By Jim Miller
It’s a bustling breakfast at Kozy Korner. All the booths are filled, and the room is alive with chatter as servers scribble down orders and rush out plates of pancakes and omelets from the kitchen.
Across the table, musician Ritchie Rubini improvises a beat, utilizing whatever’s useful within arm’s reach: spoon and fork become drumsticks, plate and cup of coffee now a snare and cymbal.
You might not guess it, but he’s making a point about putting time into one’s craft.
His animated gestures and syncopated rhythms seem to be fueled by something more than just caffeine…
“Inspiration exists, but it has to find you working,” he says, citing a Picasso quote he has framed and hanging on one of the walls of his home studio.
“You got to walk over to the easel,” he adds, stopping the beat and emphasizing the silverware in his hand. “You got to pick up the paints. It’s all there. It’s ready to be downloaded!
“Once you do your part and pick up the paints.”
Preparing for Launch
In Rubini’s case, the “paints” are drumsticks, the keys to a synthesizer, or the many musical odds and ends one can find in his neo-bohemian Pike Creek studio. He’s someone who thrives on the experimentation that a recording studio can provide.
“Nothing’s more exciting to me than a sense of creative possibility,” Rubini says.
Regardless of the instrument that’s currently withing arm’s reach, one thing is certain: Rubini has been working. To his analogy, he’s been “picking up the paints.”
Like the improvised beat he just made, the musician has been on the move, keeping a relentless pace, zigzagging between shows and studio sessions.
The results have been rewarding. Last year, he repeated his 2020 win for Best Producer at the Hometown Heroes Awards held at The Queen. And this year, somehow, between his busy routine as a music producer and a packed line-up of live drumming gigs, he’s found the time to put the finishing touches on his new project: his first instrumental album called The Age of Flight.
It’s an apt name for a collection of ambient-electronic songs that weave transportive sonic textures with retro-futuristic synth tones.
The project developed during in-between moments over the past six years — the waking whiles before work; the minutes or hours crammed between recordings sessions and rehearsals; the occasional off-days amid scheduled projects.
The times when inspiration found him working.
“I’d get up in the morning, open Pro Tools [on the computer], and start with a blank slate,” Rubini says. “I wouldn’t know what I’m going to do or what key I’m going to do it in. The idea would be to create something new every day.”
Some ideas were worth revisiting in the days, weeks and months that followed. But, over time, the inspired but half-finished concepts began to pile up on his hard drive. Two years ago, Rubini decided to go back through the archives. He reviewed all the bits and pieces, taking the ones he thought had promise, putting them aside, then later fleshing them out into full-fledged compositions.
“Once I had a name of the project, it started to crystallize for me,” he says. “That gave me a different perspective of it. What worked and what didn’t.”
Rubini’s completed ideas will finally lift off — across cyberspace to your headspace — when The Age of Flight gets released on all major digital platforms Friday, May 5.
A Different Kind of Destination
The Age of Flight signals a temporary departure of sorts for Rubini. Most local music fans know him for his pop-and-rock sensibilities as the drummer who joined The Caulfields in the mid- ‘90s, amid the band’s height of worldwide popularity — and who continues to play reunion shows with them to this day.
Or they know him as the savvy music producer who has helped shape the studio performances of singer-songwriters such as Lauren Hart, Samantha Poole, Cliff Hillis, Jimmy McFadden, and his rising-star daughter, Olivia Rubini.
Or he’s known as the drummer/percussionist for a number of popular local acts starting in the ‘80s with Honour Society and continuing today with The Snap and Region.
What Rubini is not well known for is being a talent who can create compositions that echo the cinema-like soundscapes of Brian Eno, Thomas Newman, and Hans Zimmer — three sonic reference-points that help triangulate the territories in which The Age of Flight glides, soars and explores.
“I think these songs are fun and spacey,” Rubini says. “But I had to ask myself, ‘Is anyone going to like this stuff?’ I know I like to listen to ambient music. It makes sense to me. But what about everyone else who thinks, ‘Yeah, Ritchie is this rock-drummer guy.’ They don’t know I like to be spacey and trippy and all that.”
