Frequently many “green-conscious” musicians make claims about the steps they take to reduce their impact on the environment. However, most of these stars are established acts like Neil Young, Willie Nelson, or Radiohead. Seldom do audiences see an up and coming artist with a fierce commitment to global health, who is also simultaneously engaged in the difficult act of building a successful career. Ry Cuming is just such an individual.
Originally from Australia, Cuming was “discovered” while playing music in a hotel hallway in Costa Rica in 2003. Since then he has spent time recording in a solar-friendly studio, toured the world while flying commercially instead of in a private jet, and worked with other eco-friendly artists such as Jimmy Buffet and Maroon 5. Having just released his debut album on the Jive Records label on July 20, Cuming has an upcoming performance date in Boston on September 28.
Recently the Underground got the chance to catch up with the laid-back star, while he crisscrossed the northeast on tour.
Q. You were “discovered” in 2003, and from there it took several years for you to finally make the big move to Los Angeles. What took you so long? What have you been busy doing all these years?
A. It took me quite a while to move out to LA fulltime because I didn’t really want to leave the beautiful little town I lived in on the coast in Australia. Surfing six hours a day in a place where everyone knows each other, sun shines, no locks on doors – [it] was a big change to move to LA and into that lifestyle, though I love both. Now I am definitely rooted in LA in a lot of ways, and still surf everyday that I’m home there, driving my old Cadillac to Malibu. As far as the album taking a few years to take shape, it’s all been a part of the journey. I haven’t seen a reason to rush something that has always been part of my life. I wanted to take that time to let my experiences and work come together. Even now, with the album just coming out, I want to take time and build slowly, let it happen with hard work but organically.
Q. Your music taste is pretty eclectic – from Jeff Buckley and Lionel Richie to Nirvana and Kings of Leon. Is there any one thing that usually draws you to a certain song or band? What/ who are some of your other favorites?
A. Honestly, whether it’s in story telling like Dylan or [the] direct experiences of Jeff Buckley, I feel really drawn to music that is heart and soul. Like the melancholy of Ray Lamontagne, soul of Bill Withers, or the passion of Prince – if someone is playing it with all they have I can’t help but respect and love it no matter the style.
Q. Speaking of Nirvana, in a recent interview you said you’ve been working on a few of their songs to add to your set. What are some of the tracks you’ve been working on and why those in particular?
A. I’m working on a “Teen Spirit” cover more in the style of Conor Oberst, and also a few more obscure Nirvana tracks. I found Nirvana at a big time in my life and music, right in those teen years of the world exploding into life. I felt drawn to the raw fire of the whole grunge scene, and I try to only cover songs that I feel deeply about and re-interpret [them] in my own way.
Q. You’ve gone on the record as saying you don’t have a television in your house and you don’t watch TV in general. Why? As someone who’s benefited from having their music played on programs like MTV’s Laguna Beach: The Real Orange County and NBC’s Extra, do you see any merit in people being exposed to new music through such a medium?
A. My mom put a sarong over the TV one day when I was a kid and said, “No TV for a few months.” My sister and I looked at each other and shrugged. That’s just the [way] it was – maybe a few weeks with it, then months without it. I grew up that way and always explored other things because of that – surfed all day, explored the coasts, played music, wrote, shot photos. That’s kind of the way I see the world more. But I love film and great stories and shows. I watch a lot of film, and the music in these [sic] things really makes them that much more emotive, carries the stories. So having my music used in any of these is an honor. And it’s amazing to find music that way. I’ve found so many great songs and artists through film and TV.
Q. Which do you prefer, playing to crowds as part of a varied bill in a large festival setting, or performing smaller solo shows where your name is the impetus for drawing people in?
A. I love playing live – to five people in a lounge room, or on the beach, or to 10,000 people with these Maroon 5 shows. Getting to share music live is the way I feel I really give it the way I want to. The challenge and opportunity to play festivals, arenas, clubs and hotel rooms is always amazing – everyday a new experience and new people to connect to.
