Anyone who’s practiced their craft for at least a decade tends to know what they’re doing. Such is the case with bassist extraordinaire Julia Ruzicka - between her previous stint in Million Dead and her current one in Future of the Left, she’s been writing and recording massive tunes for nearly sixteen years. Small wonder, then, that her first solo endeavor, This Becomes Us, should spring into the world like Athena from the mind of Zeus, mature and fearsome from the get-go.
But was this formidable project – wherein Ruzicka tapped not one, but nine different singers for the vocals – as effortless as it seemed? Through the powers that be DiS and Skype, I sat down with the maestro herself to find out. Picture the scene: I have just emerged from the shower, as I had waited an hour past the appointed time; Ruzicka, who had felt ill earlier that evening, has just woken up after sleeping past her alarm. We are five hours and a whole ocean apart, and the world hangs in dread as US officials start tallying votes.
DiS: First off, the concept intrigued me, the fact that you chose nine different vocalists. Why did you choose to go with nine instead of just sticking with one or two people?
Julia Ruzicka: That’s a good question. I don’t think I really sat down and thought about it. To be honest with you, I didn’t even contemplate using one vocalist for everything. I just instinctively came to using different vocalists because, musically, each song is quite different. To me, because it was all written by me, and we had the same musicians on every song, there is some cohesion there, but they’re all quite different to each other. And no one came to mind when I thought, “Yeah, they’re going to be the singer for the whole thing.” And I suppose the reason why it didn’t come to me like that was because I wasn’t setting out to start a new band; it was more of a creative project that was just mine. So I suppose if I was naturally a singer, or gravitated toward writing lyrics, I probably would’ve been singing on it. But, at the end of the day, I’m old enough and I’ve done music long enough to know that if you don’t naturally towards a discipline within music, best not to force it, because it’s just going to ruin it.
So for me, what comes naturally is playing bass, writing melodies, writing instrumentally, [even though] I do a bit of backing vocals in Future of the Left. And it’s not even the singing part that puts me off – I can probably about manage it – but writing lyrics, I really would’ve had to have forced that, and I think it would have been terrible. So I thought, no, I don’t want to ruin that with me trying to do that, I might as well go to people. From years of touring, I naturally know lots of great singers and vocalists that do that much better than I will, so it just felt like the right thing to do.
So you started with just the bass part. Then was it just a back-and-forth sort of thing between you and the guitarist and the drummer?
Yeah, the back-and-forth was mainly between me and the guitar. When they were first written, they were written really crudely, on GarageBand. So I was literally just plugging it into my iPad and using really basic drum loops that you get in GarageBand. But then with the guitar parts – with Ian [Wilson, of Art Brut], he’s in London, and in the week that we were in London we got together, I would play him the bass lines and we would just jam on it, and he just eventually wrote his parts. Drums-wise – because I’ve been in a band with Jack [Eggleston, of FOTL] for six or seven years…
I think about six…
Yes, you’re right! More than me. And I just knew I could trust him, as in I sent him the songs, very basically written, and I said, “Ignore the drum loops – you do what you do.” He listened to them, obviously learned them, and then we just got in a room and recorded it live, and we had one rehearsal the night before recording. Again, from playing music for a long time, you get to know who’s going to work and who’s not going to work, and I trust him implicitly. And I told Jack, “Look, you just go nuts, add your bits,” and he just went for it, and it was perfect. So it was very effortless, and that was the whole idea behind it as well, and I wanted to make sure that this project, or this recording, this thing I was doing, was very easy. Yes, there was focus and work put into it, but I didn’t want to toil over it, I didn’t want to have to use people that I’ve have to get them to understand where I was coming from. Ian got the reference points effortlessly; Jack straight away knew what he was doing.
So then how exactly do you fit a particular vocalist to a song?
