The first time that most of us first heard Ry X was around 2013. At the time, a good friend of mine insisted that the Australian singer-songwriter was going to be the next big breakout artist and that I should keep an eye on him. That same year, he released the Berlin EP, a collection of songs that felt like fragments belonging to the most gentle of souls.
Growing up on a tiny island in Australia, Ry Cuming spent a majority of his time exploring. The two central things that surrounded his life were always music and the ocean, so learning how to play the guitar was a natural progression. Between all of the records and instruments lying around his house, Cuming's parents saw the potential in his musical abilities and fully committed to his craft by investing in a teacher for him.
"When you’re a little kid, you don’t think about that. It’s almost a chore to have to go to your music lessons, but I’m really thankful that they committed to that when they didn’t have any money and it was a lot of effort for everybody," he said. "I just loved music so much when I was a kid, and it was a natural progression from there to try to figure out how to play it. To me, that came mostly from all the old stuff and experimental music that I would listen to from my dad’s record collection and progressing to grunge. That’s when I really started to play a lot of music, once I heard that rawness of emotion through grunge and through artists like Jeff Buckley, as well. That was the time for me when it all shifted."
From there, Cuming started playing grunge music in his own punk bands, the polar opposite of the type of music that he makes now. "My skate-surf friends and I had long hair and would paint our nails black. I’d go on stage in no shirt and mosh, and stage dive, and thrash around," he said. "That was how I learned to perform, being in front of people as a performer and singer, expressing raw emotions. I think that helped, you know? It helped me understand how to give honestly without having to try to be this character on stage."
Now as we know, he performs under the moniker RY X. When Cuming isn't focused on his solo project, he also plays in a three-piece electronic band called The Acid. It's been a while, but the Aussie is finally ready to unleash the next phase of RY X with his forthcoming album, Dawn, set for release on May 6 via Loma Vista.
In Cuming's own words, "I’ve loved staying out of the radar these last few years, but there are a lot of people talking about it. That makes me nervous because suddenly there’s a hint of expectation, but I think the music has to speak first. It’s ultimately a record that is really sharing the different aspects of who I am, and I really think it’s a beautiful first sharing of an album that allows a lot of exploration beyond. There are a lot of different heart pieces on this record and I’m excited to make sure that people can resonate with it in their own way and connect to the different aspects of it. It’s been a journey since that Berlin EP, doing the "Howling" record with Frank in Berlin, then touring those projects and getting to explore a lot of different musical aspects. It took me a long time to come back to my heart place and to try to get back into that zone where I could be raw and honest and naked and stripped, and record that way and share music that way."
Get to know more about RY X's humble beginnings in the interview, below.
Music has been such a huge part of your life. Did you always feel like it was your calling or know that you would pursue it as a career?
I think the beauty of the way that I grew up is that I didn’t have that mindset that a lot of people have. “Go to college, get a job.” I grew up with really cool parents and a really alternative kind of mindset, and it was much more about following the heart than it was about thinking about what job you’re going to have when you finish school. I left home when I was 16 or 17 and went traveling around the world. I guess I still do that. I think what was more important than a job or career was experience—human experience, heart experience. As long as I’m doing the music that I love and it belongs to the heart experience, it’s awesome. Suddenly, music became a shitty job for me and I was trying to keep up with the pop world and all of that. I didn’t think it would be part of my path anymore, but it’s so riled up with what I love doing, and I think the key is that you stay in that place where it’s not work. It’s not a job. But I did love a lot of other things. I’ve always loved fashion and expression, I always loved explorative architecture. And then, from my roots, my mom’s been a yoga teacher for about 40 years, and I often considered doing more yoga teaching and stuff. I’d always had a really strong yoga practice, and there’s been different thoughts. It doesn’t mean that those things weren’t a part of my life too, at certain points. I’m finding myself now more creatively directing projects and directing videos. Who knows? I think the most important thing is staying present and staying connected to what you’re doing at the time.
Given that you've traveled to so many places, what are some of your favorite cities that you’ve lived in?
