There are many ways to celebrate the signing of a record deal. The Rubens guitarist Zaac Margin, for example, marked the occasion by rupturing his spleen.
“We were living in New York [recording our album],” begins vocalist/guitarist Sam Margin. “We were literally living on $10 a day, but we were like, we’ll budget even less so we can buy skateboards. So we bought skateboards instead of food, pretty much. The night we signed our record deal, Zaac and Elliott (keyboardist, and the third Margin sibling in the band) went skating to get some beers to celebrate, and Zaac fell and ended spending three nights in hospital.”
Fortunately the guitarist had already committed most of his parts to tape, meaning the mishap had less impact on the band’s recording schedule than the sidewalk had on his internal organs. The adventure was part of a two-and-a-half month sojourn the quartet (also featuring drummer Scott Baldwin) made to the Big Apple last year, leaving their home of Menangle in country New South Wales on a self-funded trip to record their debut full-length with noted producer David Kahne (Paul McCartney, The Strokes).
Just prior to flying out of Australia, Triple J began playing a single the band had uploaded to the Unearthed website, ‘Lay It Down’, piquing the interest of various record companies and snagging them a first-on spot at last year’s Homebake Festival in Sydney.
“Everything that’s happened to us this far is because of that song,” considers Margin. “It was recorded in my bedroom on a laptop.”
The four-piece have enjoyed a heady rise since forming in early 2011, and can add to their list of accomplishments a rapturously received slot at Splendour In The Grass festival, as well as several headlining trips up and down the East Coast.
Their self-titled debut is unlikely to slow that progress, given its easily digestible blend of earthy, widescreen indie rock, soul and blues. It certainly doesn’t sound like the work of a young band making only their first album.
“A lot of first albums are really lo-fi because there’s no budget there, but we had this opportunity with this amazing producer and this amazing studio, so there was no point going lo-fi,” notes Margin. “We could do that at home. So we wanted to utilise this time in the studio and make it a bigger album.”
Given that a fourth Margin brother, Jethro, is a drummer – he was only beaten to the position in The Rubens because he wasn’t particularly interested in the role – you’d think that life growing up in the Margin household must have been one long jam session.
“We never jammed as kids,” counters the frontman. “We never even considered the whole thing. When I was moving back from London [after a gap year] I knew Zaac played guitar and Elliott had been playing piano for a while, and it did cross my mind, but it was still one-and-a-half years after I got back from London that we even decided to start writing anything. I wasn’t that keen, I guess.”
The brothers’ musical education was informed by their parents’ record collection, with Van Morrison and Tracy Chapman enjoying particularly heavy rotation. It’s perhaps this shared experience that allowed the quartet to find their sound relatively quickly.
“I think so,” nods Margin. “We didn’t decide on any sounds in particular. I think it has a lot to do with the fact we’re just three brothers and we just started playing music and that’s what happened.”
As for any concerns that the band’s rise is perhaps proving a little too rapid, Margin seems nonplussed.
“The fact it’s happened so quickly adds to the appeal, I guess there’s something to talk about,” he shrugs. “As long as we’re playing well and as long as we can adapt quickly enough and keep playing good shows and get better and better, then it can’t be a bad thing.”