“Trying to calm yourself down is quite a difficult thing without blowing off steam with alcohol or what have you,” says George of coping with the constant stress of mass performing. “In 2019, we were doing our own type of therapies, working out how to calm ourselves down, particularly as the shows were getting bigger, playing to 20,000 people. I think it came out of necessity in a way. We’d been a band for over 10 years, and touring takes a lot out of you and it gets chaotic. As the band was getting more successful, we kept getting pulled in different directions, losing track of why we were making music in a way, just losing sense of ourselves in a way.”
George says that just prior to the pandemic, the band regrouped with a new mindset in preparation to record what would end up becoming their fourth album, Surrender.
“During the Joshua [Tree National Park] trip and the writing process of this record, we all realized that meditation was a really good way for us to bond and start our days," he says." We use the meditation as a sort of start to the day, but also after, we would reflect on any sort of grievances. Just figuring out how to repair anything that had happened over the last 10 years that we weren’t happy with. We found a good starting place for that and everyone was coming from a calm place to become better bandmates and reconnect.”
That meditative mindset, George says, has led him and his bandmates to reconnect not only with themselves spiritually, but also with indigenous music, something that he says has reinforced his belief in the power of the hypnotic qualities of dance music.
“I think the repetitiveness and mantra goes back a long way to indigenous cultures," he says. "I found what I like in blues and roots music; I can see where we stand in the world of the music industry at the moment, and we’re always looking for a particular type of connection and feeling with what we do. We have our niche, which is trying to evolve the electronic world, but it’s all based from a similar foundation of feeling. I like that idea of being based around loops and repetitiveness, being able to move up and down different scales. That’s what I love about music.”
As Parquet Courts' Andrew Savage pointed out in a recent interview with the Observer, the simple repetition in music is innately built into our existence, which is why groove and dance-oriented music attracts us so much and why Daft Punk's music is eternal, at least according to George.
“One hundred percent,” he says about the now defunct legendary French house duo. “They were huge, particularly for me to get into electronic music. There was a period there that I was able to delve into their catalog with [the album] Homework, saw their career develop and got to see them play live.”
Much like fellow Australian sonic experimenters Dead Can Dance, RÜFÜS DU SOL draws from the sounds of American and Australian indigenous music without actually taking from it directly.
“I just got back from a breath work session which we were doing this morning, we were listening to a bunch of different cultures’ indigenous music," George says. "There was some didgeridoo music from Australian cultures that the host was playing. He was taking us through a bunch of different music from South America, and I certainly resonate with it. It’s very good for meditation. There’s lots of really good sounds and textures in that kind of music, I really like it.
"With that stuff we were listening to this morning, South America in particular, there were these long, repetitive mantras. There’s something so infectious about that. As long as we’re not stealing someone’s ideas and we’re just influenced by it, I think that’s a really cool place to start.”
The band doesn’t adhere to a rigid tour set, allowing them to morph and add sounds that they pick up or come up with on the road.
“We love to be able to have the freedom with the live set and be able to add in additional material,” George says. “We often are influenced by other people’s live shows, different electronic artists in particular, the way they’re able to move from one song to another, sort of creating these remixes of songs which I often use as a template. Like the Daft Punk live show and Radiohead’s live show. I’ve seen them a bunch of times and seeing them represent their material, it’s not just verbatim from the record.”
Alongside (and perhaps because of) the band’s interest in meditation, RÜFÜS DU SOL has been revisiting past material as a part of the creative and relaxation process.
"We have our niche, which is trying to evolve the electronic world, but it’s all based from a similar foundation of feeling." – Jon George
“With this record in particular, we were in Joshua Tree and the whole world went into lockdown,” George says. “We just used that time to get in a good routine of rhythm, and part of that routine was we would get up in the morning, do a meditation together, do a gym session, and during that gym session, we would revisit old albums — whether they were recommended to us or have stood the test of time. That sort of inspired us to look at what was timeless, and a lot of it was us trying to remember what throwbacks we liked, what sort of sounds we’re inspired by. We do a lot of that.”
George recommends meditation to everyone, not just those seeking spiritual enlightenment or relief from stress. He’s an ardent follower of a meditation teacher named Sarah Blondin via an app that the whole band uses called Insight Timer, the basis for their guided meditations and breathing exercises.
“She comes from a place of explaining trials and tribulations in her life and how she’s been able to deal with them ... that’ll be the start of the meditation, and then she’ll take you through a bunch of different breathing patterns," he says. "We would do it out in the desert in the morning, and I think being in a beautiful setting really helps — being present and ready for it rather than letting your mind wander. You need to be in the right headspace to start the process.”
Much like how the Australian band has delved into the world of American indigenous and popular music, George has a soft spot for Aussie rock icon Billy Thorpe, who eluded American success with the exception of a minor rock hit titled “Children of the Sun.”
“I’ve read both of his autobiographies,” George says, adding that he's surprised that this American reporter would be familiar with one of his home country heroes. “He lived an interesting life. His autobiographies appealed to me a lot because he’s telling the story of the Australian music industry back in the day. Not to mention his more nefarious experiences. He’s an icon.”