An Interview with The Boston-Based Hard Rock Band RUBIKON!
Meet Rubikon! This rock band with Boston-area roots, returned with their first new album in four years. The Record, on September 20, 2019 on Round Hill Records. This collection brings the band back to the basics, delivering a slew of swampy, hard rocking songs with hook-heavy vocal melodies such as “Blood on My Hands,” their first single. Loudwire included the track in their Spotify “Weekly Wire Playlist” and ABC News Radio premiered the video – watch it HERE.
The quirky and fun video concept is based on lead singer, Jae Sims, not being a fan of Led Zeppelin. “A hitman has been hired to kill me but at every opportunity he has to carry it out, he finds himself conflicted as I am constantly using merchandise from his favorite band, Led Zeppelin,” says Sims about the video. “Funny thing though, we couldn’t actually use Led Zeppelin merchandise due to licensing, but we could use the merchandise of a Zeppelin tribute band – Zed Leppelin.”
The Record follows up the success of Delta (2015) , which spawned the Top 40 Active Rock single “Live That Lie,” and brought numerous song placements on shows such as Shameless. The songs on The Record expand on their signature sound. They are tighter and hit harder; there’s a wider dynamic range and a more experimental approach in bringing in a variety of instruments such as pedal-steel guitar, baritone saxophone, and even banjo and mandolin.
All of the songs on The Record weave stories that meld together to create an intense musical mixture of hard rock riffs, rootsy rhythms, and soaring melodic vocals.
For the recording process, the band assembled at Sienna Studios in Nashville (formerly Quad Studios where they recorded Delta), working with engineer-mixer Tim Brennan (Steven Tyler, Jason Aldean, Kenny Chesney, Gretchen Wilson). The Record features the usual Rubikon suspects – Jae Sims (vocals), Josh Gruss (guitars), Dave Raymond (guitars), Hugh Eaton (bass), and Doug Arsham (drums and vocals) – but also includes guest spots from Elisha Hoffman (mandolin, banjo, acoustic guitar), Drew Belk (pedal steel), and Randy Leago (saxophone). The album was recorded live (the band admits to a handful of overdubs) and was mastered by Alex McCollough (Robert Plant, John Prine, Amanda Shires).
The Record finds Rubikon in a more experimental place, but the constant elements remain the same: five friends who love making music together, playing for their fans, and having a great time doing it. As singer Jae Sims notes, “Rock n’ roll never dies. We want to restore a little organic humanity back into music. No frills, just rock. No genres, just good songs.”
Connect With Rubikon Here:
Thanks for your time! What is on tap for the rest of your day?
Happy to be here! Thinking about hitting the gym, playing some guitar, and building out a fly rig for the rest of the day. Got some great shows coming up with Candlebox and some other killer bands, and I’m tired of paying the baggage fees to drag a big-ass pedal board around with me. Thus the need for a fly rig. Should fit in a backpack – that’s the goal.
Now that we are into the 9th month of the year, how would you say that 2019 has treated this band? What have been some goals this group has had this year? How close are you to reaching them? What are you already excited about for 2020?
2019 has been great – finished up the new album, had some great shows around the US of A, shot some killer videos, and are excited to finally have new material to share with the world. The Record comes out on September 20 via Round Hill Records, couldn’t be more happy about that. As far as goals for the band, it’s always about writing, recording and gigging. And giggling, as well. We have a lot of fun when we’re all together. I was living in Argentina for the first half of the year, so I definitely slowed the band down, but I’m back in the US now and we are approaching ramming speed. So, all good.
Can you recall the moment when you thought you could be in this group together? Was it hard to think of a name that you could all agree on?
