An interview with Ruby and The Vines
By Louise Ungless
“Jazz, rock, funk, afro-beat, reggae, pop, hip-hop, Congolese music… We could go on,” says Binisa Bonner, the group’s bassist/vocalist. These are just some of the musical influences found in Ruby and The Vines‘ music. It’s sometimes difficult to define a group when there are so many influences present, which only highlights the trickiness and limitations of genres. The trio like to place their music “under the broad umbrella of jazz-rock,” where they fuse different styles of music to create their own unique sound.
The members of Ruby and The Vines met at the University of London’s School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS), where their sound started with a clear West African influence thanks to Greg Sanders’ guitar style. “Perhaps it also sounded a bit more fragmented,” says Bonner. “As we’ve progressed, the sound has become more unified and we also work harder at serving the songs.” The group was formed when Bonner approached drummer Ben Assiter and Sanders with some songs she had written on on the bass guitar. Since then, their music has developed and “the sound has become rockier.”
With so many musical influences, I was curious as to what unites the band. “It’s a love of all these styles,” Bonner explains. “We have all absorbed these common influences just through growing up in London and also through studying together.” Students from diverse musical backgrounds come together at SOAS, making it a brilliant melting pot. It’s no surprise that there’s fantastic original music emerging from the school. “Another thing that unites us is an interest in songwriting and a lot of our music takes influences from groove-based styles or jazz harmony, but follows a classic pop-song structure,” says Bonner. The result is certainly a success, with the band appearing on a number of radio shows such as Gilles Peterson’s Worldwide Radio 1 programme. They’ve also been hotly tipped by Max Reinhardt (The Shrine, BBC’s Late Junction) as a ‘wild and about to happen new trio.’
Since the release of their debut EP, Red Storm, in June 2011, the band have been back in the studio to record a double A-side single. You can expect to hear their new material in Summer 2012. “There are no immediate plans for an album release,” says the vocalist, so don’t expect one to follow the single. “It’s also a practical way of releasing music on a small budget.” The band doesn’t have a preference for either recording or performing (it depends on the sessions), but they do accept that recorded music is a difficult way to make a living. When asked how they feel about illegal downloads and piracy, Bonner says “some of us download, others don’t. It’s important to support up and coming bands and artists, but as a group, we all accept that recorded music is no longer the way to earn a living as musicians.” Most of us out there are guilty for sharing music with friends, which can also have a negative impact on new and emerging musicians. This band, however, have a positive view on this: “Sharing and swapping music amongst friends is perfectly acceptable and one of the most important things about music culture.”
You can expect great things from Ruby and The Vines in the future. Although they don’t have an album or tour lined up just yet, they are fully establishing themselves in London’s underground music scene, having performed at an eclectic mix of venues, club nights and festivals, including Glastonbury and the Secret Garden Party. Sanders and Assiter are also getting around under the name FUR; an exciting nine-piece live hip-hop band, blending hip-hop with West African mbalax rhythms, ethio-jazz and dub-styles.
Don’t get disheartened about a lack of tour though – the group are working hard at developing as a band and building their fan base so that they can begin touring. They will be appearing at numerous festivals over the summer, recording and writing more material. They have big aspirations too “for this to become a sustainable career along with other musical pursuits.”
For now, the group have plenty of live shows coming up. They will be performing at the Soundcrash all-dayer event this weekend on Sunday 3rd June, at The Oval Space in Hackney, where they’ll be playing alongside established names such as Bonobo and Anchorsong, and other emerging groups such as Mt. Wolf. It will be a great day to catch them, with an array of talent collecting under one roof. Twelve hours of live music in an East London Warehouse space is definitely a great way to celebrate the long Bank Holiday weekend.
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