It was very interesting – because for some people, it was a really obvious choice, and I would give them the song. For example, with Billy [Mason Wood] from Blacklisters, I was like, “It had to be song #3, I can’t imagine him doing anything else.” And I said that to him, and I said, “Look, there’s a particular song on here, or one of two, but I really think it’s going to be #3”, and I sent it to him, and he agreed totally. But for some people, I wasn’t very sure. So I sent them all of [the album], and I just hoped that they would pick something that wasn’t already picked by someone else. And it was really funny, that it just fell into place. Of the few people I did that with, they didn’t pick something that someone else had already picked, and I was quite floored by some [of their choices]. Someone would say, “Yeah, I’m choosing a particular track number,” and I’m thinking, “Oh, they’re going to choose #7, for sure.” Well, they go, “No, I’m doing #1,” and I’m like, “Really? OK.” And I would just have to trust them again, because I just want them to pick something that works for them naturally. If that’s what they feel like working with, then go for it.
And then, with Black Francis – he asked me to choose a couple for him, because he was quite limited with time. He first had a listen before commit to the project, and thankfully, he came back saying, “Yep, I really like the sound of it, can you pick one definitive one for me,” and I’m like, “Sure!” So I was thinking, “Should I send him something that sounds nothing like the Pixies or his solo stuff, or do I send him the obvious one?” Because we don’t have that much time, he’s a busy guy, and I don’t want to move him out of his comfort zone, though I’m sure he could do anything. But I though, nah, let’s just go with the obvious one, because if he does something that’s sonically quite familiar, it’s just going to come easy for him. And it did. So that worked out.
I went through the list [of collaborators] to make sure I knew everyone, and the name Vinod Bhairo was not familiar to me. Who’s he?
He was in a band called Treasure, who were Brighton-based. He’s a friend. I like what he did in he band vocally. He’s the only one on there without a real profile out there, but he’s someone I really like, he’s a creative person, and I just thought I’d give him this song because he’d suit it, and he did. So that’s the only one where it was more of a personal connection, someone who’s literally just a mate.
I felt that you were giving several of these people a platform – not everyone’s aware of everything that Rosie Arnold does, either.
Yeah, we toured with Rosie [when] she was in a band called Fever Fever, and they were cool. Sadly, they’re not around anymore, but I don’t know how long they were going for. But again, she’s someone who I thought, she’s a nice person, I liked what she did in Fever Fever, so I thought I’d give that a shot. She’s also a promoter and puts on lots of gigs, so she’s involved with music very heavily. So she was really excited about it, which was nice.
That was really funny, because a few people did ask me, “What would you have done if someone had sent something back that was terrible?”
I was wondering, too! Were all of these vocals sent in one take?
Pretty much, yeah. All these people are, in a professional sense, vocalists, lyricists, artists. They’ve got their own bands, they’ve got profile. But they’re all friends as well, who I’ve either toured with, met, or there’s a personal connection through someone else. And I thought, yeah, that’d be really awkward if they come back with something terrible. But I was pretty straight up with them in the beginning – I went, “Look, if I feel it’s not quite right, I hope you’re all right with me coming back and going back and forth a bit. But again, I just didn’t have that awkward situation – I was quite bowled over with how much care and effort everyone put in, because I obviously didn’t pay anyone. They did it for the love of creativity. Maybe a couple I went back and all I’d have to do was say, “Could you add vocals to this section?” Or maybe, when we were in the mixing phase, me and Charlie did have to cut some bits out. But I didn’t have to tell anyone to go back and write melodies or redo performances or lyrics. So again, I think that comes from giving people the freedom to choose something that they’re comfortable with.
Did you have any suggestions [lyrically] as to where you thought a song would go, or was that up to each vocalist’s artistic license?
Yeah, completely their own. “You just write whatever you want, because you’re singing it, so you need to feel comfortable with it.” Except the obvious stuff – as long as there’s no themes of white power, or sexism, or homophobia. No killing babies or anything like that.
How long has this idea of having your own album percolated in your head? Because I know these ideas have built up over time.
It’s something I’ve always wanted to do – and again, I think it’s something that happened quite naturally, because we were writing for the latest Future of the Left record, and I was just stockpiling ideas that either didn’t work in a Future of the Left rehearsal – as in, it just didn’t inspire anything for Falco – or sometimes it just didn’t suit the aesthetics of that band, so I started stockpiling. And then, after we recorded The Peace And Truce Of The Future Of The Left, I just felt, “Right, I’ve got all these ideas” – and I really liked a lot of them – so I thought, “It’s now time to give this a shot,” and I just want to see them come to fruition and something happen to them rather than just disappear.