Oh hell yes, like it was yesterday. Hughie, Doug and I were in a band together, and we toured around the northeast with Jae’s band. We were like, “Ooooh – him. Him!” and that wasn’t just because he was so cute. He can sing like a motherfucker as well, in case you didn’t know. We jammed together and it was a done deal in minutes – after that, we worked through the implosions of our existing projects and Rubikon came out the other side. Josh joined a few years later to complete the dual guitar attack, and we haven’t looked back. As far as the name – it was a suggestion from a young lady in NYC after a long night of drinking, and we ran with it. You don’t want to know some of the other names we were considering at the time…
How do you think your hometown has influenced the sound and how you all carry yourselves in this group? How has the music scene there changed over the years?
We are “based” in Boston, but the reality is that we live all over the US at this point. I think Jae being from the south, and the rest of us being from the north, has had a very large impact on our sound – Jae brings a certain vibe to the table based on his roots, and the rest of us do as well, and I think that blend is part of our secret sauce. A lot of people say our secret sauce is just equal portions of ketchup and mayo mixed together, but we’d like to think it’s a lot more than that.
As for the scene in Boston, I think that the main thing that makes the scene evergreen is that we have a huge student population streaming in every year. That brings a lot of diversity and variety into the city, and that’s reflected directly into the music that folks are making – it’s always changing and evolving, which is inspiring.
Let’s talk about your latest single “Blood On My Hands.” What was the inspiration for this track? How do you think it prepares listeners for your forthcoming album, “The Record”?
Lyrically, the song comes from the Cold War, us vs them mentality. The simplicity of duality, when the reality is always more nuanced. So it’s an exploration of that. Musically, I think this is a great jump off point for anyone that listens to The Record – it’s all rock and roll, right?
Can you describe the process of making this new collection? It has been about four years since you released an album so has that time been spent working on this new music?
Because Rubikon is dispersed around the US, we end up having a pretty long writing cycle. We all work on material individually and make the most progress when we are all locked in a jam room together, just powering through things. That happens about four times a year, if we’re lucky. For The Record, we actually went into the recording studio with a lot of open material, which caused a lot of stress, but it forced us to focus and make it happen. A good example of that would be Under the Stone; Doug and I had the guitar and drums together for quite some time, and we just rolled tape and took a pass at it, just to get it down. Jae started working on vocals, and so Hughie and I went into an open jam room and worked through ideas for Stone. Once he had a bass line that he loved, we had him quickly track that and next thing you know, Jae and Doug were bouncing vocal melodies around and shaping THAT part of the tune. I went into a corner and shaped some lyrical ideas based on the vocal melody I heard, and bam it came together. And that’s just one example – there are many others like it, no doubt.
What was it like making the music video for “Blood On My Hands”? How creatively involved with the overall process were you all?
Hughie and I worked together on the concept, and Jae and the folks at Solar Cabin really fleshed it out and made it real. I wasn’t there for the filming and editing, but I know Jae was totally wiped out when filming was done, given the late nights and early mornings that were required to capture the lighting we were looking for. Also, Jae is an adult baby and needs 14 hours of sleep a night to maintain his good humor. He’s a bear otherwise. And yes, I’m making that shit up.
Generally, how do you guys go about writing your music? Do you write together or separately? What is the first step in your music-making process?
For better or worse, it almost always starts a riff. And everyone brings riffs to the table. We put everything into the sausage grinder when we write, and it’s exceedingly rare for something to come out the other side unaffected. Everyone writes for any instrument, and nothing is sacred. Having that openness, and level of trust with each other, helps us find what we think the “best” ideas are, no matter where they come from.
I always like to ask bands if you all hang out socially apart from the music? In other words, when you aren’t working on music, do you guys enjoy hanging out for fun?
Oh fuck yeah, we love hanging out together. We are very fortunate on that front. If you hop in the van with us, you would hear endless laughter and LOTS of genius playlists at ear-splitting volume. And you must know the truth – Doug is THE DJ in the band and has literally NEVER disappointed when it comes to his choice in tunes. Josh will play 80s hair metal, I will put on progressive death metal, and both of us get instant groans from the rest of the band. But Doug – oh hell no, he’s perfect. In fact, we may want to hire him out for weddings, birthdays, funerals, that sort of thing…
How do you feel that this band has grown through the years? What has remained the same?
