Bianca Seidman - November 8, 2013
Devil-may-care locks and late ‘70s-style rock is smoothed by a cellophane filter and the lone ballad on Rathborne’s just-released album 'SOFT.'
Luke Rathborne, lead singer and writer, has complicated feelings about New York, landing here at 18 from the wilds of Maine with his ambition and a few couches to surf. In these past four years, he’s picked up influences and interested producerslikeGus Oberg and Albert Hammond Jr. of The Strokes, adding layers to his sound.
There’s a strong influence from the golden eras of guitar rock on most of his songs, with a constant wall of sound and driving pace a la The Ramones or early Tom Petty. But his pared-down lyrics, which sometimes reach toward his interests in Elliott Smith and Bob Dylan, are at turns sensual, wistful or sweet enough to support the album title.
Your new album, SOFT, sounds like a few eras—late ‘70s/early ‘80s pop punk, ‘50s blues rock, a hint of early alt-rock. Were you trying to capture a specific sound?
Anytime I sit down I'm just trying to get at a sound swirling around in my head. I bring these artifacts that collect there in my head and put them together. But it's not pastiche. It's something new, that I've never heard. I bring them to the rest of the band and we swirl through them. Darren and the rest of the guys feel off of what I do and I feed off them too.
Feelings are more important to me than sounds. I like to look at the past and then forget about time as much as I can. Music is the best because it transcends the other art forms. Dionysus he would have been a musician now.
I can hear a song in my head from a certain time, if I want to. Really hear the whole thing. It's mysterious to me what cloud in your head that kind of stuff hangs out on, but it's all in there, and it's moving.
The whole album has a similar energy, it feels like it should be played all the way through. Is that what you had in mind when writing and recording?
Yeah, for sure! Listen to it all the way through. That is a great honor to me and everyone who played on it. We love to have you for that time and we hope you'll have us.
It's exciting to share time with people. I feel like less of a stranger to you and perhaps you feel less strange on us, maybe we'll even find out we're intimately connected like lovers or the best of friends.
It’s a big sound with a driving pace—except for the ballad, ‘Little Moment,’ that’s a subtle, folkyduo. How did that song arise?
'Little Moment' I think hung around my head for awhile and by the time Emery Dobyns and I were in a room it was just time to come out.
Jenny O. sang on that song too. We recorded it in Los Angeles at someone's studio. Actually Gus from the Black Keys band's studio.
His house is number 666, says it right on the door. Well isn't that telling? I won't give you the exact address because I'm sure Gus values his privacy.
Emery and I were sitting in the room and I was almost getting pissed, thinking about the lyrics to the song. It was all, 'right there' and then all of a sudden it comes off the tongue and it appears and I'm glad it did because I didn't want to carry it any longer. Not in some fatal kind of way. It was just time to let it go.
I like that song, you know. I thought about Elvis when we were singing it. There's a line about, 'Tecumseh Valley' by Townes Van Zandt in it, which is just about one of the most damn heartbreaking songs I ever heard and it felt good to sing those words and think about Townes. You never know if somebody will hear something like that even from far away in Heaven or somewhere like where I'd imagine Townes would be, somewhere with the greats.
Did starting at such a young age—playing guitar at 12 and moving to New York for music at 18—give you a different perspective on music?
Moving to New York City when you're 18 from a small town. Well, I don't know if I'd recommend it. Here yougo having to be a city kid after being a country kid for so long.
But you'd be surprised, the country kids look at things the same way as the city kids. People look after people. There's a goodness to country people and city people too. There's a short hand that makes sense to both. We are not that entirely disparate in the way we look at things.
I always liked what Bill Murray says in his speech to the graduating class in 'Rushmore', 'take aim of the rich kids, get them in your cross hairs, and take them down.'
You opened for The Strokes early in your career and Albert Hammond Jr. is one of your producers. How much impact has their music had on you?
Hmm, well it's hard to say really. Albert and Gus Oberg doing additional Production on this record was really interesting. They did something special with the mix. They got something deeper about the record.
Do you feel like New York is a hard city for you to be an artist, like what “So Long NYC” seems to say?
Good lord, no! New York City is a poetic place. It's a beautiful place. You’ve got to be in love with New York City. And it's true love. You love it and you hate it, all at once.