The Rubens have cemented their status as one of the most popular live bands in Australia by selling out their upcoming show at The Tivoli and announcing a second, all-ages Brisbane date at the Eatons Hill Hotel.
We already knew they were a big deal, of course, because they topped this year’s Triple J Hottest 100 with anthemic single Hoops — something the band members themselves still find hard to believe.
“That whole day was really strange,” remembers keyboardist Elliott Margin. “We were playing at the Australian Open in Melbourne, at a beer garden outside the courts. Obviously we knew the Hottest 100 countdown was going on at the same time, so leading up to our set, we were checking our phones and listening to it whenever we could.
“Our set was actually on around the same time we thought we might get a song into the Hottest 100, so we were really stressed throughout the set. We just thought, ‘OK, let’s just play this set and feel good about it’, and then we went backstage afterwards and found out the song still hadn’t been played. It was like, ‘What the heck’s going on?’
“We had to go into the studio at Triple J to talk to them after our set, but we didn’t think that meant anything. We’d known about that for days, so we thought that was just for a general catch-up, you know? “How do you feel about placing whatever,” you know? But on the way over there, we realised this was really happening. We might be in with a chance.
“There’s actually a video of us in the studio the moment we found out we won. That was completely genuine. That’s exactly how it happened. We got into the studio with about six songs to go, and they said, ‘Just sit here and listen’. So we thought, okay… maybe we’re number six! Or number five! So that reaction, that celebration when Hoops wasn’t on yet, literally happened six times. We were so excited when we thought we were number five, then we were excited when we thought we were number four, and so on. They’d have multiple takes of us freaking out in the studio.
“We celebrated heaps when Kendrick Lamar was played at number two, and then I thought, ‘Hang on, wait a second, what if we’re not number one, either? What if we’re just not in the countdown at all?’ I wasn’t going to believe it until I actually heard our song playing, until I heard the announcer confirm that it had happened, because it just didn’t make sense. We’re just a couple of dudes from country New South Wales. This doesn’t happen to us. Then it played, and it was like, ‘Oh, my god…’”
Considering the Hottest 100 is voted on by the public, you wouldn’t think there’d be too much wiggle room to argue with the result — but every year, a certain subset of listeners make a point of complaining about the winner, and this year was no exception. Elliott admits the criticism got to him at first.
“When I initially read that stuff, I felt like my heart was breaking,” he says. “And then I thought, wait a second. I’ve been that person! I’ve been that person who is outraged that some other act won the Hottest 100 instead of my favourite band. That’s just what happens!
“It is a listener’s poll, so you feel attached to it, and when your favourite song doesn’t win, you feel robbed. So those reactions don’t take away from it at all. The more hate that came our way, I just thought, ‘This is really nice, to be in the spotlight and have people talking about you and listening to you’. Even if people are talking about you because they hate you, it’s really cool, as an artist, to have that amount of attention. We’re just a bunch of people playing songs and having fun doing what we’re doing, so the fact that we’re a part of this huge thing and all these people are paying attention to us, that’s really awesome.
“I think we’re lucky in that we’re a group and we support each other. We’ll show each other mean tweets about us and we just laugh and keep our heads held high. I can’t imagine what it’d be like to be a pop artist or something, where you’re on your own and you don’t have a bunch of people to support you, and you win the Hottest 100 and you have all that backlash. That’d be full-on. Like Vance Joy — he’s a lovely, sweet dude, and I can’t imagine anyone saying anything bad about that dude, but when he won, all the backlash was on him. If that was me, and I was out there on my own, I’d find that hard to deal with.”
The most vocal criticism of The Rubens’ win came from The Church frontman Steve Kilbey. Reviewing the poll results for The Guardian, he said Hoops was “catchy to the max”, but had “no oomph or grunt or even twist”, which he took as a sign that Triple J listeners have “gone a bit soft”. In a particularly out-of-touch moment, Kilbey also gave runner-up Kendrick Lamar a serve, “because it sounds like a million other things I’ve seen and heard before”.
“I wasn’t surprised by anything he wrote in that article, until he said that stuff about Kendrick Lamar,” Elliott says. “He can hate our music — I don’t mind, we’re not for everyone, that’s fine. But when he started to talk about Kendrick Lamar… he wasn’t even talking about the music. He was talking about the video clip for the song, and how there were girls dancing in it and guys with baggy pants. I mean, what was he on about? You’re not talking about the music, dude. You’re not listening to it. You’re missing the point here.
“Kendrick is a hugely influential artist for this generation, and for anyone in Steve’s generation who actually listens to new music, as well. So when I read his take on Kendrick Lamar, I just thought, ‘What are you talking about, dude? This is real special, and you’re missing out.’”
Now that sophomore album Hoops has won over fans in Australia, the band’s attention turns to the US — and to the next record.
“It’s never too early to start thinking about the next record,” Elliott says. “We started thinking about it as soon as we finished Hoops and we’ve been writing it since then. We’ve always got material that’s been sitting in the wings, ready to go.
“The record only just came out here in the US, at the start of March, so this year is just going to be about us trying to work the record internationally at the same time we write album number three. We’ll be in the US and the UK a lot, playing lots of shows, trying to ride the wave, and trying to record the new album at the same time.
“It’s exciting, because the stuff we’re coming up with is really cool and fun for us.”
The Rubens will play an all-ages show at Eatons Hill Hotel on Friday 10 June. Tickets are available now at oztix.com.au.