Aussie band Rufus Du Sol using ice baths and meditation in rise to top

By Annabel Ross

Rufus Du Sol, from left Tyrone Lindqvist, James Hunt and Jon George in their trademark head-to-toe black.Credit:Eliot Lee Hazel

On a Friday evening in New York in late September, two acts are yet to take the stage on day one of Governors Ball Music Festival: teen sensation and headliner Billie Eilish, and Rufus Du Sol , “Sydney’s finest three-piece” according to BBC1 Radio host Pete Tong. The indie-dance band was second only to Eilish on today’s bill and the crowd that’s assembled before their stage is testament to their huge following in the country they’ve called home for the past three years. Some barely dressed fans seem oblivious to the night chill as they skip towards the stage, the first chords from Rufus’ Grammy-nominated 2018 track Underwater pealing into the night air.

Atop three tall white blocks and in front of huge monochromatic projections of themselves, singer Tyrone Lindqvist, keys/synths player Jon George and drummer James Hunt, all clad in black, look more like rock stars than a dance music act. Their 75-minute set plays like one long continuous mix, loaded with their best-loved tracks plus a few from their imminent fourth album, Surrender.

Rufus Du Sol received two Grammy nominations in 2020.Credit:Peter Don

The band only released its latest single, the dark, swaggering On My Knees, this same day, but you wouldn’t know it from the audience’s response to the new tunes. Rufus fans – who have collectively streamed their music nearly a billion times – are passionate, loyal and enraptured to see the trio playing live for the first time in 18 months.

Beloved in Australia, they are an even bigger deal in the US, where their two Grammy nods in 2020 – for best dance recording and best dance/electronic album (2018’s Solace) – lent prestige to their booming popularity. “I was surprised they didn’t win the Grammys,” says Jeff Sosnow, who signed Rufus to Warner Records in the US in 2017. “They are a singular band who are deeply committed to their art and its pursuit for greatness.”

The Governors Ball marks the band’s third live appearance since the pandemic hit in March 2020, forcing the band to cancel the remaining half of their US and Canadian tour. “It was pretty shocking and upsetting that day we had to send home all our crew. Half of them were from Australia and had to go home before they got locked down over here,” recalls Hunt.

The band members, all in their early 30s, spoke with Spectrum in New York a day ahead of the festival. Sitting on a couch sipping smoothies, they are dressed head-to-toe in black and look photography shoot-ready. Flying in the day before from their adopted home of Los Angeles they had managed a spot of shopping. George models one of his purchases: a sleek Prada jacket.

Rufus Du Sol in Austin, Texas, this month.Credit:Michael Drummond

The band’s personal wealth has expanded significantly along with their global audience and worldview in the 11 years since they formed in Sydney. Lindqvist, who grew up in the opal mining town of Lightning Ridge, and George’s younger brother, Alex (now the band’s creative director), were best friends who attended the Sydney boarding school, St Ignatius’ College Riverview.

The elder George, who had studied audio engineering, hit up Lindqvist for a jam in the studio where they discovered a shared love of electronic artists such as Booka Shade and The Chemical Brothers. Hunt, who was in the year below Lindqvist at school , was recruited to complete the band. In 2011, they released their debut EP, the self-titled Rufus. The Du Sol trailer was added to their name in the US in 2014 as it clashed with an existing trademark for the name Rufus – most likely Chaka Khan’s funk band. They started using the name Rufus Du Sol worldwide in 2018.

Rufus Du Sol: from left, Tyrone Lindqvist, James Hunt and Jon George in their trademark head-to-toe black.Credit:Eliot Lee Hazel

Unlike some local acts such as Courtney Barnett and Sia, who had to be embraced overseas before Australia started taking serious notice, Rufus quickly won a strong following at home, then wooed the rest of the world. Their debut album, Atlas, flew to the top of the ARIA charts in 2013, as did the 2015 follow-up, Bloom, recorded while they were living in Berlin.

The Australian label Sweat It Out signed the band in 2013 and released their first two albums. The label’s artists and repertoire (A&R) manager Matthew Handles says “there was a quality about everything they did that was special. Everything felt so natural but at the same time, so considered.” Warner US’s Sosnow was similarly enamoured when he signed them. “The band was so compelling both live and in their writing – the melodies and composition suggested real producers and writers with even bigger things ahead,” he says. “A true career artist is what they felt like to me.”

‘There was a quality about everything they did that was special. Everything felt so natural but at the same time, so considered.’

The Warner deal followed the success of Bloom, whose nine-minute opus Innerbloom has become something of an underground classic, ranking No.5 in Triple J’s Hottest 100 tracks of the decade. “[Rufus] had gone from playing smaller venues under 500 capacity to selling out three Wilterns (a 2000-capacity LA venue) in major markets,” says Sosnow. “It was a moment where you could see it was just blossoming on a larger scale.” After the critical success of Solace, expectations are high for Surrender, the product of a year of forced pause after seven years of solid touring.

The band in 2016: their nine-minute opus Innerbloom has become something of an underground classic.

Devastating impacts aside, the pandemic bore a lot of creative fruit for the band, who returned to the fabled Joshua Tree studio in the California desert where Solace was partially recorded. (Fortuitously for locked-down fans, on March 5, 2020, the band also dropped Live at Joshua Tree, a 45-minute concert film shot in the desert with no audience. It has racked up over 13 million YouTube views to date). Their planned two-week writing stint for Surrender stretched out to two months as the band reconnected with nature, each other and themselves.

