Listening to The Sounds They Make, the debut from Champaign-Urbana's New Ruins is like listening to a hazy spring morning on the interstate. The music is very road-trippy, with a lazy, lackadaisical nature that enhances the underlying darkness found within. At the time of recording, the band consisted of two, two friends, Elzie Sexton and J. Caleb Means--two songwriters with two different approaches to songwriting. Means' style is a bit more delicate and poppy, while Sexton's is darker and deeper. Surprisingly, the two styles work well together. Speaking with Sexton shed some light on the band, what the band's doing now and how this excellent debut is simply a snapshot of what the band has now become.How did New Ruins come together?
I've known Caleb for about ten years. We've been playing together since we were 14 or so, playing punk rock. It progressed from there; we got into indie-rock, and then went our separate ways for college. We got together and jammed and recorded during our breaks, and that's how New Ruins got started.There are two distinctive songwriting styles; one is very dark and foreboding, the other is poppier.
Caleb has the really acoustic, drop-tuned stuff; songs like "Nameless" or "Outside"--those kinds of songs are his.I was impressed by that; in a way, I was reminded of Uncle Tupelo, if not in sound, just by the way the two styles are so starkly different. When you two write, do you write individually and then bring the songs to the other to work on? (Confirms) Is there any collaborative songwriting?
No, not really. We pretty much both come up with the main riff and lyrics, and then show it to the other, and then we'll add things here and there. We pretty much collaborate like that.Do you guys play out much?
Locally, we play a lot. We've kind of been working on a new album; we're working on a split seven inch and a few things like that. But we've started playing Chicago, Minneapolis, and the Midwest. We're going to start trying to hit longer distances. We all have jobs, wives, or kids, so it's kind of limiting right now, but we're looking to do more.On this record, it was just you and Caleb. Have you formed a live band yet?
Yeah, we have a band now. Paul Chastain plays bass and Roy Ewing plays drums. Roy was in Braid, and Paul's done quite a few things as well.So it's sort of a Champaign/Urbana supergroup.
(Laughs) Yeah, we got lucky with those guys.Has the live band changed the band's style?
Oh, it's so
much better now. We got really lucky; not only are these guys awesome musicians, they're also just really great people; they're really grounded. We all know what we want to accomplish, and it's a lot easier for us to play shows now. People, they want to see a rock band. At least in our town, they're not that interested in seeing guys playing acoustic or one guy playing keyboard. The band has definitely improved things for us. We also have a couple of other people joining us every once in a while; a cellist, for one. We can play with a variety of bands; we don't have to stick with one kind of genre for shows.How do the new recordings sound?
It's a lot more rocking--well, at least my songs. It's more aggressive than the new album, because Roy is a really powerful drummer. We'll be exploiting our rhythm section quite a bit, especially on the new songs of mine. I'm pretty much doing all the vocals, concentrating more on the guitar parts, and it's a lot more complex. It allows us to do so much more, having a rhythm section. When it was live acoustic, we'd have to keep the rhythm and we didn't have a good dynamic to it. There's nothing better to build up your song dynamic than having a really good rhythm section.How does Caleb's material sound?
His stuff...he's still working, experimenting with drop-tuning and things like that, but his song are a lot more driving. They still have the delicate air to the, but they're a lot more pulsing. I think that's due in large part to Roy. With having a full band at our disposal, we have so many new dimensions. We have songs of Caleb's that are really soft, but build up really noisy, and some of mine are the same way. We have a more developed sound; I think the songs are a lot more cohesive together, having a full band. It's definitely an exciting time for us, seeing what we can do, and coming up with things that we might not have done before.Since your format and lineup has changed, do you feel a kind of disconnect with your older material?
When I was writing the songs for the album, I always pictured them as being with a full band. Caleb is the same way. We're still playing those songs, and if anything, I'm enjoying them more now, because I have the freedom to experiment with them. Live, especially, many of the songs have changed, with improved guitar parts. If anything, I'm starting to realize what these songs could be. You can't always get exactly what you want, unless you clone yourself and play all the parts yourself. But things are going well for us now. I'm looking forward to our future.New Ruins' debut, The Sound They Make, is available now from A Hidden Agenda