Ry Cuming is pottering around a makeshift backstage at Bristol’s St. Thomas the Martyr church. There’s no tap – (“where do they get the holy water from?”) – practicality, perhaps, a reason why the building hasn’t seen a great many gigs in its lifetime. Regardless, he’s managed to pull together the few ingredients needed for boiling water with honey and lemon. He seems more relaxed now, despite the discernible strain on mind and body the European tour has seemingly inflicted.
“Well, lemon’s very alkalising,” he says, “it’s very good for cleansing your system and helping you strip away the shit. And honey… Well, honey’s just delicious.”
While he starts describing the healing properties of Manuka honey, a common alternative medicine in New Zealand, a bandmate comes into the room and helps himself to a Toffee Crisp from the fridge. “Honey has amazing properties man, so many properties, but it’s stuff that a lot of us can’t put our fingers on. If you have a cut or burn you put Manuka honey on it… Even in hospitals it’s one of the main treatments.”
A REALLY BEAUTIFUL SONG DOESN’T HAVE AN END POINT UNTIL IT’S REALLY BEEN OPENED OUT AND SHARED.
Ry’s bandmate turns around from the fridge with a how-did-you-get-onto-this kind of look on his face and big accompanying smile. Acknowledging his surprise, the reply only takes into account the Toffee Crisp: “Ah I’ve never had one of those… is there one left?” He whispers to me aside, “I’ve been told about these things.” He starts eating and we carry on.
The release of Ry X’s debut album comes after a few years of focus on side projects The Acid and The Howling. “I guess I was always excited and scared to get back to Ry X, because it’s so naked, it’s so stripped, it’s so raw. There’s so much to reveal and be judged by, so it can be a little hard to come to. My real intention was to make a very honest and very real record, nothing too much for radio or appealing, just really raw. And I think I got there, it feels good.”
The record includes many reference points for anyone familiar with Ry X’s music. “Sweat,” “Berlin” and “Howling” in particular have been favourites of his catalogue since the release of his EP three years previous. “For me it was really important to include these on a first record, especially as it is a kind of story. There were so many songs that didn’t make it to the record, but I ended up choosing “Howling” and choosing “Sweat” because they’re powerful songs. They’ve lived with us a few years on the road but are completely different songs when we play them now; they develop and morph into new ground.”
“A really beautiful song doesn’t have an end point until it’s really been opened out and shared. I think that’s what this is.” His mantra for collaboration follows in suit; “Howling” was originally released on a collaborative album of the same title with Frank Wiedemann. “I’m all about sharing, man. Originally the title – Ry X – was a collaborative title, so other names would follow the X.”
He explains that the same ethos applies to the live shows. “We have a cello and viola player, and ways to take these songs into different soundscapes. Lots of synths and drums come in, and in a Sigur Ros kind of way we just open it out; I mean the version of “Sweat” we played in Berlin a few weeks ago ended up lasting nine and a half minutes. I think it’s really nice to just unfold past the self and share different explorations, and I love the different narrations sonically and in terms of genres.”
“It’s a little overwhelming at times,” he admits, as the tiredness becomes visible again. “Sometimes you feel really shy and vulnerable. But because of the context – we’re putting it in these really beautiful churches or warehouses or art spaces – the people that come hold space with us. It’s a really powerful thing when you have people hold space for you when you’re that stripped. And I guess that’s what I’ve wanted to do with Ry X – is to share that experience with people. And it’s been really nice, man. It’s at times too much. You have moments where you don’t know whether you can go out and undress again. But I feel like that’s the role of the artist: to give people a mirror of a certain side of their self and to try and be a catalyst to open them up. It feels good to be doing that.”
Faith and spirituality’s fucking amazing, but setting up a system of rules and hell and heaven…
“When I was a kid I started playing music pretty heavily when my parents were separating. I was playing a lot of grunge and stuff like that. It was always there for me. The music was a safety – a place to go to where I could express myself. It was always a massive catalyst for me to get into my own emotion. I think once I got over the ego side of performing and being an artist – once I stopped believing it’s about being adored – I really just kept writing for myself, which was very cathartic. I didn’t have any intention of releasing “Berlin” or “Howling,” but the reason that I’m sitting back in venues and the music industry to a degree – even though I’m fighting against the industry side of it all the time – is that I’ve seen how music can connect people and change people. I have to keep upholding my side of it, which is to make really raw, real shit, and hope that it can help other people process their own shit.
As touched on earlier, the tour dates stop churches, cathedrals and other places he describes as beautifully spiritual. “I don’t believe in organised religion so much, I think there’s a massive gap between the politics of religion and the idea of faith and spirituality. Faith and spirituality’s fucking amazing, but setting up a system of rules and hell and heaven… for me, people feel guilty instead of trusting their intuition. Of course there’s overlap: there are lots of people who are religious and beautiful people doing the right thing, but there are lots of people who aren’t religious but are beautiful people too. I ultimately think that most religions have come from the same ethos, but have found different ways to humanise and politicise it.”
Everyone in those videos is a friend of mine, or an old lover of mine. It’s really real.
To finish, I quickly ask him about the visual side to Ry X. Co-directing his videos and creative directing every project he does, he acknowledges the workload can get a little crazy. The fruits of his labouring are plentiful, though: “When you see a video, there’s a certain ability for that to have an incredible impact. It can really have a beautiful effect on someone.
“Everyone in those videos is a friend of mine, or an old lover of mine. It’s really real. I think that takes it to a different place. The people that do the paintings in the film, or make the bodysuits – that’s another friend of mine, an artist whom I love and respect. The guy that I’m directing with is one of my best mates. In a way it’s like folding in the amazing artists I have around me, being a sponge for the beautiful art – taking up the pieces and finding a way for them to sit together. I mean, why would you want to make an off-hand video when you’ve spent so much time making a record that you love? This way, I trust everything that’s going out there. I can stand behind everything and say “I’m really happy with this.”” He smiles, pauses and nods, chewing pensively on the Toffee Crisp. “This is delicious, by the way.”