Sat. May 5th 2018 8:00 PM (No Minors)
Ten years ago, on the very first song on their very first album, Born Ruffians revealed their ambitions to start their own country. They didn’t really offer details about how they would go about legally annexing land, drafting a constitution or establishing a native currency, but we did know this much: it had a population of three—singer/guitarist Luke Lalonde, bassist Mitch DeRosier and drummer Steve Hamelin. It would have a simple flag made up of the colors waved in the album’s title, Red, Yellow & Blue. And as that album vividly illustrated, their country was a primitive place marked by jagged terrain, rickety footbridges and sudden tremors. Its roughly sketched borders were defended by makeshift fences made of tangled guitar strings, broken drumsticks and—when all else failed—ravenous hoots ‘n’ hollers.
Over time, this lawless territory fortified itself into a stable nation-state. While some citizens left (Hamelin, back to school), its population ultimately increased by 33 per cent (thanks to replacement drummer Adam Hindle and second guitarist Andy Lloyd). The sparse scenery filled in with lush greenery. The rocky turf was gradually paved over with smooth surfaces. That untamed, in-the-wild vibe gave way to the steely efficiency of a big cosmopolitan city. State-of-the-union addresses—in the form of 2010’s Say It, 2013’s Birthmarks and 2015’s RUFF— were broadcast to an ever-growing mass of enthusiasts around the world. Born Ruffians’ makeshift country had become a pretty, prosperous place—thanks to regular alt-rock radio airplay, millions of Spotify listens and non-stop international touring—but it was one that Lalonde no longer recognized. Without his fellow founding father Hamelin by his side, it just didn’t feel like home anymore.
“The band was in a funny place,” says Lalonde of the period following the release of Ruff. “Everything was just different without Steve. And after a few years of him not being in the band, it was starting to feel kind of weird. Ruff was a fun record to make...but it didn’t feel like our band. I was starting to feel like, ‘What is this? What are we doing this for? Is it just because we can get a certain amount of shows per year, and it’s a safe bet?’”
On those early Born Ruffians recordings, Hamelin was more than just a drummer; he was the band’s arhythmically beating heart whose frisky snare-rim taps and spastic thwacks embodied the Ruffians’ feral, unsettled essence. Without him, Lalonde admits, “We kind of pushed ourselves out to that radio-rock realm as close as we felt comfortable with—of trying to go like, ‘Look at what Phoenix are doing; let’s try something like that,’ where we spend a year making the kick-drum sound right. But then, just as my existential crisis about the band was reaching a peak, we started jamming with Steve again. He mentioned he was done school and would be interested in coming back—and Mitch and I were just really surprised.” With their old drummer back, the Ruffians swiftly reverted to their old battle-plan: recording as a trio, live off the floor, bashing out the tunes in quick succession.