RY X Was Off The Grid When His New Album & Drake Collab Dropped

29 June 2022 | 1:26 pm | Cyclone Wehner

"My inner-landscape is a pretty intimate, honest, raw one – and so that's reflected in the work here."

(Pic by Clifford Usher)

Ry Cuming doesn't play the PR game. The hirsute Australian indietronica star known as RY X was off-radar in North Africa during a major roll-out. Both his intensely personal and philosophical third album Blood Moon and Drake's house music blockbuster Honestly, Nevermind materialised on the same day – Cuming credited as co-producer for the latter's Sticky. Yet, far from being cannily synchronised marketing, "It was totally accidental," Cuming insists.

"It was an interesting day to put out Blood Moon, which is this two-year project of the heart, vulnerability, and to have only found out a few days before that Sticky was definitely on the [Drake] record – and then, all of a sudden, that he was secretly kind of dropping the album on Friday," he explains. "But it made it a really beautiful, wide exploration of a lot of range on that day. 

"I was in the Atlas Mountains in Morocco when both things happened. So, on Friday morning, my phone had been left in a transport vehicle and had ended up in Marrakech, and my laptop was at the other location of this event we're at. I woke up on the day of a Drake record coming out, Blood Moon coming out, a new video [for A Thousand Knives] coming out – all these beautiful announces – and I didn't have any way to be in contact with the world."

Post-communal adventure, Cuming enjoyed viewing the reactions online. "It was beautiful to kind of see the information filter in when I got some technology back in my hands," he says. "It really mirrored how I was feeling in my heart." 

A week after and Cuming is Zooming from Hawaii, where he's now attending a wedding. Wearing a wide-brimmed hat, black T-shirt and jewellery, the singer, songwriter and producer is hippy, trippy and loquacious, at one point earnestly referring to his "dedicated spiritual practice".

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Cuming has long led a bohemian, and nomadic, life. He grew up on Woodford Island, New South Wales, his family tending a permaculture farm. Cuming surfed, learnt guitar and developed an innate curiosity about the world. Eventually, he moved to Los Angeles. 

The emerging folkie's song Let Your Spirit Fly was synced for 2006's since-forgotten movie Hoot and, four years later, he released a similarly neglected eponymous debut on Jive Records under his own name (go to Spotify). Cuming subsequently discovered IDM, organically reinventing himself as RY X with a stint in Berlin. His music became ever more avant.

Cuming united with the German tech-houser Frank Weidemann – who co-founded the cred Innervisions label and is half of Âme – for Howling, launching their Howling combo. He also joined the supergroup The Acid with the Brit DJ Adam Freeland, who pioneered nu-skool breaks in the '90s, and American Steve Nalepa, airing the album Liminal in 2014 and performing at Splendour In The Grass. The year prior, Cuming circulated the cult folktronica hit Berlin its parent EP certified Gold in Australia. He's now issued successive solo albums, beginning with 2016's Dawn. Cuming last unveiled the orchestral Live From The Royal Albert Hall.

Today Cuming is settled in Topanga, a countercultural hub in the Santa Monica Mountains. Not even the upheaval of the COVID-19 pandemic prompted a return to Australia. "I mean, I'm a papa, I'm a father, so I focus where my little one is – and that's in California," he reveals. "My whole heart and intention is to be really present as a father. I keep my fatherhood quite distanced from the online space, social space, and all those kinds of things. [But] I am very, very dedicated in my fatherhood. So, wherever my beautiful son is, I will be."

Here, amid global turmoil, Cuming sought solace in realising Blood Moon. "I was able to go to an inward-place and a peaceful place and really create and be in fatherhood and be in community and be in nature." 

And Blood Moon feels like a sonic sanctuary – Cuming's quiet vocalising comparable to Billie Eilish's. It captures him at his most instinctive and bare. The lead single, Let You Go, sets the mood, opening with acoustic guitar before building into atmospheric minimal techno. (The filmic Colorblind, composed with Iceland's Ólafur Arnalds, is apparently figurative.)

"My inner-landscape is a pretty intimate, honest, raw one – and so that's reflected in the work here," Cuming says. "Where I live in the mountains, in Topanga, near the ocean, the way that I live kind of mirrors and reminisces on the hinterland of Byron [Bay] or the small town of Angourie. 

