Vex Ruffin is a self-anointed Beast Master. He's proven an aptitude in it with a series of experimental EPs on Stones Throw since signing to the label via demo – one of the only roster members to do so. There's just no pinning down Ruffin's sound, which can cause rifts as one EP could resonate, while the next grates the ears.
In a brief correspondence with Ruffin he stated, “I know this album is different than my previous work but I'm happy and proud of it.” The self-titled debut takes risks, but considering it was culled from roughly a hundred song options, there's this feeling that some wise tracking input from Peanut Butter Wolf, months (possibly years) of mutations, and a bit of luck all played significant roles in the final cut. By album closer “Ruined”, you'll have understood Ruffin as a bit of Roy Orbison giving way to the natural 80s synth-progression of Alan Vega and tossing in the down n' out punk of Wreckless Eric. It oscillates between angular Public Image Ltd. disaffection, posturing as callously visceral, only to retreat to a comfortable basement for a vulnerable demo that dwells on the loneliness of staying home on a Friday night. Whether the EPs inspired anticipation or you've been questioning Stones Throw's signing of Ruffin, the self-titled debut is possibly one of finest label debuts since James Pants' Welcome.
Stream the album in full below and read on for our interview with Vex Ruffin.
So the story of you signing to Stones Throw goes: Peanut Butter Wolf liked the drawing you did on your demo and contacted you up based on a drawing and a solid demo, but you didn't believe it was him. How much shit did you talk to Peanut Butter Wolf before you believed it was him? Anything particularly amusing or insulting?
He actually didnt call me. He messaged me on Myspace and was like “I got your demo I like track number 3, 5, and 8 you should put out a 7 inch”. But yeah I didn't insult him or anything but I do remember jumping around a lot. Wolf is my boy. He's the godfather of my son.
What happened to the Lo-Fi Jerk Heads? I get that it's always just been Vex Ruffin, but why drop such a good backing band name?
I just wanted to switch it up. I never want to do the same thing twice. Plus I was getting bored with the punk/ garage stuff and wanted to do something else. But now I'm kind of feeling I like I wanna go back to it. Not necessarily Lo-Fi Jerkheads but just something more aggressive and fast. I put those two 7-inches on Black Gladiator with Bazooka Joe back when I was recording everything on one track.
The self-titled debut is far softer than some of the previous Ruffin EPs, there's a bit of polish, but there's also a significant level of courage in creating vulnerable pop songs. When did you make tracks like “Ruined”, “Hard On Myself”, and “Forget It”. I'd say all of these are closer to Magnetic Fields, Roy Orbison, and Nilsson or Randy Newman than the no wave meets hip hop sound we're come to associate with Vex Ruffin.
I made “Forget It” last year . “Hard On Myself” two years ago and “Ruined” I made that maybe six months ago. When I made “Ruined” I was listening to a lot of the Vincent Gallo When album. I actually made a bunch of acoustic stuff and “Ruined” was one of them. I know this album is different than my previous work but I'm happy and proud of it.
What were some of the goals you had going into your debut?
I just wanted my album to come out. I was making a ton of songs and I was kind of all over the place with it. It took us a long time to find the right person to mix the album too. But we got Cole from Nite Jewel to do it and he was the perfect dude to do it. As far as the direction of the album I didnt really think too much about it. I just put everything I was feeling at the time into the songs.
You wanted to be signed to Stones Throw and it worked out. Did you feel any pressure after inking the deal, like “OK, now I have to make a record that Stones Throw will like”?
No I didnt feel any pressure. Every month I would make a batch of songs and then send them to Wolf and he would always like them. I would just be like cool! I'll make some more then send it to him. That's the way it's been since the beginning. I think there was more pressure trying to figure out what songs to put out because I made like hundreds and we had to meet a deadline. I mean this album was suppose to come out a couple of years ago, haha. Me and Wolf kept changing our minds with what songs were gonna go on the album but I'm happy with it now.
In “10 Random Facts about Vex Ruffin” you describe yourself as a Beast Master. Can you elaborate on what it takes to become a Beast Master and once one has become a Beast Master, what must be done to maintain that level of mastery?
You have to listen to the Jungle Brothers, not give a fuck about other people, be yourself, love yourself. Swim laps in the pool and just do you. I think that's about it?
What's the last thing you broke?
I broke my cellphone. I got mad and smashed it. Embarrassing.
Vex Ruffin's self-titled debut is out now on Stones Throw.