Search The Line of Best Fit
Search The Line of Best Fit
Ryx landscape

RY X on spirit, communion and the human experience

14 June 2022, 08:00
Original Photography by Clifford Usher

“What is professional? There is no professional,” says Ry Cuming, as a smile of humility creeps across his face. “I’m here, barefoot with sand on my feet, sitting on the floor in my house having a beautiful conversation of heart, spirit, sensuality, passion and shadow. How could that be professional!”

“Everything I do is professional because it's personal, because it's authentic, and because it's of the heart. What I’m doing is just walking that path and the professionalism is me showing up,” he continues. “I don't want to go into a rehearsal room today, tomorrow, or any day – trust me, I don't want to do that – but I get to, and I'm grateful that I get to be disciplined and give [to others] in that professional way. But it's all personal – this is my life. I'm sharing my life and my heart with people, and nothing can get more personal than that.”

I’m intrigued by the ways in which Cuming is able to find balance. The short answer is that – quite often – he doesn’t. As somebody who has denuded himself in his songwriting over the past nine years whilst performing as RY X, the Australian-born and LA-based polymath has found that pouring every part of himself into his craft has permeated his entire world with a sense of magic and connectivity. Is he Ry Cuming the person who is enamoured by nature and harmony or is he RY X the musician who is a conduit for catharsis? In his mind, all of these things coexist without a second thought. One of his sole desires to wake up every day and work on creating art and facilitating spaces that are able to catalyse people moving inward.

Cuming is the kind of person who believes that anybody can be an artist if they work on their discipline and actually show up for their craft rather than waiting for the magic to come to them. “I could just go surfing and hang out in my beautiful yard, make some music, chill and have friends over, or I can say, ‘Let’s go. Let’s pour into this and make something amazing,” he explains, revealing that the quote he lives by, which keeps himself grounded is: “With complete discipline comes complete freedom”.

Searching for spirit and turning his gaze inward is something that comes almost as naturally to Cuming as breathing. He grew up on a permaculture farm in New South Wales, Australia, and his mother, who had been teaching yoga for 45 years taught him to meditate when he was around four years old. “When I’ve gone through challenging times in my life, I tend to turn to spirituality. I had a very disciplined practice in yoga and meditation for years,” he explains. “I took refuge with certain meditation or Buddhist lineage teachers and I studied quite devoutly in those forms. Within my community and my bubble, spirituality is just a part of normal conversation; it’s a word that is concurrent with everything.”

But Cuming doesn’t want you to think that he’s only talking about the “yogic conscious mentality” when he mentions that his entire life being imbued with spirit. “It transcends religion and all of those things,” he begins. “Spirit lives everywhere. When you’re making love, spirit is there. They’re not two different conversations – it’s all wrapped up together. When you’re listening to hard techno in Berlin, that’s spirit! When I have dance parties here at my house and we’re all sweaty – that’s spirit.” In fact, Cuming tells me that just days before we’re speaking via Zoom, from his home in Topanga Canyon, Los Angeles, he had hosted a party for his birthday and experienced an evening full of beauty and abundance.

Between cuddle puddles, candles dripping on table tops, skies full of stars and the shadows cast from the light of a burning fire in his living room, Cuming and his friends shared a moment of quiet before sitting down to eat together. It was the perfect moment for reflection, and for a speech. “This is what abundance looks like. This is what beautiful choices look like. This is what being in alignment looks like. When we start living a life from our hearts with intention, we create beauty and abundance all around us. We’re not fucking stuff up,” he says, becoming animated as he recounts his former lives. “I’ve played the bad boy, I’ve played all the archetypes. I have criminal record in the US – I've done so much stuff, it's a vast expanse including all of my time living in Berlin being in underground club scenes and performance art… It’s not like I sit here and meditate all day. It's the fact that I realised that by making like, conscious, beautiful choices, it creates a beautiful life. And like choosing to live that and choosing to put that in the work and choosing to be intentional with that every day is consciousness.”

Throughout RY X’s expansive library of songs is a common thread. It evokes a feeling of reflection which is difficult to put into words. In fact, it could even be said that this space and the silence that sits within the music is the thread itself. His lead single “Berlin” which was released on the synonymous EP invites the listener into a frosty world of sadness and longing. His voice seems to hang onto the words he sings, unable to truly let them go, but when he eventually does, it feels as though there is a huge void to be filled. Even with “Shortline” – the second song on the EP which also features on his debut album Dawn – the final two minutes are of RY X gradually losing himself to a gristly guitar riff which builds in intensity, almost lending itself to that feeling you get when you sit in your thoughts for too long. It’s a challenging place to be in, but you’re often grateful to both experience them, and let those feelings go once they’re ready to pass.