Living in Indonesia was really beautiful. It was really crucial for me to just kind of tap out of the rest of society and have a more instant mindset and no mirrors. Simple things, like choosing not to look in a mirror, is a really powerful thing to do. To be on an island somewhere in Indonesia, just surfing and doing yoga and being connected to your body... that was a really crucial part of my life. That’s one of my favorite places to live. Berlin has a really dear place in my heart, obviously, and is still, as far as cities go in the world, one of the most palpable, interesting places. It was pretty amazing to live in Costa Rica. Ironically, I lived in California on and off for almost 12 years. It was an accident that I arrived here but, eventually, something here started resonating with me. I think there must be something powerful about my relationship to L.A. and to California, even though I wouldn’t outwardly think of it as the dreamiest place to live in the world.
There is something that really captivates me about creating work here and having this as one of my bases in the world. I think it’s really that balance. And then obviously, you know, how could I go past Australia and Byron Bay where I grew up. It’s paradise. I’m really lucky to be able to stay where I love and gravitate towards that. It’s not something a lot of people get to do. I think more people could do it if they chose it, if they decided, “Okay, I love being here. I’ve arrived in Byron Bay, Australia and I love it, and yeah I’ve got a job back home, but why don’t I just follow my heart instead.” That is a decision that I’ve made a lot in my life. I’m going to stay because I love it, because I’m connected to it right now and I want to be here. There are different places that don’t feel right, as well. I think there are different places in the world that resonate with us at different times in our lives. When we’re 17, places are going to feel really different versus when we’re 30.
It’s great that you were really able to explore your full creativity and tap into these other projects like The Acid and then come back to Ry X when you were ready. How did you maintain that control?
It’s really hard because of the industry. There were a lot of people in my camp that were excited, and the amount of connection that the Berlin EP had... that was a little bit of a surprise, I guess, how far that went. Turning around and everyone’s like, “Okay, let’s put out an album. Where’s the next single?” I just had to be honest and really direct about the industry itself and say, “Look, I’m not there right now. I’m not going to turn around in a fortnight. I’m making this music with The Acid, let’s put that out and follow that through. Let’s wait until there’s some material there.” I’m glad, too. There are a lot of songs on the record for me, like “Beacon,” that I needed time to write, and that was a special one for me.
What are some of the themes of some of the material on this album?
So much of when I’m making RY X music is, like I was saying before, taking time to get back to my heart. I have to surf and be open and meditate and be away from cities. It takes a while to get back into that space. Once I get there, I think a lot of the material starts becoming part of myself, like a dialogue from myself, like an open diary. It’s weird because you’re writing these songs and you’re writing these incredibly raw, honest things, and then, at that time, I’m not really thinking that a lot of people are going to hear it. I think a lot of my material is like that—I’m writing something really personal about an experience that I’ve had in my life; very direct, experiential references. And then I turn around and I’m suddenly sharing them with the world, you know, six months later, or a year later. It’s a weird feeling. I guess the themes are interpersonal connection: love, passion, the conflicts that come between us in the world. One of the hardest parts of the album was, this idea of the space between lust and love. Like, what is it? What is the difference? What are the different relationships? So exploring these small... when you talk about it, it seems small... but these massive realities in our lives. What is true love? What is committed love?
The music video for “Only” is gorgeous. How did you get involved with directing and then coming up with the concept of that entire visual?
It takes a lot of trust for a label to be able to allocate money to an artist with an idea. I had to build that relationship over time, because when I go in and I’m conceptualizing it's basically me and one guy, Dugan, who’s one of my dear brothers out here in L.A. We direct all the videos together. Working with him, it’s like any art-making process, it’s almost ethereal. You come up with a concept and you start building on this concept and you talk about it and you navigate it and you find a thread, and then, how do we tell the story visually without having to be narrative, without having to be in this disgusting music video reality that a lot of people try to jump into with tons and edits and blah blah... It’s like, nonsense.
I’ve really been trying to make pieces of art visually. That’s been much more important to me than making a music video, making a piece of art that you can watch with the sound off and it’s still captivating. Something that carries a deeper intention of the viewing itself. I basically just gathered my community from LA and knew what people were amazing at. You put these people in and you know they can hold themselves onscreen in a certain way. You don’t have to overly direct. You just trust. So really it’s gathering the best artists that we know, playing the EP, and then putting them inside this world, this concept, this feeling. It’s a feeling—not the narrative, but the emotion behind it—and letting them carry it for us. Obviously, there’s the technical aspect and there’s the emotional, creative, spiritual aspect, and both of them can be explored to their depths. You can talk about lenses and gear... But really, for me, it’s so much about the intention and the emotion behind it.