Catching Up With Born Ruffians' Luke LaLonde

Music Features Born Ruffians
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At present, Canadian indie quartet Born Ruffians are affixed in the lull that comes between albums—well, seemingly.

In the year-and-three-months since their third studio album Birthmarks was released, the band has been busy—changing drummers, releasing stripped-down, acoustic renditions of their previous material, and accidentally landing Toronto’s most famous crossing guard in a spot of trouble.

We caught up with Luke LaLonde, singer and guitarist of Born Ruffians, to chat about the reshuffled lineup, crossing-guard bureaucracy and if a new LP is on the horizon.

Paste : The deluxe version of Birthmarks has been on the shelves for a few months now. What was the impetus for stripping down the studio album and releasing acoustic tracks?
Luke LaLonde: It started with the thought of songs having multiple lives, and wondering if we got it right on the record. I guess I was fiddling with these other versions that we really like and presented them in a different light. A lot of them came from working out radio stuff or filmed acoustic sessions. I tend not to play the song straight up as it is, but rather figure out a version that makes sense and sounds right on an acoustic guitar. That’s where those versions came from. And I thought I’d show them to people, too.

Paste : And some of the songs on Birthmarks were originally written as acoustic material, right?
LaLonde: Yep.

Paste : Your latest track, “Oh Cecilia,” sounds like your most studio song yet. Is that a natural progression, or a bit more calculated?
LaLonde: Definitely not calculated. The song started on my laptop, and the elements just translated as they were into the studio. It was kind of an orphan song—I knew it wasn’t going to go on the next record because it was a little too silly and it didn’t really feel like it fit. And it was written too late to go on Birthmarks. So we thought, “let’s put it with all this other stuff that’s coming out.” I do enjoy the lyrical content. The concept of the song is a meta-poetic thing. The narrator is trying not to write a certain kind of song, but he keeps drifting into this love song.

Paste : Also regarding “Oh Cecilia”—your music video landed its star, Toronto’s “dancing crossing guard” Kathleen Byers, in a bit of trouble. [Read the saga here.] Has she gotten her uniform back? What’s the latest?
LaLonde: The last time I heard from her, she was happy not being a crossing guard. She quit because she was sick of fighting for her job. The struggle of whether or not she should dance had been going on before we put her in a video. But she’s had all these great opportunities come from the attention people have given her. She’s taken all the negative and positive with a really good attitude. When she quit, she did it with a smile on her face. She’s still having fun—she emailed me about a folk concert she was doing in her living room, she was doing a fashion shoot, she was modeling clothing. She sees life in a positive way, but she’s definitely not crossing anyone.

Paste : Steve Hamelin, your original drummer, departed the band shortly after the release of Birthmarks. Is that right?
LaLonde: Yeah. He did the last tour after the record came out, and he told us that by the summer, he wanted to be phased out so he could focus on getting ready for school. And so we were working with a new drummer by mid-summer.

Paste : I read Steve joined you for a couple shows recently.
LaLonde: We played a small show at the Horseshoe Tavern in Toronto, and Steve came on for the encore.

Paste : So it’s definitely an amicable split.
LaLonde: Yeah.

Paste : The new drummer, Adam Hindle, seems to have jumped right in. Was he a long-time fan, or was it more like, “you have two weeks to learn three albums, go lock yourself in a room”?
LaLonde: He’s a longtime friend, actually. His parents and my parents went to high school together, so Adam, [Born Ruffians bassist] Mitch and I grew up together. We’ve known Adam forever. And when Steve left, we were like, “Adam knows all the songs and he really wants to do this.” It just made sense. He’s also an extremely capable and really talented drummer, and he can learn stuff so quickly. He can learn songs in his head.

Paste : The Born Ruffians were at the Juno Awards [Canadian Music Awards] earlier this year. How was the experience?
LaLonde: It was strange, but good. The Junos are weird, but it’s really fun. It’s a big spectacle, like a stadium show, but extremely Canadian. I don’t use Canadian as a bad word, but there are some things you wouldn’t expect if you’re used to watching American or international award shows.

Paste : Are you working on any material that may take shape on your next album? Is there an LP in sight?
LaLonde: Sort of in sight—it’s still early. I’m trying to write as many songs as possible. I’ve got a bunch, and I’m trying to find what the record is going to sound like. And there’s the fact that the band is less of a band, sort of, in that Steve has gone back to school. When we started, the band was me, Mitch and Steve, and that’s how we wrote all three records, more or less. And now we have a new drummer, so as far as writing songs, it’s hard to know how to put them through the filter. I’ve always written the songs mostly on my own and brought them to the band in different forms of completion, but that’s the tricky part, that’s what I’m trying to figure out right now. The goal is to put a record out by summer 2015, so we’ll see if that happens.

Paste : Any plans for a late summer or fall tour?
LaLonde: No, no plans.

Paste : You guys have always been ahead of the curve in terms of social media and sharing what’s going on behind the scenes. Do you have anything planned, like contests or more collaborations with [Toronto comedians] Nirvana the Band the Show?
LaLonde: No, not yet. But we’re always thinking of ways. Mitch really loves doing that stuff, and he’s always had a handle on Twitter and Facebook. We’re really into showing everything, and we want to do more videos and stuff like tour diaries. When we’re putting out a release, we’ll do something fun for people who follow us. Anytime we have any kind of reason to do that, we do. We try to keep people engaged.