“Surf music is one of the most flexible Americanmusical styles,” says Insect Surfers guitarist Dave Arnson. “You can combine it with Latin, Middle Eastern, blues, psychedelic, and just about anything. But the big challenge is to inject enough of an original sound without being too derivative of whatever influences you use.”
Formed and led by the threeMargin brothers—Zaac on lead guitar, Sam on vocals and guitar, and Elliott on keyboards (along with drummer Scott Baldwin)—Austrialia’s Rubens deliver soul-infused alt-pop gloriously twisted by Zaac’s “creepy western” single-note lines. Originally released on the Margin boys’ home turf—where it received a J Award “Album of the Year” nomination—The Rubens [Warner Bros.] is the group’s major-label debut in the U.S.
“I’m more about texture, so I’m all about lots of reverb, tremolo, and fuzz,” says Zaac, who constructs his tones using a Gibson SG Custom with three pickups, a Boss TR-2 Tremolo, a Boss FRV-1 ’63 Fender Reverb, and a Black Cat Bee Buzz. “I run a Marshall JMP head with a Marshall 1960 cabinet, and a Fender Twin simultaneously. I pretty much stole what Dan Auerbach did live and copied it. Mostly, it’s the Marshall turned up to 15 with a little bit of that Fender clean tone in there. I’m not a big fan of solos, and I don’t enjoy playing them live. I like noise or someone going crazy—like Neil Young playing one note 50 times on ‘Cinnamon Girl.’”
The Rubens sound was devised somewhat in a vacuum, with the foundation based on hearing Hendrix and the Stones, blended with the Van Morrison and Tracy Chapman songs spun by the Margin brothers’ mom and dad.
“We grew up in the countryside,” explains Sam, “so we were never part of a cool music scene—or any music scene at all, really. Our basic influences are purely what we heard being played in the house.”