And from what I understand, this happened very quickly, didn’t it?
Yeah. Because let’s see, where are we now – it’s 2016, so it was August 2015, and I really started writing it in January of that year. So writing it came together really quickly – because Ian worked so fast with it, cos it was very natural [for him]. We recorded at the end of August. The actual music part was done very quickly, we recorded it in just over two days. The whole point was to just get really good musicians, where I knew we could just record it live, cos I wanted to make sure that it had that live feel to it, but also tight and accomplished, not too toiled over. And then the whole mixing didn’t take too long at all.
To be honest with you, I really thought that it might come out in February or March this year, cos I thought, “Oh, it’s coming along quickly.” But the only thing that made it take a little bit longer – it’s hard to coordinate nine different vocalists, because they’ve all got their different schedules. And they’re all doing it as a favor, so I didn’t have any right to say, “Right! You need to deliver by next week, or you’re out!” And then sadly, at the beginning of this year – she’s all right now – but my mum was very ill. So I was going back and forth to Australia a lot, so that kinda held it off. So it’s a bit later than I wanted it to be, but I don’t have to answer to a record label, I can put it out when it suits me. But yeah, in the world of record-making, it’s not that long.
It does help that you’ve got your own label – and you are the owner of Prescriptions.
Yeah. And I set that up as just as vehicle to release Future of the Left records too.
No kidding. But now you’ve got this, and Christian Fitness.
Exactly. I think, one day, if we have a bit more time on our hands, we would like to look at other bands to release their stuff. And we’d love to – because there are some great bands out there, and we’ve been asked a few times by people, “Oh, would you release our stuff?” But I’m just a bit wary of that at the moment, because we just wouldn’t have the time they deserve. I do believe that if you’re going to put a band’s record out, you’ve got to give it 100%. And if we can’t do that, there’s no point.
Where exactly from Australia are you from?
I’m from Melbourne. Came over to the UK in 1999. But obviously I go back at least once a year, and with Future of the Left we’ve been able to tour quite a few times, and that’s been nice. But yeah, I grew up in Melbourne, it’s a great city, especially musically. Maybe one day, when I’m older, I’d live there again, but I feel quite settled in the UK now.
Why did you move in the first place?
Music, stupidly. Lot of people are like, “Why did you leave Australia? It’s so warm and sunny and amazing!” And I’m like, “I know, I know.” I was young, and I was chasing a dream. Back in the late 90s, Melbourne was great, but in terms of the music scene, it was quite small.
And if you had to break, you had to go to London, didn’t you?
Yeah, and I just felt a bit frustrated. I was struggling to find like-minded musicians. I’m sure they were out there, it was just a bit tough to find. And I suppose I was at that age when I wanted to explore the world, as well. Actually, I probably would have gone to the States if I were allowed. I visited a friend in San Francisco before I hit London, and so I spent a month or two there. But it’s kind of hard to get into that country. But London really appealed to me – I grew up really into British music as well as American music – so I thought, “Yeah, London sounds great, we’ll just give that a crack.” I only meant to stay for two years, but I ended up staying longer, because one thing leads to another, with bands and music, and I’m still here.
And I’ve heard you’ve gotten married to Falco?
Well, how’s that coming along? (I imagine it’s fine.)
It’s good, it’s good. We were already together before I joined Future of the Left, cos I know some people are like, “Ooooh, dating someone in the band? Oooh, controversial.” I’m like, whatever. It’s how you handle it. So many people do it, though – and [for] so many people, it’s shit and might end up in disaster. But when we got together, we were in our mid-30s, I think. We were old enough and ugly enough to handle that. We treat Future of the Left very seriously, but it’s very separate to our relationship. When we work with Future of the Left, we’re more like business partners – we do the business side of the band as well as the creative side. But when I talk to him about that, there’s no, “Oh darling, I love you,” it’s more like, “Right, we’ve got to get those orders out.” It’s all dry, business-speak. And then when we’re away from that, it’s different. But yeah, it’s good…he’s an interesting person to be married to.
I can imagine.
Yeah. He makes me laugh a lot, which is why we got together in the first place.
No kidding. And you’re all about to go on a tour of the UK.
Right, on the 23 November. We love playing live, it’s the best. We wish we could tour more. But going back to the States – that’s our dream.
