Fresh mind, fresh sound
After refilling his creative energies with his whānau in Te Kaha, musician Rob Ruha is back with a new album.
The multi-award-winning songwriter and composer is releasing his new album tomorrow, Preservation of Scenery.
“It started with a conscious decision to block out some time about two years ago to have a creative pause,” Ruha says.
Ruha was on the road, performing and was very busy.
“I talked with my whānau and said I would like to have a pause. I was so busy I couldn't create.
“One of our last shows was as an opening act for Phil Collins in Hastings and then I pressed pause on all live performances so I could dive into being creative.”
Leaving the big smoke, Ruha moved to the coast.
“I left the noise and packed up my whānau and moved to Te Kaha. I was opening myself up to writing for the sake of writing, just to get the muscle moving again.”
And Ruha has been busy.
He has run writing retreats with ingenious artists from around the world, like The Halluci Nation from Canada who create indigenous electronic music.
Ruha started writing kapa haka music again with Tā Derek Lardelli and led a Māori supergroup to write a gospel album, Mōhau.
The album went on to win Te Kaipuoro Kairangi Toa, Best Worship Artist and the Mana Reo award at the Aotearoa Music Awards in November last year.
Ruha says time away from performing gave him the chance to do what he loves.
“Unconsciously, when it came to writing this album, I created something new.
“I haven't created anything like this before. It's a new sonic expression.”
At its core, Preservation of Scenery is R&B and soul, laced with pop overtones to thread into today's musical vibrations, Ruha says.
“The album goes into hard-hitting topics but is done in a way that is palatable so that our listeners and society can have a good discussion.”
Ruha says he doesn't shy away from topics like institutional racism and the historical facts and fictions society is told about Māori history.
For Ruha, it's about expanding the range of conversations people have in Aotearoa, but he is aware it is the audience who interprets the music.
Ruha says he was having a conversation with Dave Dobbyn who said something that stuck with him.
“(Dobbyn) said that other people's interpretation of what your song means to them is just as important as the reason why you wrote it.
“It's about having compassion for the listeners. It's not always about what I want to impart on to the world.
“People will receive the music however they want to . . . and that's important to honour and celebrate as well.”
The album is produced by Rory Noble, a New Zealand producer Ruha met through SongHubs, a songwriting residency aimed at supercharging creativity in New Zealand.
“The goal of many artists is to try to push their boundaries, stretch themselves a little bit, and then try to produce their best work.
“Every production of every piece of work is a stepping stone towards that . . . Whether or not you actually reach that goal, I don't know, maybe that's in the eye of the beholder.
“I live by the mantra that whatever comes to me musically, whether that's a spiritual reception of something that's beyond myself or whether it's something I've chipped away at, the main thing is that I am happy with it. It's about moving towards the ever-elusive goal of making something better than the last time.”
Although, for Ruha, the concept of something being better than before is a confusing statement.
At the end of the day, Ruha says he makes music for himself.
“I think chasing what the audience might like, or what you think they might like, is unstable ground.
“I just love making things that are real to me, are true to me and speaks my truth.
“If they take it up, they take it up. And if they don't, they don't — it's all good.”
Preservation of Scenery is available online from tomorrow.