“It was really healthy for us to try to remember why we were doing what we’re doing, why we love playing music,” says Hunt, probably the most softly spoken of the three refreshingly un-Alpha males. The process was very different to making Solace, the bulk of which was written and recorded in a house Rufus shared with their partners and managers on Rose Avenue (also the name of Rufus’ own record label) in Los Angeles’ Venice Beach. The band’s friendships, relationships and health suffered as they poured themselves into the music.

Their live show is what turns listeners into lifetime fans: on stage at iconic Red Rocks, Colorado.Credit:Peter Don

“That was a pretty chaotic time, we were writing till 6am most nights, there was very much a lack of structure or even an avoidance of structure,” says Hunt. “We made some magic, but this time we decided to treat ourselves to some self-care and some routine.” The word “self-care” comes up several times in our conversation as the band members express their feelings with the same kind of startling vulnerability that has made their music resonate with so many. (Crying at Rufus shows is common among fans of all genders, and hundreds of YouTube comments reveal how their emotive, sweeping electronica has helped listeners through depressions, breakups and deaths). Living in wellness-obsessed Los Angeles appears to have had an impact on the trio, who nod and murmur at each other encouragingly when sharing sentimental memories or observations of self-growth.

Crying at Rufus shows is common and YouTube comments reveal how their music has helped listeners through depressions, breakups and deaths.

In Joshua Tree, Solace’s late nights were traded for early mornings, kicked off with group meditation followed by a workout, sauna session, ice bath and smoothie. “Sometimes we’d do the meditation out on this rock, and you’d hear these desert sounds and just connect to nature and connect with your body again,” says Hunt. “And then maybe we’d talk – if there’s anything coming up we’d talk about it, get it out – and then head into the studio really rejuvenated and refreshed. It was a really cool new approach for us, prioritising our health.”

“This time we decided to treat ourselves to some self-care and some routine”, says drummer Hunt (left).Credit:Eliot Lee Hazel

The regime paid off – Surrender might be Rufus’ most consistent album yet, filled with their signature long tracks (most are over five minutes), surprise soulful house vocals and children’s choir harmonies, and plenty of slow builds and climaxes designed to explode in a live setting.

’Late nights were traded for early mornings, kicked off with group meditation followed by a workout, sauna session, ice bath and smoothie.”

It’s also probably their most baldly romantic record to date. Lindqvist was in a different place when they started writing Solace, depressed after the end of a rocky relationship. “Help me out before I die/ Save me now before I give up,” he sang on Underwater. Eight weeks ago, he sang Surrender’s lead track Next to Me, to his wife, Malorie, at their wedding (the couple have a 2-year-old son, Ziggy).

“Writing the song was quite easy because I was just imagining what it would be like on the day we got married,” he says. Singing it on the day was more challenging. “I got to ‘I knew this time would arrive, I knew this time would come’ and I just couldn’t get the words out, it was just too much and she gave me a nice warm hug,” he says. “It was so nice to be able to just hug her and it felt like a gift, to have that fantasy of what it might feel like to be there, and then be like, ‘Whoa, this is very much what it feels like.’”

Rufus Du Sol limbering up for a show.Credit:Peter Don

Physically and spiritually, it seems like the band is in a good place. Their first shows back in August were two sold-out nights at the stunning Red Rocks Amphitheatre in Colorado (check it out on Google images). Hunt names it as one of their biggest moments to date, especially as they performed their new track Alive for the first time. (He was buzzing so much after they came off-stage that he had a six-minute ice bath, his longest yet).

That’s high praise considering their CV of big gigs over the past eight years, including Australia’s Falls Festival and Splendour in the Grass (also personal favourites), Burning Man festival, Serbia’s EXIT festival, Lollapalooza, and mega-festival Coachella in California’s Palm Springs, where they first played in 2016.

“That first weekend, that felt like a turning point for the US, just seeing all these people turn up,” Hunt says. “Bloom had just come out three months earlier and we were like, ‘Where did all these people come from?’ It was like, ok, maybe something’s happening here.” Their Coachella performance was so talked about, they nabbed another slot there the next year (very few artists are booked at the festival two years running) and again in 2019. Their live show is what turns listeners into lifetime fans, according to Handles. “Even if you didn’t know one Rufus song at the beginning, by the end you left a fan,” he says. “If you were already in love with the music, you left a super fan.”

Rufus Du Sol’s Surrender

In April, months before the new album was announced, Rufus sold out two shows and 50,000 tickets in minutes and added a third concert at Los Angeles’ Banc of California Stadium in November in what will be their biggest shows yet. “The response was just insane, especially because we hadn’t put any new music out,” says Hunt. “But I think putting Joshua Tree Live out just before the pandemic hit, it was the perfect opportunity to show people we’re a live band – in the studio we’re three producers and three songwriters, but we’re a band who [also] play live.” Rufus might specialise in brooding beats (they also DJ as a trio), but playing traditional instruments live has helped them connect with audiences beyond typical club kids.

Asked to describe themselves in three words each, the band members are thoughtful and measured. “Passionate, cheeky, smiley,” says George, grinning. “Creative, obsessive, passionate,” offers Hunt. Contemplating his response as if mulling over a chess move, Lindqvist finally speaks. “Imperfect, loving, vulnerable,” he says as his bandmates coo in approval.

It’s this heart-on-sleeve approach to both their music and increasingly, to who they are as people, that has helped Rufus win hearts all over the world.

Rufus Du Sol’s new album Surrender is out on October 22 through Rose Avenue and Reprise/Warner Records.

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