Ric Rufio On What It Means To 'Make It' In The Music Industry

5 April 2023 | 1:02 pm | Emma Whines

“It’s like a slipstream - you jump in, and it takes you to completely different places.”

Sydney-based electronic-pop artist Ric Rufio has always been surrounded by the limelight. His very first memory of the entertainment industry still sits squarely in his mind - watching his father tackle the notoriously tough nature of the Edinburgh Fringe Festival, putting on a show and trudging out into the streets to sell tickets.

It’s the excitement of the hustle that Rufio remembers most, which had him addicted from the start and inspired him to go down his own path, singing in an underground jazz club three or four nights a week. 

“That was the dream,” he notes, referring to his mini Jazz jaunt. A couple of years later, Rufio has had a career that most people would be in awe of. Leaving his beloved Jazz nights behind, he’s gone on to have a very successful career as a backing vocalist, working with some of the most revered artists around the world. 

So far, he’s shared the stage with Ed Sheeran for his 2015 ARIA performance and then with Adele on her 2017 tour of Australia. He’s also worked on the popular Aus TV show The Voice, singing with Ricky Martin and Kelly Rowland. Despite the plethora of moments to choose from, there’s one that sticks with Rufio the most.

“I was brought in to do backing vocals for George Benson, which was so cool but so hectic. He wasn’t even in the studio, the producer had just bought in backing vocalists to do overdubs for one of his live records, so the pace and speed we had to maintain to get stuff done was just insane. There was a moment in the session where I was like, fuck, can I keep up here? Like, it was so hard! But it was awesome. Getting through that was such a cool experience.”

Persevering through times like that is what Rufio believes prepared him for his next chapter, where he became one of the leading tour vocalists for Flight Facilities - a gig that many vocalists would kill for. 

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“I’d done a bit of work with Future Classic, helping some of their artists with their vocals, and then Dan Zilba [A&R] recommended me to the boys [Flight Facilities], and I had to audition. They hit me up on a Wednesday, and I sent them everything the next morning because I went into a full-on learn mode and knew I could get it done quick,” He explains. 

Luckily, It didn’t take long for the team to call and let him know that he’d be joining them from now on.  

“It was crazy. Three weeks later, we had our first show of the album tour, and then we were doing Groovin The Moo, and then it was an American tour straight away. That whirlwind felt so wild, and it was kinda cool because going from being a backing vocalist to being up the front was so different.”

Somewhat struck by the craziness of his story so far, Rufio stops and considers, saying, “It’s like a slipstream - you jump in, and it takes you to completely different places.”

Throughout these insane experiences, Rufio was also working on his own music. His first taste of original success started in 2016 when he uploaded a song to Soundcloud to show a producer, which unexpectedly went viral overnight. 

“I remember waking up two months later, and there were thousands of notifications on my phone because this LA blog, Hilly Dilly, had found it somehow. Suddenly, I had all of these overseas labels like Def Jam and Parlophone offering me these meetings, and I flew over and took them. Still, I decided not to pursue those and sign with a local group, Mirror Music, run by Kurt Bailey. 

“It started off well, but I think Kurt had bitten off a bit more than he could chew. He was doing so much at the time, managing Gang of Youths and Middle Kids, so It was pretty deflating how that petered out because I had this body of work that was ready to go. I was lucky that Flight Facilities came along around that same time, so I could just do that and create more work in my own time,” He admits.

Despite Rufio’s disappointment that he lost his original ‘wave’ of success, it’s arguably more impressive that he’s made a comeback so brilliantly. In the last year, he released his first single, Alone, and more recently, Daily BB, to a sea of love and support, easily slipping back into the uphill rise. Again, It’s an achievement he attributes to the wealth of experiences he’s already had in the industry. 

“I think the work ethic and head down bum up mentality carries through. Sometimes when writing, you can get too stagnant waiting for inspiration. So when I see these other people just working, I realise my processes have to be better. Like, being in the Flight Facilities team and just seeing how disciplined they are when it comes to writing in the studio. They don’t say, ‘Oh, we don’t have anything right now. We're just going to see what happens.’ They make it happen. That’s been really influential to me.”

Since his early start in 2016, Rufio has changed more than just his mindset and attitude towards music as a whole but also how he writes, switching from self-proclaimed ‘sad-boi R&B’ music to something a little more upbeat. 

“Before, I was writing more about myself and what I was musically feeling at the time. Since joining Flight Facilities, I got to see how cool it is to make music that physically moves people and people want to have fun and dance to.”

Despite the constant changes and growth within his unique career, Rufio admits that one thing he will never change is his voice, which has seen him through the majority of his career without ever slipping into ‘what’s cool’. 

“I don’t love it when I hear someone that sounds like the Australian version of another artist, so I’ve always been conscious of vocal trends, and I’m not trying to sound like singers that are on point in terms of phrasing and how I sing.

“Like you and I are talking right now, and we both have our own individual speaking voices. What I don’t understand is when people sing in a homogenous way when their talking voice is so different. That's what I love about artists when I hear their voice in their songs.” 

“A lot of artists will try to sound like this on one record, and then on the next one, they sound like whatever is hot. I’m a bit stubborn in that sense, and it could be my downfall that I’m not trying to sound like everyone else.

“It’s always tricky because you go, ‘I wonder if anyone is gonna like this stuff because I don’t sing like everyone else.” 

It’s clear that Rufio’s fears are misplaced, with new and old fans lapping up his latest offering, Daily BB, which resembles an old-school Mac Miller and Anderson .Paak tunes. 

“The chords in that song are actually an old soul music ‘turnaround’ and are a homage to the old soul era, but instead of playing all the chords in that song, I decided to sing them and then stack them to make them into a synth. From there, the flow in the verses was like a Mac Miller verse and just ran with it.”

“My thing is that when I’m writing, I always ask myself, ‘Would I be embarrassed to show Dev Hynes this?’ If the answer is no, I’m happy to release the song. It doesn’t mean it’s necessarily good, but at least I’m happy to release it,” He laughs.

Listen to Ric Rufio’s latest single, Daily BB, here, and follow him here to get updates on his upcoming EP.