RubēHill is Alex Stavropoulos-Laurie’s solo act of defiance in writing music free from the constraints of adherring to a particular genre or sound. The result is what’s been described as ‘sad funk’, and his latest single is ‘Apartment’. We spoke to Alex about the project inspired by the main character in Flannery O’Connor’s short story, A Stroke of Good Fortune.
I was primarily inspired by Frank Ocean and the Gorillaz because both of those artists incorporate many different styles into their music and that was very much something I wanted to accomplish with this project.
First up, tell us bit about yourself - what first got you into music?
I don’t think I remember a specific moment when I was suddenly into music; it was more gradual. I come from a family of artists, and, even before I was born, music was just always around me.
There was a significant spike in my interest in music, however, when I was assigned to play trumpet in grade six. Having the incentive to learn a ‘real’ instrument (I hadn’t heard Sufjan Stevens yet, so I didn’t yet consider the recorder a real instrument) got me thinking more about what I was listening to, and my interest in music only grew from there on.
Were there any particular bands or artists you took inspiration from to form your musical and thematic style?
I’ve been through so many musical phases in the past ten years that it’s hard for me to pin down a select few that have shaped who I am as a creator. When I first started writing for RubēHill I was primarily inspired by Frank Ocean and the Gorillaz because both of those artists incorporate many different styles into their music and that was very much something I wanted to accomplish with this project.
How would you describe your style?
I don’t know if someone has already coined this genre, but I’ve been referring to my style as ‘sad funk’, and people seem to think it fits.
What drives you to write?
Other people’s music. I try to listen to as many different varieties of music as possible because there’s almost an infinite amount of things to learn. I was listening to Carol King’s Tapestry for the first time today (yup, super late, sue me), and as the album unfolded I was just filled with such joy, like “oh, a human being made this. This is such a beautiful experience in life. I want to do this so that other people can have this feeling”.
You’ve turned your back on major label restrictions to create and release your music in your own way. Where has that decision taken you?
It has definitely made it more difficult to do certain things, but at this same time it’s made other things easier. It’s like starting your own business. Hell, it IS starting your own business! It’s pushed me to hustle more in my day to day life because it’s mostly self-funded, which is tricky.
At the same time, calling the shots on my own vision and actually owning my masters trumps every obstacle you could put in front of me. I’m lucky enough to be part of a tight-knit group of artists in Toronto who are doing the same thing and we’re always supporting each other. This has made it a lot easier to go the indie route.
How would you like your stand to influence others?
I’m not going to tell people not to go the major label route, because the fact of the matter is that it’s a route that’s worked for many people, and if it’s what you’re going for then all the power to you!
That being said, I don’t want artists to feel like they have to make a certain type of song in order to be make a living as an artist, and in turn compromise their own unique voice in order to make something more “familiar”. Make it sincere, work really hard on it, and people will dig it. People can tell when you’re faking sincerity.
Tell us about your single ‘Apartment’. What’s it about?
The lyrics to Apartment are a collage of a bunch of different anxieties and hangups that have passed through my brain and some point or another. Living in a small room in a small apartment in the city, after having lived in either suburbs or rural areas for most of my life, allowed those anxieties to fester and be compounded.
Writing songs like this allows me to step back from my own thoughts and be a little more clear on how my mind is operating, which is just one of the benefits of writing. With the assumption that there are a number of other humans in who also currently feel this “claustrophobic city anxiety”, my intent with the song is to also provide that same clarity for others.
How does this single compare to your other music?
When I go into a writing session I try not to refer to formats that have worked for other music in the past, because I feel that every song is a different beast and must be treated accordingly. Common threads will occur naturally due to personal style, but I try to let every song follow its own unique path. Apartment is different from my other stuff, but all of my songs are like that.
How will we hear your music develop throughout 2018?
All of the material for the upcoming record was mostly written and conceptualized in 2016-2017, so 2018 will really just be the year you’ll hear it all come to fruition. That being said, I’ve found a superb group of musicians who have helped me bring the live aspect of the project to life, and we’ve begun to develop a really cool band synergy.
I’ve already done the “create everything in a bedroom by myself” thing, and the idea of this project becoming more of a band is an exciting next step. We’ve already started writing/arranging together, and I’m getting all giddy just thinking about it.
When and where can we expect to see you live next?
I’m playing a string of Toronto/GTA dates over the next few weeks, which I will be posting about on social media. Follow @rubehillmusic on Instagram and @rubehill on Twitter for more info. Dates will also be posted on Rubehill.com.
If you could collaborate with any living artist, who would it be?
I would love to be in a studio with Joni Mitchell and David Byrne for a day. I don’t care if I’m cheating the question. It’s my own fantasy, damn it.
Finally, if you could go back in time and give yourself one piece of advice, when would it be and what would you say?
This is a tough one because I wouldn’t be where I am today without having learned all the harsh lessons I’ve learned as a result of making a lot of mistakes. Advice from future me would have been nice, but then I may not have developed the ability to self-reflect and self-correct that has brought me to where I am today.
Listen to ‘Apartment’ on SoundCloud below. For news and tour dates visit the RubēHill page on Facebook.