Backstage in Baja With Rüfüs Du Sol
I’m sitting in a hotel room with three Australian men, and we are talking about cherry tomatoes. In all fairness, the conversation is my fault. I asked about their pet peeves and uncut cherry tomatoes are a pretty surefire way to piss anyone anywhere off. But these guys aren’t just anyone and we aren’t just anywhere.
It’s night one of the closing weekend of Rüfüs Du Sol’s music festival, Sundream, and there are a few hours before their live DJ set. In an artistic suite at Baja, Mexico’s Hotel El Ganzo, they relax across from me—vocalist and guitarist Tyrone, drummer James, and keyboardist Jon—a trio of Grammy award-winners exuding humble familiarity as they take turns chiming in about Sundream. “Selfishly, we get to curate a festival,” Jon says, shifting in his utility vest. “We get to pick our favorite artists and indulge in creating these structures and designs, being able to make whatever experience we would want to be walking into.” And an experience it is, the El Ganzo Sculpture Gardens boasting a transcendental stage amid monolithic sculptures, cacti, palms, and tons and tons of people.
The guys are about to head to their performance, and they're showing up in signature Rüfüs style. While the group wears all black for live sets, each member has his own adaptation of the uniform. “We’re all different,” Tyrone says. “I feel like as we get older, we’re getting a better understanding of what our personal tastes are and what feels authentic to our character. Onstage, I definitely love wearing more flowy things that can catch wind. I feel like I sing more fluidly when I’m wearing something more fluid.”
James nods, jumping in, “I definitely had a leather jacket phase throughout the years. I was wearing leather jackets every set, but fashion versus function makes it extremely hard to do that—when I’m drumming for two hours straight. But I liked how it looks, and I felt like it was part of the character that I would embrace when I got on stage.”
And the conversation goes on, as if this isn’t their own festival, as if they weren't launching a new flavor of their hard kombucha, as if they aren’t about to perform in front of thousands of people who came to see just them—as if they weren’t a global sensation.
Two and a half hours later, I’m sitting on an amp backstage, watching the group captivate a crowd of thousands, witnessing just what a community they’ve built and how many lives they've impacted through their music. So what is it that makes this band so special? From taking ginger shots and ice baths to the wackiest moments on tour, here’s what makes the three men behind one of the biggest DJ groups of all time tick.
Jon: In relation to live shows, we adopted an approach about five years ago where we wanted to have a bit more of a uniform. So we adopted the approach of all black, embracing the classic band look, and since then have figured out ways of being creative within those restrictions. We get excited about finding different materials, different ways light reflects off different types of black materials, different textures, and then having things featured against it, like jewelry or certain shoes. But the restriction is that we wear all black and that is the thing that unifies us. Before a show we kind of discuss with each other, like who’s wearing what, and see if it plays off of each other, so no two people are wearing the exact same thing—which happens pretty frequently.
A Stylish Trio
James: Since my leather jacket phase I’ve branched out. I wear more structured clothing, heavier materials, I like the way they fall on my figure better and the shapes they cut. I’ve also enjoyed playing with things that reflect light differently; I got this Saint Laurent shirt made of nylon a few months ago that seems to interact with light in a really cool way and look like a liquid material, but it’s all black.
Jon: I'd say we've all been through different evolutions of what we really love. For me, I’d say I particularly like the restriction of starting with black, which was the classic rock band look. So, like, skinny black jeans, maybe a more open-chest, button-down shirt, jewelry still, but just more classic. And then from there, I’m evolving, more of this utility vest, structured clothing to layer up with what I’m wearing.
Tyrone: I mean in all honesty, I’m a dad. So when we’re not touring and not going onstage, I'm wearing full function clothes. Which is pretty fun. There's a video of me swimming in the pool, and my son's learning how to swim. And I have a sun shirt and a hat—I think you guys saw the video—and you thought it was the swim instructor. But that was me, so yeah.
Tyrone: The style of touring that we do now differs a lot from when we toured say five, six, seven years ago. It's just really enjoyable now. It’s a lot healthier. We made some really great decisions and changes where we’ll do ice baths together after a show, have dinner, do ginger shots before shows instead of whiskey shots. We'll do breath work together. And we'll play the occasional game of Fifa before or after a show. It just feels like you’re on tour with a bunch of friends. I remember that’s how it felt when we started as a band, too. It’s easy to get caught up being in a band that's touring the world, but it’s been the biggest gift to have changed a lot of little things in terms of touring that’s made it really fun.
Jon: I remember playing this show, and I got hit on the head by a can onstage. Like a full can of beer that hadn’t been open just smacked me on the head, and I sort of jumped down and was in shock, but then got up and kept playing the next part of my keys. I think it was the same show when we saw a guy behind James with a ping pong paddle and smacked him on the back of the head.
Tyrone: Loud environments, loud music, anything, I just get this anxiety. I think it's because of the need to sing or preserve my voice somewhat so that we can tour and play shows. So if we go to a restaurant or something and it's super loud, I just want a sign that says, “I'm not talking.” But it's hard to not talk, so I just have this raised level of anxiety that comes up whenever I'm in a really loud environment.
Jon: I need to have order, particularly on tour. I pack my clothes away in the hotel when I can and have some type of system to pack and repack, unpack and repack. A messy environment just gets to me.
James: Cherry tomatoes. A salad with cherry tomatoes in it—if they haven’t cut the cherry tomato in half—really irks me. Because the experience of biting into a cherry tomato and it exploding in my mouth is very unsettling to me. And I feel like it should be to more people.
James: One of my favorite things about this festival is the crowd that it attracts and the sense of community. We did it last year in Tulum, and then already this year it seems like there are a lot of people who met for the first time there and have created bonds and connections there and they've come back as groups. It seems like there's such a good culture and vibe in the crowd. And you know, the fact that we've been able to cultivate that feels really nice.
Tyrone: I think my favorite thing is the Mexican people. Just trying to speak any Spanish, they are the most forgiving and patient with you. They are just very welcoming and trusting for us to come in and put on a festival in their home.
Tyrone: I feel like there’s been a few little timestamps of shows of ours where it’s felt really pivotal. One of the earliest ones was at this festival called Falls Festival in Australia. We were doing the sunset slot, which for our history has been the most momentous time slot for us; maybe our music just fits that time for whatever reason. So we had this time slot, we didn’t know how many people would be there, and it was a natural amphitheater and it was just packed. It was the best show. There were mistakes, but it didn’t matter. For whatever reason it was the best show we had done at this point. We’ve had the privilege of having success in Australia, and then a delayed success in the U.S. And now I feel like a delayed success in Central America and South America feels really exciting for us, and we’ve been chipping away in Europe, too.
James: I think one of the big moments for us, in the U.S. at least, was Coachella in 2016. That was the first time we ever played that festival, and we've been coming across to the U.S. from Australia, where we lived at that time. We just put Bloom out, and it felt like things were starting to click. But then there was just this perfect moment where everything crystalized. We played this set maybe around 7pm or 8pm in this Gobi tent. People were packed out to the sides, and it just felt like this momentum was building. I remember we all came offstage after that first weekend show and were just like, “What the fuck?” It felt really wild.
Jon: Another one that comes to mind is straight after Covid, not knowing where we're at and just selling out three stadiums in L.A. And yeah, it's just another great little moment, amongst many, that we're very lucky to reflect on now.
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