IN CONVERSATION WITH RUEL
Ruel, a 20-year old Australian musician who has what might be one of the most patient fanbases, has finally released his highly-anticipated debut album, 4TH WALL. Not new to the music industry, Ruel has zig zagged across a kaleidoscope of sounds through 3 EPs, several singles, and 3 multi-platinum records including, “Younger,” “Dazed & Confused,” and “Painkiller.” Now, in his 14 track debut album, 4TH WALL (out March 3, 2023 via RCA Records), Ruel cleverly examines all of the experiences and emotions that come with adolescence through a mix of both spirited and mellow pop anthems that make for a propitious release.
Numéro Netherlands sat down with Ruel to discuss the release of his highly-anticipated debut album, 4TH WALL. He exuded enthusiasm and confidence as we discussed this album, the conversation reflecting the raw honesty and unfiltered emotion that are characteristic of his new music.
Words by Nicole Rosiak
N: Huge congrats on the release of your debut album, 4TH WALL. You’ve released EPs, singles, and other projects for years leading up to this release, but this debut record seems to be the most vulnerable and honest music you’ve ever put out. Does being this vulnerable come with any nerves for you, or are you just excited it’s finally out there after it’s been in the works for years?
RUEL: I’m definitely more just excited that it’s getting out there. I don’t really have many nerves when I’m getting personal and deep on my records. You can always deny, deny, deny, you know? But no, I’ve never had a problem with opening up. Also, it’s not all a hundred percent. I exaggerate a lot, and I’m taking things from movies and friends. It’s really just the human experience I suppose… far less transcribed from my life. It’s more just me and what I find the most interesting in every certain scenario that I’m writing about, which yeah, a lot comes from personally experiencing.
N: With the more personal tracks, were you apprehensive about putting any of them out?
RUEL: Not really. My favorite songs are the most personal, the ones that are the most truthful, make me look like the bad guy or whatever. They’re the ones that I’m most excited to put out there. I think it’s because I’m such an oversharer. I tell people exactly what I’m thinking or what I’ve done. I was the guy who went home and told their parents after the first time I smoked weed or drank alcohol, and they’re like, “why are you telling me this?” and I’m like, “I don’t know! I’m scared!” I’m an oversharer, in every way shape or form. There was not one particular song where I was like, ‘I shouldn’t put this out,’ because I was probably going to tell them about it anyway.
N: Oversharers make the best songwriters.
RUEL: You kind of have to be. In a session, when you’re working with people who are trying to get something out of you to write about, you really have to overshare. Otherwise, you get nowhere.
N: Looking at the production of this album, artists are sometimes pressured or think they have to switch up their producers often to change up their sound. However, I feel like you’ve achieved the same level of versatility even though you’ve been working with the same producer, M-Phazes, for the past 6 or so years. How did you two go about approaching this album together, and what conversations did you have together prior to making it?
RUEL: It’s very telepathic now where we don’t really have to speak, but Phazes knows exactly what I like, and we have a very similar taste. When I was coming to him, I was like, “I want to switch it up this time,” and he was like “I’m so down! I want to switch it up as well.” He started producing for people like Noah Cyrus, Dora Jar, and people he was super inspired by. So we kind of had this same sort of transition at the same time to different genres and just expanding, and he’s just really good at it; he’s really versatile. Whatever he’s inspired by, he will make amazing.
N: You play around with so many different sounds and instruments on this album, and in particular, I love so many of the playful intros and outros of these tracks, particularly with ‘END SCENE.’ After the music fades out, there’s some sort of 15 second or so outro. What is that particular outro?
RUEL: This was the first song that I wrote for the whole album, and I was writing it about Fight Club. The song is about the last scene of Fight Club and kind of my take on it and if I was to write a song for that scene. In the demo, we just ripped from the movie the buildings falling down that sound to be like, “You met me at a very strange time of my life.” We couldn’t get the copyright, so we just really muffled the sound of the buildings falling down. So that sound you hear at the end is really just like explosions that are just so distorted that it just sounds like one singular ball of sound.