RY X’s music contains an ethereality which is never truly done justice when duplicating the studio recordings into a live setting. Quite often when he’s performing, the songs will take on a life of their own. His desire to feed off the energy of the evening means that all of his shows are decidedly unpredictable (“It’s about building a relationship with the people in the room, feeling the energy in the room, and the songs will lead”). For example, if you were to Google “Sweat”, one of the staples in his live set, you’ll find versions ranging in length from seven minutes and nine minutes, to an unbelievable eleven minutes. Whilst it may be incomprehensive to think of how a song can have such a range without seeming repetitive or overkill, it’s RY X’s grasp on silence and dynamics which avoids this.

“When I’m playing with an orchestra, there is so much negative space in the sound and there's so much space in the room. When I’m doing those things, it's a deeper experience for myself and for the people in the room. I will always give in to whatever gets it there,” he says. You know, I definitely go above and beyond to make those experiences feel incredibly special for the people there – I'm really dedicated to that.” Whether playing in cathedrals, abandoned industrial buildings, the Notre Dame or in the mouth of a cave in an Icelandic fjörd, RY X is on a mission to cultivate unique experiences for listeners who are searching for something more than your typical pop star can offer these days.

I ask about his relationship with silence; RY X tells me that it’s bigger than he would probably admit: "Asking yourself that question in life, ‘What happens if I don't fill the void? In a conversation’ or ‘What happens if I don't say something just because I'm nervous, and I want to fill the space’, You’ll probably feel the relationship with the person in front of you drop deeper. You learn a lot about each other in that silence and you learn a lot about the world by not having to fill all of the negative space. I think that's where we grow the most, both spiritually and emotionally, is in the uncomfortable places where we're not grasping at safety.” By pushing boundaries both inwards and outwards, RY X is leaning into a life that gets to the heart of what it means to be human. The simple things, the primal experiences, the tangibility of it all.

“I realised when I start travelling just how different what I'm doing is. Even down to the fact that my audience is a completely silent when I play shows. I forget how different it is because I'm inside of it. Then I go out to a normal show and I'm like, ‘Oh shit, this is like a completely different universe to what I'm doing.’ I’m trying to create a deeper experience which carries a lot more gravity so that it almost feels it’s a fringe on music. As if it’s between two worlds like an immersive art spiritual experience and then a music show.”

“I’m not thinking about the people that are in front of me, in my experience on stage. I close my eyes probably half – maybe more – of the set. It’s not about performance, it’s the opposite. It’s about producing songs and singing them in a way that is deeply authentic, where people are witnessing your experience as you connect to something else rather than you performing to them,” Cumming explains. Often collaborating with sound artists and visual artists for his live performances, he seeks to amplify the experience from that of a regular gig, by tapping into his primal side. “If you can get into a primal space, what that also means is you're getting into an intuitive space, where the cerebral mind isn't doing as much of the leading,” he says.

Primal, sensual energy is something that has always been prevalent in Cuming's songwriting. It takes on a carnal form between songs such as “Only” and “Howling” from Dawn, through to “Bound” and “Body Sun” on its follow-up, Unfurl, and this is something that he puts down to his love of the divine feminine. “It’s hard to say those words because sometimes they get misconstrued, but the feminine for me is very much something that I look up to – it’s a muse for me,” says. “This deep love of the sensual and the deep love of the feminine… What is more spiritual? What is more beautiful than that connectivity between lovers? My life is imbued with sensuality, not just in a sexual way more in the sense that there are flowers all around me right now, there are candles and everything's made out of beautiful things, between sound, smell, light, texture. These are the ways that I choose to live my life – through the human senses, in a sensual experience.”

Running on instincts and chasing a more intuitive, primal side of creation was at the core during the making of his third studio album Blood Moon. It’s the celebration of the dawn after dusk and a reminder that no matter the form in which it comes, spirit and love are what keep us ticking along. Sometimes we may find ourselves in cyclical situations that aren’t serving us, and sometimes we’re the ones unwilling to leave a situation because we have succumbed to fear: “Love is such a core part of the way that I experience the world as a man and so it's naturally going to bleed into my well of work," Cuming tells me. "I think within the context of having these conversations in a relationship, it's also conversation with the divine in a way, right? It’s taking away the emblem of just being one person and having that conversation more with spirit as well. I feel like through the process of having those those dialogues in an intimate way in your art, does break open into universality.”

