RY X Getting Grounded in LA.
Perched in the Topanga Hills, singer-songwriter RY X talks about creative collaboration and how he starts his day.
California seaside romance.
Over the years, Los Angeles’s Topanga Canyon has hosted more than its share of musical talents, from Joni Mitchell and Graham Nash to Woody Guthrie and Marvin Gaye. Now its sea-neighboring hills are home to RY X, the Australian singer-songwriter whose moody single “Berlin” has climbed the
international charts and garnered two million plays so far on YouTube, and counting. On the eve of a European tour, RY X – originally known by his birth name, Ry Cuming – shows us around his hilltop retreat and discusses his process, his love of small venues, and why he chooses to hang his hat by the sea.
Close to the sea.
What’s been your experience of the creative community in LA?
The reason that I live in LA, apart from the fact that it’s close to the sea, which is important to me, is having an art community that’s really supportive of each other, without too much competition. It’s a place of cross-pollination. There’s a lot of movement between different genres of art here, a lot of collaboration. And I really love that. Like collaborating with the dance collective WIFE. Or different director friends or photographers — you can really pull different things together and make beautiful work that crosses genres. I think LA is a wonderful breeding ground for that.
I always say that I live in LA because I get my best work done here.
That’s so funny. That’s me, too. I often say that. I think Australia – Byron Bay, the region where I grew up – is a really magical place, and Europe has this amazing energy as a place to express work, but I feel like LA is the place where I come to make work, to share it with the outside world. It’s slightly ironic that I haven’t released anything in the U.S. in quite a while now. Everything I’ve been doing has been focused in Europe, but I still decide to be here. A part of me thinks that I could just live in Europe and then go back to Australia, maybe. But I feel like LA is a beautiful place to make work, and to bring together a community to produce a really high level of
work, there’s a lot of that coming out of LA now. And so it makes you step up, and really create at that high level, and maintain that, and that’s important to me at this moment in my life.
The energy of a certain space.
Do you write your songs all at once, in a single place, so all the tracks are infused with that location?
I really love the idea of writing in one space, to capture the energy that’s existing in you and in the environment that’s around you. Eventually you always have to pay homage to what work is best. I’ve noticed lately that as I’m pulling together recordings they’re usually coming from the same pool of content. Two days of studio sessions, I’ll build a body of work from that, because there’s some energy that’s maintained in that work, and I really think that shifts quite quickly. If you leave and travel, of course the new place is going to influence and inspire you differently. One of the hardest things is capturing that content in a really raw and honest way, and stepping away from it for a little while and being able to look back at it and then see the worth of it, and then say: “Yes, this is a body of work, this belongs together.”
Running to the sea.
How do you start your day? I’ve found it really important in my life to start my day in a really connected way, to just get a bit of perspective on what I’m doing, to make sure that my day from then on is connected to the things that I’m doing. So for me, it’s waking up and having a yoga practice, a meditation practice – getting grounded and some sort of humility so that
when I open my computer and have to answer a thread of emails from Europe and make decisions, I’m making these decisions from the right place. Either that or running to the sea and surfing – the ocean’s always been a huge part of my world, too. So it starts like that.
A common sense of energy.
Preference: big crowds or small crowds?
Small. Well – middle. It’s hard to have any real connection with somebody you can’t see, a long, long way away. I really love the idea – and I guess this is a romantic notion – of small, warm rooms, where people are forced together, to experience something together. There’s a sense of synergy when a lot of people come together to see a show. And if I’m seeing that show and I’m in that space with people then I automatically get taken into that energetic environment with them. I think it’s really nice to have a crowd where people can feel the pulse of each other. There have been some studies showing that people’s heartbeats can get closer to each other’s when they’re in a room – and there’s this idea that people can come together and almost connect in that way. So: not too many.
A modern spirituality.
There’s a book of photos from a Diplo tour, and you can really see how the beat unifies these people, these audience members – plugs them into the same thing.
It’s a modern experience of church, in a way. Modern music should lift people, should touch upon that spiritual or
otherworldly plane, sometimes at least. Not all the time. But I think that kind of energy is really precious. It’s something that people maybe crave, too, on a subconscious level, so they come together to see things.
The quiet star.
Do you like to come out and meet audience members after a show?
I get shy after shows. I’m pretty comfortable with human beings, but after shows I feel a bit naked. Doing the stuff in Berlin is a little different because you’re playing at two, three, four, five o’clock in the morning, in a club, and there’s a little more anonymity already. But in terms of going to RY X shows – I play in chapels and churches and it’s so intimate, and thinking about walking out and trying to connect with people on a certain level after I’ve just basically connected with them on a much deeper level subconsciously – I can’t really go out and have a conversation with somebody. Even in my dressing room I’m pretty quiet after a show, and I need some time to
readjust. I kind of dress again, put my emotional armor back on, before I can go out and do that.
Thanks for inviting us to your peaceful hillside retreat.