We never stop laughing, and that has remained the same since day one. I think we have gotten better about being open with ideas as the years have gone by – we are all less territorial than we used to be, and we surrender to “the process” far more than we used to. I think that has made us better writers.
Where do you think you are all happiest- in the studio recording new music, on stage performing or elsewhere?
Writing, for sure. Don’t get me wrong, we all LOVE playing shows, but for me, the idea of locking myself in a room with the rest of the band and battling our way through new material is both the hardest and most rewarding part of what we do.
What do you think makes for an ideal show for this band? What have been some of your favorite shows and venues over the years?
Well, certainly we appreciate a good crowd and a killer sound system, but we’re easy and will play pretty much fucking anywhere. We’ve played on the back of an abandoned 18-wheeler – not unlike a certain Dokken video from back in the day – as well as dirt-floor bars, hockey arenas, and an old barn with a mechanical bull in it. So – we’re easy on that front. The best shows to me are the ones that connect with people in the room, whether that’s two people or two thousand of them.
Do you have a Fall Tour scheduled yet? Where can fans see you perform next?
We’ve got dates lining up for this fall, absolutely. So far, we’ve got four in New England coming up in late September, and a handful firming up in southern California later this year. Many more to come, but right now they are tentative so no need to speculate too much. I will say this, though – “Hello, Iceland!”
You have toured with so many incredible rock bands over the years. Who really stood out to you? What band do you think you learned the most from touring with?
You’re absolutely right, we have had the privilege of sharing the stage with some incredible, legendary bands over the years. So many that it’s hard to keep count. The ones that stand out are the ones that work hard to connect with the crowd, the ones that create an energy and bond with everyone in the room. That’s inspiring, and incredible to be a part of. Some of my favorites, off the top of my head, are Tesla, Damage Plan, and Cave In – but that’s really just scratching the surface.
How has social media impacted this band? How often are you all on your different sites interacting with fans? How have you been able to utilize it through the years?
Early on – and this will date me a bit, I know – we booked an entire 60-date tour through Myspace. We never picked up the telephone a single time top pull it together. That was pretty revolutionary for us, I think. So yeah, social media has been an important way for us to connect with fans, booking agents, etc. from early on. These days, we don’t try to post too much on IG and all that, but we do have a presence. I reckon some folks overdo it, but that’s just me.
We are currently living through a very trying and politically charged time right now so I am curious to know how you all think being musicians and in this band still gives you the most joy in life today? Do you find that your music is an escape to all the current events?
Music is one of the many ways in which we process and interpret reality, so I’m sure what comes OUT of the band is a product of what’s fed into it. For example, I very much think the lyrics to Blood On My Hands are a direct reference to our current political climate. Still, I think we all feel a deep joy by playing music together; it’s so tough for us to coordinate just being in the same location all together, so when we CAN make it happen I think we all rejoice and feel a deep sense of gratitude to each other and to our families, careers, etc. that allow us to make it happen.
What musicians have really been inspiring you all since you first started making music?
All of the above. Meaning, all music influences us. I may be more metal, Jae may be more country, etc. but we all listen to tons of music, across a wide swath of genres, and all of it feeds in to the music that comes out of us when we write together.
What do you hope is the message of your music? What do you hope people continue to take away from your songs?
I don’t think there’s a cohesive message in our music, other than that we are a diverse set of people living in the world, and experiencing life in our own ways. So, that diversity of experience is reflected in our music. We aren’t “just” political, or “just” love songs, or “just” whatever topic you want to insert there. We reflect on our realities and that is what comes out in our music. So sure, some songs are more political, some are more love songs, etc. It’s that diversity that makes us all human, so that comes out in our music. I hope people hear that, and can connect to it, and it can have some kind of meaningful impact in their lives.