N: One of my favorite tracks on the album is ‘I DON’T WANNA BE LIKE YOU.’ You managed to make a song still uptempo without having to sacrifice the raw emotion behind it. What was running through your head while making it?
RUEL: I didn’t want to make any happy songs for the record, but I didn’t want to make it all just depressing and slow. So I was like, I better tap into a different emotion if I want it to go uptempo and have something that will bang live or whatever, and that emotion was anger. I was like, ‘Let’s try and make something fun and that you can jump around to it,’ but the emotion isn’t happy and it’s more of a ‘fuck you’ song. So yeah, ‘I DON’T WANNA BE LIKE YOU’ is kind of like the first experiment of that, and I loved it.
N: ‘I DON’T WANNA BE LIKE YOU’ feels like a song capturing how you’re feeling in that present moment while a song like ‘SITTING IN TRAFFIC’ feels a little more reflective in nature. Do you usually write songs in the present moment as they’re actually happening and unfolding, or do you take time to reflect and ruminate your feelings and thoughts a little bit before writing a song?
RUEL: I don’t think it’s necessarily a conscious choice that I’m making. I would say most of my songwriting usually comes from reflecting back though, like looking back at a time and understanding why you felt this certain way and writing about why things happened the way they did.
N: A few weeks ago on Instagram, you had mentioned track #7 was your favorite song on the album, which is now revealed to be the song ‘LIE.’ I’m not sure if that’s changed since then, but what is it about that song that makes it your favorite?
RUEL: Yeah, that answer changes every single day, so it was a bit of a cop out. But no, ‘LIE’ was one of the most immediate songs. We finished writing it in like 45 minutes and immediately it was like, “This is like one of my favorite songs on the record.” I haven’t felt that way with any songs on the record. We finished it so quickly. All the harmonies we did in like 20 minutes, the production was already there, the way I recorded it, sort of like Elliot Smith-y vocals was like my favorite sound ever. I was so happy we nailed it. Yeah, that song was just very rewarding I think.
N: The whole album touches on a lot of heavy themes surrounding the chaos of adolescence such as heartbreak, loneliness, and insecurity, and you pair those themes with really well-written, emotionally charged lyricism. But ‘LIE’ has some of the heaviest lyrics on the album.
RUEL: ‘LIE’ definitely has my favorite lyric on the album which is, “I asked her why so suddenly / and this is what she told me / it don’t feel like dying when it’s happening so slowly.” That’s like one of my favorite lyrics I’ve ever written for sure.
N: I think a lot of young, aspiring musicians are going to be really inspired by your growth in songwriting and the way you approached this album. I think it’s no surprise that younger, newer artists are facing the pressures to create songs or exciting hooks that’ll do well on TikTok. While I find that this album is very authentic and not a single track sounds like it was created solely for a viral moment—
RUEL: It was! Every song was! No, I’m kidding.
N: I’m curious though! Did thoughts like that ever cross your mind at all?
RUEL: I had a three month writing stint that I went to LA, and before every session, I had that in the back of my mind, and it was like gut wrenchingly soul destroying. It was so hard to like something after that had been in your mind. I had written about 50 songs alone in the pandemic that were all just sad, folk songs, like Jeff Buckley-esque existential songs, but nowhere near as good. It was so far removed from what I was writing before. Then, I sort of went too far the other way. When I went into a session in LA, I would be like “I want to write some pop songs.” They were like, “Ok cool. Let’s find some catchy, hooky, little 10 second thing that can be clippable,” and I was like, ‘Ah, kill me now.’ So yeah, I’ve definitely had that experience, and none of those songs made the record obviously.
N: Like I said, your album sounds so true to you. Do you have any advice for aspiring musicians on how to stay true to themselves when making music?
RUEL: I’d say just try and steer away from all that [TikTok] stuff and have that completely out of your mind. If something sounds like you tried to make it a TikTok clippable bit, then it’s not going to go well. It’s so obvious, and you can always tell. Everyone knows everything now about that. People can see authenticity so much clearer than ever before.
