RY X gravitates towards connection. Connection to nature, to his emotions, to his body and spirit, to the human experience. On his third, transcendental solo album, Blood Moon, the Australian musician delves into what inspires the pull into these spaces – the ways in which we move through the world – in songs that serve as the apotheosis of his artistic expression.
Blood Moon is an extraordinary, multi-faceted work. Across 13 beautifully arranged songs, the singer born Ry Cuming assesses the relationships he’s experienced over the years, writing from a place that is, clearly, incredibly personal to him. “I think there’s a whole universe within the dynamic of your relationship with a lover,” he says. “There are many of those very honest, raw conversations on this record. It’s not all about the same person, but it is about the same feelings, the same concepts.” These songs hold a mirror to his own perception of self, as an artist who is continually learning and growing.
“A question I always ask myself is how does this feel – how does it make me feel?” he explains. “Especially in my solo work, that’s a really common thread. If I feel something is disingenuous then I abandon it.” Vital to his art is a rawness, both in the instrumentation and his lyrics, that pierces through to the very heart of the listener. “I’m not trying to write a better pop song… I’m asking what it conjures in my being,” he says. “That’s the compass I work with.”
RY X has used this compass to navigate his unique path from the very beginning. Born into the small community of Woodford Island in Australia (currently home to around 300 people), he was raised on a permaculture farm by his parents. “There wasn’t even a town, really – my school had about 11 kids, and we didn’t have uniforms, or wear shoes,” he recalls. “I grew up like that, really close to the coast, in this simple life, spending a lot of time in nature.” It was RY X’s father, a permaculturist from whom he inherited his love of the ocean, who also gave him his love of music. “There were instruments everywhere around the house. There was no internet… We had vinyl, and tapes. I used to dig through my dad’s vinyl collective and pick stuff based on the cover art.” He received guitar lessons from a tutor when he was nine, which instilled in him a discipline that helped him discover his love of the instrument. Then, after working two jobs through school (at a restaurant and helping to build houses), he set off to Central America, aged 17, exploring Costa Rica, Nicaragua and Panama, and embedding himself in each country’s culture, surfing the waves and writing music. “At the time, I didn’t think about pursuing music as a career,” he admits. “It was just a very pure expression of my being.”
Visiting Los Angeles, RY X found himself in a world that he “didn’t know or understand for quite some time”. He visited back and forth until, aged 21, took the leap and moved out there full-time. Soon after, and with Frank Wiedemann, he released the single “Howling”, a tension-filled track on which he sang, in his opalescent tenor: “Gold I swam into your spell/ On the rite of god we fell/ You were plush and I laid bare/ You had me howling.” Then, in 2013, RY X released his sublime EP, ‘Berlin’, with the title song charting in the top 40 in the UK and covered by a young Sam Smith in the BBC Live Lounge. Newly signed to Infectious Music, he followed with 2016’s Dawn, which introduced exquisitely arranged orchestral elements to his already intricate compositions. This included “Beacon”, a lovelorn sigh of violins and warm guitar notes, and “Shortline”, a deep-running current of shivering percussion, liquid synths, and tumbling piano notes, as mesmerising as waves onto the shore.
“Water is a deep theme in my work – it’s linked to the emotional realm,” RY X points out. Despite exploring universal themes – love, loss, infatuation, heartache – he successfully avoids falling into those easy songwriting cliches. Each word, every phrase, is heavy with meaning. By the time he released Unfurl, his second solo album, in 2019, RY X was seeking ways to reconcile his love of minimalism with those orchestral flourishes, resulting in tracks such as “Untold”, which melded stuttery, nature-influenced beats with his own eerie, animal howls. Even the lushest of arrangements had a hypnotically minimalist quality: on “YaYaYa”, the guitar loops rhythmically, surrounded by layered harmonies, strange chimes and soft glitching effects, all with mesmerising subtlety. “I listen to a lot of ambient music…. Non-traditional songs where there are no voices, or the voices are used in unusual ways,” he explains. “I still love those worlds [both acoustic and electronic]. The reason I still use orchestras is because I love minimal composition and orchestral music, and I also love ambient music. Somehow those sounds make sense together.”
Blood Moon is perhaps RY X’s most organic-sounding record to date, one which reflects on intimate relationships and translates them into wider conversations on spirit, the divine feminine, and the exploration of self. He writes devotional, hymn-like phrases, rejecting the contemporary pop tropes that frequently reduce women to a series of physical attributes. “I lay you down/ Right here in the shallows/ I watch over you,” he sings on “A Thousand Knives”, a dark lullaby of tenderly picked acoustic guitar and diaphanous backing harmonies. “Come Back” opens on a forlorn hum of synths, as RY X’s grief is compounded by his half-broken whisper: “Would you still come back?” he asks. “Could your love come back if I told you so?/ Could we make it back?/ Could we make it back in our souls?” On songs such as “Your Love”, the listener is cocooned by his velvety, androgynous falsetto, heavy with reverb, and the langorous instrumentation – muted twangs of electric guitar – that seems to reach out into the fathomless dark.
RY X recorded, produced and engineered the majority of Blood Moon at his studio in Topanga, a community set deep in the Santa Monica mountains, where he lives in a similar way to his Australian upbringing. “I have this simple life that reminds me of the way I grew up, but still be surrounded by creativity and inspiration,” he says. “There’s just a joy to be found in people living in a balance, both outside of and in music and art. It’s a special thing, especially as this industry asks so much of you as an individual.” He reveled in the discipline of working through the day, breaking at sunset to wander the mountains, before returning to continue well into the night. “No one knew the record existed until very recently. It’s all been a very solo process of creation.”
One exception was the wintry “Colorblind”, which he wrote with fellow composer Ólafur Arnalds at his studio in Iceland, while in the country directing videos with their mutual friend Benjamin Hardman. “Within a few hours we’d created the bones of the song,” he says. “There’s something beautiful about that intuitive creative process; a piece we did together that felt like it belonged on the record. I love him as a composer, as an artist, and I’m glad to have his energy on this album.” Iceland also provides the setting for RY X’s stunning video for “Let You Go” (with Hardman as cinematographer), which shows him walking in solitude across one of the country’s unmistakable, magnificent black sand beaches.
Throughout his career, RY X has sought to engage in all forms of artistic expression, evidenced by sold out performances across the world, performing in hallowed spaces such as London’s Royal Albert Hall alongside orchestras and string sections, and in videos for songs such as “Beacon”, in 2017. “I feel it’s another of the ‘pure’ artforms in that it’s able to catalyse feeling,” he says. “Dance coupled with music is such a powerful experience.” That same year, he hosted an astounding performance at Berlin’s historic Konzerthaus with the German Chamber Orchestra, then, in 2018, performed at the Nobel Peace Prize in Oslo with The Acid, his collaborative project with British DJ Adam Freeland and California producer Steve Nalepa. “You have to, right?” he says, of his relentless seeking of new ways to express himself. “I could repeat myself, but the role of a true artist is to dig deep, to strip yourself of your own ideas.”
He embraced this attitude when conceiving his new album’s title. The term Blood Moon encapsulates the dichotomy of insular and outward-gazing ideas in his art. There’s something ominous about it: “It’s not a beautiful title,” RY X agrees. “Those words carry weight. It’s what love and joy and grief and pain look like.” He found himself considering his lyrics on this record, and the gravity they hold, at the same time researching the meanings behind the Blood Moon. “In indigenous culture, it marks a time of inward observation, a time not to discard the dark, but to learn about it,” he says. In not shying away from the dark, RY X has unveiled his most profound and personal work to date.