin’ with no intention of ever releasing them. There is certainly a gripping sense of intimacy in all of these tracks. How does it feel like to be performing these songs in sold out venues?
It’s beautiful; it’s like holding space. Obviously the whole thing needs to be very curated, kind of an energetic experience so I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about the venues and setting the tone of the space with really working with the lights and having hundreds of candles on the stage. Last night we got a whole bunch of roses and got them all on the stage and kind of went for the 90s Romeo and Juliet vibe.
But yeah, it’s about curating the space and setting the tone for a space where I can be that vulnerable. That allows the relationship to begin with us on the stage and the people in there. I guess what I want to achieve is to take people into an immersive world and to allow the music to be a catalyst of human emotion. In the end of every night, I end up thanking people for holding that space because it’s their choice too, you know?
That really makes it all sound like a collaborative performance piece… It is all so very visual – like an artwork.
I see it that way for sure. I come from a background in California with all of my good friends being performance artists and visual artists so I want to see a live show as a concept so we make sure we shut down the bar when I’m playing. I like to think through every aspect of it.
You also put a lot of effort into the visual narrative of the songs and you’ve directed videos for your tracks with ‘Only’ being the latest one to release. Could you tell me about how you work with the visual side of your music?
Yeah, I actually co-directed ‘Only’ with a friend of mine but yeah, I was leading that project. It all kind of stems from personal experience. With the video for ‘Only’, I was speaking very literally in one way about experiences I had been through and then you conceptualize that into a motion and to music and then to a visual for a video. You don’t have to have a narrative, you just make sure that every image, every idea is infused with this motion or this feeling. Then it is naturally going to have that energy to it.
I worked really hard with Dugan [O’Neal], one of my closest friends, in terms of putting together a unity that represents that. I pulled together artists that I trust who also gave the video the essence, the story and the energy behind what we are creating.
Obviously having amazing camera gear and an amazing Director of Photography and the technical aspects of are incredibly important but all those things become redundant unless there’s heart behind it. It’s the balance I am always working towards: the very high technical level and the stripping and undressing to make this kind of rawness come through as well.
Finally, what can we expect from RY X in the future?
We just scored a film with The Acid that was screened at Tribeca and did a live score for the film installation project, this anti-nuclear film. Really it’s like this huge installation piece that was premiered at Tribeca. The art director of Radiohead is involved as well as UVA (United Visual Artists) who are an amazing collaborative arts group. It’s a pretty massive wonderful project.
Aside from that, I’m writing and I just went into the studio with the guys and recorded a new RY X song. I’m also going back into videos and working on a video for the next single for RY X. It’s all rolling into one – I don’t really see things as side projects as much as avenues for expression. I’m writing songs for my friend’s film performance too – it’s just constant work. I just wanna keep going, developing and growing.
'Dawn' is out now via Loma Vista.