Aware that the deeper he goes into himself likely means the more wide-reaching his music will be, Cuming thinks of Blood Moon as a beautiful reset from the last seven years of touring other projects. Written and recorded during lockdown at his home in Topanga Canyon, it was a period of time where he felt as though he was able, “to recenter and re-explore some themes to do with spirit and also with a healthy amount of existentialism awareness. Then from that place, you can see how beautiful life is and how important your connection to nature and love is. If you go into the shadow and you swim deep, it cracks into this beauty. Blood Moon is a representation of the wide scale of things that I was exploring from both a vulnerable emotional place but also a spiritual place.”

"It’s part of my role as an artist to delve into that place and to share vulnerability in the alpha masculine form."

RY X was in a “closed container of creation” during the making of Blood Moon as he wrote, recorded, and produced it from start to finish. This allowed a certain kind of freedom as he had no idea what the outcome was going to be. “I was trusting my instincts and trusting the primal nature of being a producer – not being afraid of changing things and breaking norms,” he explains. “I think a lot of artists, especially in the context of algorithms, Spotify and Apple where you get a certain sound and you have to keep it because it keeps you on playlists and keeps the numbers working, there’s a certain model that works for them but I don’t really give a shit about that…

“The truth is, I don’t feel like I need to be on stage in front of people. I really do it more as an act of service as weird as that might sound, it’s about being able to to go out and be there for people to have that experience. It's not for me to share the work and to be adored – that part's actually quite challenging for me – I'd much prefer the idea of it being out there to catalyse and to create, you know, a change in people's hearts and lives somehow,” says Cuming. Where Unfurl analysed the beauty in nature and how that translates to your relationship with other humans, Blood Moon turns the gaze inwards.

“Does anybody know where they go when they die / You’re the one I want this close / You’re the one I can’t deny”, sings Cuming on “Let You Go”. It’s as though he’s calling into the night at a higher power, praying for salvation from the dangerous grip of loving somebody so much that you’d do anything for them, maybe even die for them. There’s an uncomfortable level of vulnerability that occasionally resides in the songs, and it’s in these moments that you can understand why Cuming doesn’t want to perform the songs for people as opposed to being the catalyst for them experiencing their own feelings.

Where “Borderline” and “Dark Room Dancing” follow the carnal thread of lyricism, both “Hurt” and “Come Back” are quite obvious questions of the spirit. Between the cracks in his voice and the whispers which fade to silences, Cuming has created a partnership of songs which seamlessly transition into the other, carrying similar messages but each one being more of a gut-wrenching listen than the other. Despite the uncomfortability that can come from being so honest and vulnerable, Cuming feels as though it’s his responsibility to do so. “It’s part of my role as an artist to delve into that place and to share vulnerability in the alpha masculine form. What does vulnerability look like? What does sharing the soul on a deep level look and feel like?”

These are the questions that RY X has sought to answer since he began putting pen to paper. As challenging as it is to face such transcendental musings, the challenge makes Cuming want to “swim deeper into that place”. He is more than aware that he could write bangers for people to dance and scream along to – which, of course, would be fun and which he can explore in The Acid and occasionally Howling – but he says, “at the end of the day, if it’s not truly serving other people, it doesn’t matter as much. If every song was like ‘Come Back’ and ‘Hurt’ we’d all be in puddles on the floor. Life isn’t like that. It’s a beautiful journey with a wide range and it’s how we accept and approach the vast experience of the heart.”

In a world that increasingly becomes more fast paced and digitised than ever before, it’s somewhat of a relief to know that there are still artists out there who are focused on making tangible experiences that truly get to the heart of what it is to be human, as well as having a positive effect on someone’s life. We’re all susceptible to a little vulnerability, and it takes a great deal of trust to be able to invite someone into your life in those moments – whether it’s a friend with a shoulder to cry to, or a song that makes you feel less alone.

Once RY X realised that he only needed to pour into that place in himself in order to make authentic art, he found a sense of power. “Acknowledging that and giving into it rather than seeing an avenue of success and trying to chase that, was powerful. It's doing the opposite and saying, ‘I'm gonna make work that resonates for me and give it to the people.’ That’s the relationship I have and I treasure every person that listens and every person who is engaged, because it's such a deeper relationship,” he says. “I don't have a lot of people that are passively listening. They're there, and they're present with me. That comes from a really beautiful relationship of trust and communion together. It’s been a powerful journey to learn that and to give myself permission to be in that state of vulnerability as well as permission to make work that's deeply personal, because I’ve learnt that it can resonate with people all over the world in that form.”

Blood Moon is released digitally on 17 June via BMG, and physically on 26 August
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