When it comes to recording an album, where and with whom you work is every bit as important as the instruments you use. A perfect case study is Explode from the Center, the fresh-faced debut from Rubies. Though Oakland's Simone Rubi and Terri Loewenthal founded the band locally as a side project to the long-running ensemble Call and Response, they decided to record in Norway and Sweden with friends, including folks from the Concretes, Sorcerer, and Kings of Convenience. There was even a pit stop in Mexico to work on the song "I Feel Electric" with Feist.
"It was just this cool, community-based vibe of working with people," Rubi explains, "and letting the country influence how we recorded there."
Explode from the Center has been available in Europe since last year, but was just recently released in the States via the band's Norwegian label, Telle. Recording overseas wasn't the only element helping shape Rubies, though. Touring across Europe, Russia, and Japan introduced the revolving-cast group to new levels of musical spontaneity and audience interaction.
"In order for us to stay psyched, we've been changing the songs and keeping them new," Loewenthal says. That means while the album spikes homespun pop-folk with sugary funk and disco influences, Rubies performances are more like parties, complete with chants, dancing, and an ever-blurring line between the audience and the group. "Being pushed into all these new cultures and environments builds our confidence as musicians," she adds. "This crossover between pop and dance music is more common in Europe, so whenever we were playing something that had a more upbeat, dance quality to it, the whole room just took off. You kind of push to keep that going."
Despite being more staid than Rubies' nights out, Explode from the Center definitely has party-starting potential, from the pair's playful songwriting to an array of shiny sounds underscoring the band's name. Rubi's old friend Feist — Rubi designed the sleeve for the Canadian singer-songwriter's breakthrough album, The Reminder — brings a disco cool to "I Feel Electric," while a cover of Donovan's "Turquoise" would be disarmingly lovely even if it didn't fit the jewelry theme. (See also: "Too Bright" and "Diamonds on Fire.") And the single "Stand in a Line" seamlessly unites all of Rubies' favorite musical whims, from gentle strumming and taut funk hooks to sultry vocals and scaled-back electronics.
In between so much globe-trotting, Rubi and Loewenthal have started work on a second album back in Oakland. The new song "Dreamhunt," posted on their MySpace page, points toward an even smoother, more danceable sound. Enlisting guitarist Nicolas Dobbratz from Sugar & Gold and drummer James Kim — in lieu of the band's European drummer, Sebastian Maschat from the Whitest Boy Alive — for North American dates, Rubies remain a sort of global band.
"We're based on an airplane," Rubi laughs. "I'm the representative that goes out and summons vibes from different countries."
"I'm the more static Oakland resident," Loewenthal adds. "She's the hunter-gatherer and I'm making the bonfire."