Watch the video for “Always Remember Me”
Q. You recently toured the country with Maroon 5, and band member Jesse Carmichael contributed some piano work to your album. How far do you go back with the guys? Do you aspire to a similar level of success? And what have you learned by following their career?
A. I first met the Maroon 5 boys when I came out from Costa Rica at 19. They were all living in a house together in Los Feliz – touring in a van, barely selling their albums. And I saw them play a college in Irvine supporting Guster. Then after hard work touring for years and support from their label and team they broke, and did amazing with that first album. They are all amazing musicians and good friends. I’ve learnt [sic] a lot from watching them develop. On my end, I am already humbled and living out dreams of mine in music. For me each day is [about] coming as it does, but it’s also about working as hard as I can.
Q. Another contributor to your album is Sara Bareilles. How was it meeting and working with her? Are there any other musicians out there you would want to collaborate with in the future?
A. Sara is amazing. So talented and one of the most humble and fun people I know. It was so organic working with her. I just felt she would be perfect on “Always remember me” on the album, so I called her and she came by the studio the next day. Her voice drifted straight into the song’s melody and it just felt right. I really believe in artist community – in writing, playing, performing together – much like the artists in the ‘60s and ‘70s. My dream list is always growing, and it’s not just the known artists. What is amazing is the pool of talent and heart in music coming through right now. I love being a part of that in whatever way I can.
Q. Even with all your time on the road you still manage to remain committed to caring for the environment. Whether it’s working in a solar-friendly studio or choosing to fly commercial instead of in a private jet, what are some other ways you’ve chosen to lessen your impact on the world around you? Have you always been like this when it comes to conserving energy?
A. I grew up on an island with veggie gardens, orchards, homemade everything. My dad has been a sustainable planner in Australia since I was a small kid, and my mom a yoga teacher and naturopath, homeopath, midwife. So I grew up that way, and living sustainably and consciously is a daily thing for me. I really believe in living and leading by example in whatever ways we can for each other. It’s about adapting and changing the small things into the bigger things as individuals. If every person individually is working towards living in that way in a city like LA, then all of a sudden the WHOLE city of LA is sustainable step by step. The solar powered studio and house I was working and living in was my dear friend’s place, Jesse, from Maroon 5. He is as passionate and active as I am, and we do what we can to promote and support these efforts in our own and other lives.
Q. Working as hard as you have been, do you still find time to surf? The sport is a big passion of yours, and you’ve even managed to secure some endorsement deals. Besides that what are some other ways you unwind after a long day on stage?
A. Surfing and music have always been the two loves of my life. Both are really grounding and a release for me. I got given both things as part of my life as I grew up from about three years old, and they both stay with me everyday. Just about everywhere I go I have a guitar and a surfboard. Who needs clothes anyway? It’s a little difficult sometimes on the road with music because you are touring landlocked for a few weeks, and [that] is so foreign to me. I have barely spent a few weeks away from the ocean ever in my life. Yoga on tour every day and meditation always keep[s] things in perspective and challenging.
Q. Finally, do you have any advice for other young artists and musicians? It can’t really all boil down to luck can it?
A. As cliché as it may be – be yourself. Trust your instincts, your writing, your voice, your playing, your vision. Nobody knows your music and self better. And with that, always be open to collaborate. Explore writing and business. Learn to open up and trust those around you with your work and art too. Stay connected to the people who work with you. And when it comes, learn the business side as best you can so you can work with and support all the people supporting you. Then forget about the business all together when you’re writing and playing live!
Ry Cuming appears with The Justin Nozuka Band and Alex Cuba Sept. 28, 7 p.m., $20, Royale Nightclub, 279 Tremont St., Boston, (617) 338-7699. For more information visit www.royaleboston.com, and for artist tour dates visit www.rycuming.com.