N: It’s been fun watching your growth, and even the growth of these tracks over time. I went to your concert last year, and you sang the then unreleased track “Japanese Whiskey.” I’m sure that song has changed slightly since then, as did many of the songs on this album given how long you’ve been working on it and perfecting it. Out of all the songs on the album, which track do you think changed the most from when you started it versus when you finished it?
RUEL: That’s a great question. ‘I DON’T WANNA BE LIKE YOU’ and ‘SOMEONE ELSE’S PROBLEM.’ I rewrote a bunch of lyrics on both more than the other songs on the album. Sonically, ‘I DON’T WANNA BE LIKE YOU’ sounded a little bit like a pop punk thing. Nothing against that, but I really didn’t like the song. I was like, ‘this is cringe.’ It was just pure production that was making it feel like that. And then I was like, alright let’s do something a bit more like car-drive-y, sort of rock, and make the phrasing of certain things and lyrics like “fuck yourself and all of your friends”… make that a little less punk and a bit more me. I love punk, but I just feel like when I was doing it with that song, it felt like the cringiest version of pop punk, which there is a lot of right now.
N: I’m so excited to see how these songs translate to a live audience when you go on tour. Is there a song that you’re most excited to perform live?
RUEL: ‘END SCENE’ for sure. I would say all of the ballads I get excited to play, weirdly, because it’s usually the uptempo songs that the crowd get into the most. Having those kind of main character moments though when you’re belting out a ballad in front of a crowd and everyone’s just like… silent. I love that shit. A song that I’m so excited for my fans to like get into and jump around to though is ‘GO ON WITHOUT ME.’
N: For the fans, you’ve really cultivated a unique and cool experience for them while listening to this album. You’ve released some really cool visuals and brought the concept of “breaking the 4th Wall” to life. Would you consider yourself to be a creative person, and how has it been bringing your creative vision to life?
RUEL: In terms of the creative direction for the record, I care more about that stuff more than the production or the mixing. I’m always so far into trying to find music video ideas or even just the 4th wall idea. That was my first idea three years ago was doing that The Truman Show-esque sort of reveal and uncovering the album cover. That album cover I sketched like three years ago even before 13 of the songs that are on it were written, so it was really sick to see it all come to life and happen. It’s super rewarding. Also, I have to give so much props to my creative director Jeremy Koren/Grey Ghost and my manager Nate. It’s kind of us as a trio really that makes things happen.
N: Given that you’ve been working on the album for three years, how do your relationships with these songs change overtime? What does the album mean to you now years later?
RUEL: It’s a weird thing. Ninety percent of the songs on the record I wrote in the past 6 months, so they’re still very fresh. And that’s crazy to me because I started writing it so long ago, and there were so many songs that didn’t make it. My relationships with these songs haven’t changed too much from when I wrote them just because it hasn’t been too long. I know how it will change though. When I’ve put out EPs before and you start touring them for a year, they do kind of stop becoming songs. You know them so well, and that’s kind of shitty until you play it live in a different arrangement. Then, you love it again. That’s what I love to do now with a lot of the older songs is to go to my band and be like, “Hey, I wanna try this song, but let’s remix it.” Not making it a completely different version but do little slight differences for us so we still feel inspired.
N: Lastly, what have you learned about yourself from this album-making process and with releasing this first album?
RUEL: Probably that I’m like the biggest procrastinator of all time. I didn’t realize that. I didn’t realize I was but I’m actually like.. terrible with that. Like damn. I could’ve put this album out so much earlier if I just, you know, pulled my head a little.
N: Are you a perfectionist in any way, then?
RUEL: NO! That’s the thing. I’m not at all! Like I’m not a perfectionist whatsoever like… I love the kind of rough around the edges sounding stuff. Doing assignments at school, I would just do the first thing that came into my head 30 minutes before it was due, and I’d be like, ‘this is the best version of me.’ Like I would genuinely think that and lowkey still do to a certain extent. With music, a lot of the time the first idea is the best idea. But yeah, I’m definitely not a perfectionist. There were a lot of reasons why my music got pushed back, but procrastination was definitely a factor.