It’d be my dream, too.
Yeah, we get messages all the time from people in the States – “When are you coming? When are you coming?” – and we’re like, “Oooh, we’re dying to!” But it’s just the cost. We self-release, which is wonderful, but we don’t have someone just giving us tour support, or throwing money at us. It has to be an opportunity – last time we toured the States was with Andrew Jackson, and that worked because they’re such a great band to tour with, and very generous, and they made us an offer which actually meant, financially, we could do it. And they’re such lovely guys, and that tour was amazing. It’s not like they threw loads of money at us, because I don’t think they’re that lucrative themselves, but it was just a very fair set-up, because we were the main support for that tour. And in some cities, we drew a lot of people. So we need a similar offer to make it work. But if any one of us came into money suddenly, we would definitely, out of our pockets, fund a tour in the States. Because it’s one of the most enjoyable things you could do in life. Touring there is just incredible. Everyone there is so receptive, and it’s just a great country to drive around [in].
Yeah. We are a big country.
And I know with Falco, that’s number 1 for him. Touring the States has always been his favorite thing. We love touring, don’t get me wrong – touring Australia, Europe, the UK, it’s all brilliant, but for the Sates it’s just really enjoyable because you can also get so many dates in the one country. And it’s all so different, from the East to the West.
So, after the tour, what’s next?
For Future of the Left?
And you, and Prescriptions.
Well, we’ve started writing already. Future of the Left’s a really prolific band, and it’s the same thing again. So I’m stockpiling ideas for the next record, and anything that doesn’t suit it – I would like to do another record. With Future of the Left, the material’s coming, so I think we’re aiming to get another record out in mid to late 2017, then within that, I’m thinking, “Yep, I maybe would quite like to do another record of my own.” But what I’d like to do is – I’d like to do something different again. So if I did it, I’m not sure I’d do nine or ten vocalists again.
Yeah, cos that’s a difficult thing to tour, too. You can’t really do a This Becomes Us tour, because you’d have to get all those vocalists together.
Oh, yeah, a few people have asked me, “You think you’re going to tour it?” And I’m like, “Nope!” I just think that’d be a logistical nightmare. And when I first started this project, I thought straight off the bat, this is not going to be a live thing. It’d be great, it’d be exciting, but no – no way. But I’m going to do another one. And I’m thinking it’ll be with just one vocalist, or maybe two, I’m not sure. We shall see.
Well, I think we’re at the end of the rope of this conversation – unless there’s anything you want to add that we haven’t touched on yet?
The election? Are you sick of that?
Ohhh, yeah, I’m waiting right now – we’re all waiting around right now, but I have a good feeling I’m just going to go to bed and wait and see what happens. But last I heard, Fox News was predicting that Clinton was going to win, and I’ve got a good hunch that if Fox News is saying that, then Clinton will actually win.
Yeah, it’s looking that way. But it’s been interesting.
It amazes me that everyone all over the world is tuning in to the US elections, whereas if you asked any [almost – demonstrative example, ha] American what’s going on in the UK, they’d be all, “Uhhhh, oh! You’ve got a woman prime minister! That’s great!” without any idea about what’s actually going on, and your politics.
Yeah, with us – you can’t avoid it. The American election is everywhere. It is fascinating.
I guess because our politicians know how to put on a good show, huh?
And what a long show!
A long, drawn-out horror show.
And I think, in your country – everyone’s so involved. In the UK, in terms of people voting – they’re a bit apathetic sometimes, especially when it comes to a general election. So there’s not as much of a hoo-ha – which is not good. I think people should be more engaged with it – but the last time, politically speaking, the referendum obviously created a lot more interest than a normal general election, because the ramifications of that are bigger. And for me, personally, the result was really disappointing. Really, really upsetting. And God knows what they’re doing now, I don’t think anyone knows what to do with it.
Seems like you’re kind of in a deadlock right now, aren’t you?
Majorly. They’ve got no idea. They really don’t know what they’re doing.
Yeah. Democracy. It’s weird.
Yeah. Does it work? I don’t know.
This Becomes Us is out now via Prescriptions Music. Future of the Left are on tour throughout the UK in November; for tickets and more information, visit the band's official wbsite.