Rube & Rake Find a Home:
Local Folk Duo on Cross-Canada tour
By Ryan Belbin
Rube & Rake’s debut EP, Haunted Brothel (embedded above), spans just over 16 minutes in length and just over 6,500 kilometres in breadth.
“I moved up to St. John’s about three years ago with an old girlfriend. We were in a band together — she moved back to B.C., and I’m still here in Newfoundland,” Prince George songwriter Josh Sandu explained.
“So I found myself stuck in a province where I didn’t really know anyone. I think if there’s one main theme that this whole album really touched on, it’s just being homesick.”
Sandu is one part of the duo Rube & Rake, with St. John’s native Andrew Laite rounding out the other half.
Together, they fuse a minimal arsenal of banjo and guitar into an Americana, rootsy style, that showcases their chief collaborative talent: a penchant for vocal harmonies.
Though they formed just a year ago, it makes sense that their first priority would be seeing all the gaps in between the coasts they originate from, and to take the music they’ve created with them.
“Myself and Andrew are terribly bad procrastinators—the only way we actually get anything done is if there’s pressure,” Sandu admitted.
“Just by doing a tour, we’ve cleaned up our act in terms of our marketing perspective. We’ve got a website up, we’ve gone on social media a bit more, it gives us a reason to start recording.”
Touring and recording “got us to learn a bunch of repertoire, and to work with each other to get more used to each other. I think it’s just a healthy attitude, to try to take on something that’s maybe a bit out of your reach, but still attainable.”
On a tour circuit divided into three distinct legs linked by train, the guys will be reconvening with local favourites Green & Gold (Len O’Neill recorded and mixed Rube & Rake’s EP) for shows in Montreal and Toronto, before continuing out west for homecoming gigs in British Columbia throughout October.
I spoke to the band after a gig in Moncton, New Brunswick, their first stop on this cross-Canada tour.
Ups and Downs of a Duo
“Haunted” is right in the EP title, but “haunting” is an appropriate adjective to describe the album.
Sparse poetry, melancholic and introspective, afloat on a wave of interwoven vocals and a steady banjo current is the sound of Haunted Brothel, something that sticks out even in a city with a sizable folk music community.
“And I made my way out east / And soon enough admit my own defeat / […] / But I’ve lain my head, so I’ll stay right here / And though I’ll call this home, it is nowhere near,” comes from the opening track, “You Don’t Know.”
Their two-piece, guitar and banjo arrangement “is one thing that not a lot of people are doing [in St.John’s]” Laite said. “But that’s not why we do it.”
“Myself and Josh started playing music together, and decided that it filled out well, and we enjoyed the sound. As of right now, we’re content, and we feel that the music is whole right now, and it doesn’t lack.”
“You can place emphasis on the specific point you want to touch on,” Sandu added. “If you really want to get the lyrics across, or just a simple melody, and you don’t have as much noise coming through, you can really let one aspect of the music shine through.”
That does not mean a duo arrangement is without its limitations, but Rube & Rake are pleased with the way the songs have assumed an existence in this medium. Saltier than Simon & Garfunkel, you can still count on a fragile delivery where the lulls are just as important, if not moreso, than the louder bursts.
Sandu is the songwriter of the group, while Laite builds on and layers the sound. Such a structure demands they both be mindful of the way the band is organized, so that one member isn’t more important than the other, a challenge that neither has found particularly difficult thus far.
“I think we have a good understanding of our roles. Andrew brings a lot to these songs, because if I were to perform them by myself, they wouldn’t sound the same at all,” Sandu said.
“At the end of the day, we don’t argue over the tunes, maybe just because the tunes we have right now fell into place relatively easy,” Laite added.
“We’re humble enough, and easy enough with each other, that if it doesn’t sound good, we keep trying until it does. We both know when a tune is finished, or when a specific part of a song sounds good we move on from it, and it is what it is.”
Across Canada and Back in Time to Record a New Album
Part of what has made this country-spanning tour possible has been the combined backgrounds of Sandu and Laite, which has granted them a lot of contacts in different parts of Canada.
Their first performance of the tour was with Sudbury group Murder Murder (a band whose catalogue is exclusively murder ballads) and Moncton singer-songwriter Ashley McNally, and they plan to continue building musical collaborations throughout the tour t connect with a local audience who might not otherwise hear their songs.
When the train reaches Vancouver Island, Rube & Rake will turn around, and plan to be back in Newfoundland by November, at which point they will return to the studio and solidify a full-length album of original material, which should be released by the early part of 2015.
That also means that the songs will have been sufficiently road-tested, with arrangements solidified by playing them together every night. Sandu is quick to highlight another appealing aspect of being a duo, with respect to this upcoming release.
“We can record in no time at all, because we just need a few mics in front of us, and the sound to sound good, to capture our performances as best as possible.”
If homesickness is the theme of the first EP, should fans be worried that only half of Rube & Rake will be making the return trip across Canada? Doubtful, as Sandu draws on a final point that many local musicians have encountered in one form or another, playing in this city.
“I find St. John’s a wonderful environment to help musicians. It’s very conducive, it’s a really nice community.”
Even if the muse is an entire country away, Rube & Rake won’t call anywhere but St. John’s home.