A visit last year from former-Delaware-based musician Angela Sheik offered a vote of confidence. “She and Olivia were in the studio, and I played them some stuff,” Rubini says. “They really dug it. That made me feel it was worth going forward.
“Then Angela asked, ‘Ritchie, don’t you ever sleep?!’”
He laughs, shrugs his shoulders, then takes another sip of coffee.
Where it all Began
Even when he was just a teenager, Rubini found him drawn to music and experimentation.
“I’d always fool around with sounds — even in my mom’s basement with a four-track recorder — and do these little instrumental things. I was always intrigued with sounds and I would listen to all sorts of sounds. I liked fiddling around with things.
“Not to say that I’m some wizard engineer or anything, but it’s fun for me.”
He may be being overly modest. The fact is there are some notable people in the recording industry who think Rubini is something of a wizard when it comes to the studio.
Take longtime friend and musical collaborator Nick DiDia, who has worked as an engineer, mixer and record producer for the likes of Bruce Springsteen, Pearl Jam, Stone Temple Pilots, Train, and Rage Against the Machine — just to name a few.
Rubini became friends with DiDia after they met at Philadelphia’s Warehouse Recording Studios in the mid ‘80s. DiDia was doing engineer work for rock bands like Bon Jovi and Cinderella. Rubini and his brother, Rudy, would drive up to pick up work as backing vocalists for various artists and bands.
“I watched Nick grow into a really successful engineer,” Rubini says of those days.Nearly 15 years later, in the late ‘90s, DiDia invited Rubini to his recording studio in Atlanta to work on what would become Let It All Begin, the first solo record of Shawn Smith, a musician who Greg Dulli of The Afghan Whigs has called “Seattle’s Best-Kept Secret.”
At the time, Smith had carved out a respectable reputation for himself in Seattle’s grunge scene working with a variety of rock groups including Brad, a side project of Pearl Jam guitarist Stone Gossard.
DiDia co-produced Brad’s second album, Interiors, which made him a wise pick to produce Smith’s solo effort. According to DiDia, the decision to bring Rubini into the sessions was equally wise.
“Ritchie was such an important part of that record,” says DiDia, who now lives and works in Byron Bay, Australia. “Not only his drumming, but his singing and vocal arrangements — along with Tony Reyes — really set that record apart from anything else Shawn had done…
“On top of that he’s one of the nicest, thoughtful people I know, and it shows in his playing and production.”
Although not a hit album, Let It All Begin became a cult sensation of sorts, and would continue to earn fans and high praise decades later. In 2015, Louder’s Paul Rees called it the standout album of Smith’s solo career and “a glorious DIY confection of bucolic soul-rock that imagines Stevie Wonder fronting The Band.”
More recently, upon Smith’s untimely death in April, 2019, Phil Alexander of Kerrang! called Let It All Begin a “masterful set that flew largely under the radar.”
For Rubini, working with Smith, DiDia and Reyes on that album further pushed him into a place that he had begun feeling comfortable: The recording studio.
“I had already been doing some of that kind of stuff with The Caulfields’ second album, L [released in 1997],” Rubini says, admitting that he did more than play drums on the recordings. “I played a lot of keyboards and some guitar on that record and was totally getting into the production process. I got along really well with David Bianco, our producer, and [we were all] playing a lot of funny and quirky things on that album.
“I think me bringing all this stuff to the band, kind of made John [Faye] and Sam [Musemeci] step up. We had Sam play trumpet on one song, and we brought a cellist in on another.”
Rubini recalls the same kind of inspired ingenuity floating around DiDia’s studio during the Smith sessions as well.
“We were in Nick’s basement using sandpaper blocks for percussion on one track, then toy percussion on another,” he says laughing. “There’s all sorts of stuff on that record. Sometimes we were just going with an idea and using whatever was around us.”
Inspiration found him working then as it does today.
— Ritchie Rubini will release The Age of Flight on all major digital music platforms on Friday, May 5. A pre-release listening party will be held at Twisted Irons Craft Brewing Co. on Thursday, May 4 from 5-7pm.