"There is, I guess, a balance between like a peacefulness, a sense of equanimity that can come in for me, and then this want to dive deep into the existential; to dive deep into self-exploration, spiritual exploration.

"I think the spaciousness on the record comes from that, the way that I like to live with the nature and landscape, and then more of the introspection is the deep dive in the lyric and the ideas and the concepts – and that more comes from my want to push; to continue to grow and feel."

Though Blood Moon radiates a wistful, if lofty, romanticism, Cuming maintains that the songs aren't about any single relationship, but rather muse on different scenarios. "I think, inherently, I'm a very sensual person; a person that finds a lot of the beauty in life is in a sense of intimacy with the self or with another. Also there's a romanticism that I have about the experience of love; about the experience of the world. 

"So there are very specific moments on the record that are about partnerships, or loverships, but there's also kind of this universality – you know, the Sufi poets and the metaphysicists would talk about the relationship to the divine. The beloved was this idea of spirit; it wasn't just a woman, it wasn't the feminine.

"I think on this I'm exploring a bit of both at the same time. It's having a conversation with the more divine feminine at the same time as the very intricate, concise idea of sensuality and femininity in my life."

In 2022 Cuming might variously be described as a neo-folk, future soul or electronic auteur – his music pivoting on experimental hybridisation. Versatile, he's increasingly an in-demand collaborator. Cuming has featured on dance albums from ODESZA (2017's A Moment Apart), Duke Dumont (2020's Duality, with the epic Let Me Go remixed by French disco legend Cerrone), South African DJ/producer Black Coffee (2021's Grammy-winning Subconsciously) and, this year, Diplo. He's adeptly remixed tracks such as Rihanna's Love On The Brain.

Still, Cuming's biggest collab yet is Drake's Sticky – a Jersey club banger co-helmed with Gordo, formerly the EDM Carnage, that he calls an "exalted moment". Some have assumed that Cuming's input was via sampling, but no. "It wasn't a sample – it was more just that it had come from a song that I'd been working on maybe for something else," he clarifies. "Then we ended up pulling that song apart and recreating it for this record.

"The idea of a sample is thinking that it belongs to something and you pull a little bit… This was much more like it's the song structure and the lyric and my voice and all those elements, and then we just pulled some of those elements apart and recreated them to belong more in the sphere of an artist like Drake."

At any rate, having liaised extensively with peers, Cuming valued labouring solitarily on Blood Moon. "I feel like I need to be isolated to get to that sense of intimacy and rawness," he reiterates. "I love collaborating and I love expressing and exploring new sound. [But] when I'm with people in the studio, there's a lot of feedback.

"When I'm alone, it's so much about, 'How raw can I make this, how vulnerable, how stripped?' – where it's not about the hook, it's not about a drop, it's not about the beat. It's about continually asking, 'Is this landing with the emotional gravity that I intend it to?'"

Astonishingly, Cuming is currently contemplating another project – a second LP from the ostensibly dormant The Acid, the trio all "busy bees". "We are already in the second album," he shares. "We're about two thirds of the way through it. It's a really interesting, beautiful record… But, after the summer, we're intentionalising to get together and finish that record. I'd love to see it out next year – we'll see."

Cuming will tour Europe over summer – soon flying to Berlin. In fact, the musician is so preoccupied with shows that he's reaming about them. Cuming loves how songs expand and evolve. "I'm kind of a purist in a predominantly analogue way live," he admits. "A lot of bands on stage are running tracks and running computers to kind of allow them to produce your record live. I've always been counter to that movement, in a way – of wanting to rediscover the material, pull it apart; not make it sound exactly like the record." Often a live version surpasses the original, testing his perfectionism.

As for Australian dates? "I'm working on it," Cuming assures. "We have some really interesting opportunities to come to Australia, maybe late this year or early next year. I'm really gunning for it. 

"I'm really hoping to get over there definitely within the next nine months or so and put some shows on and be back in my home and give back to the community there. 

"There's definitely always been a little bit of a tinge of wanting to come back more and give more to my home. So I'm leaning for that, for sure."

Blood Moon is out now digitally, with its physical formats, including a limited edition smokey double-vinyl, released on August 26. All formats are available to pre-order HERE.