Raf Rundell has a double-edged sword for a muse. His new life as a parent has equally exposed the woes of the world and incited hope for his offsping’s future. He lays both bare on his reflective new album, ‘Stop Lying’
In a Brewer Street pub, in the heart of London’s Soho, a secluded booth offers a respite from the cold winter afternoon. There, Raf Rundell, the DJ, musician, former record label boss and one half of dance act The 2 Bears is talking about life, history, the universe and pretty much everything else. It’s a stream of consciousness that veers from hilarious to insightful. His background in various areas of the music industry makes the lifelong Londoner entertaining company.
When the conversation takes a serious turn and we discuss the political unrest around the world, the booth descends into darkness as thick cloud occludes the sun outside. This shift from an optimistic disposition to a perception overshadowed by doubt and dissatisfaction is very much the mood of his second solo album, ‘Stop Lying’, the follow-up to 2016’s ‘The Adventures Of Selfie Boy Part 1’.
Jumping from flirtatious disco and loved-up happiness to lyrical frustration and anger, it’s an album partly inspired by the joy/stress of becoming a father for the second time, and partly by his disdain for mendacious world leaders and the distortions of events created by the news media.
“The artist’s responsibility is to be honest about what’s going on around them,” says Rundell. “If I didn’t address those things in the music I was making, then I wouldn’t be honest with myself. You have to write about what you know and use the small details of the things around you to bring life to what you’re making.”
Whereas his previous material was, for the most part, happy-go-lucky dance, on ‘Stop Lying’ he paints a more complicated picture of a man in love with life, but haunted by the spectre of ageing, and the threats posed to his family by a changing world.
“The 2 Bears was all about partying and having fun, and to just make another record like that, I didn’t have it in me,” he says. “This record of scared, sentimental dad songs is the result of that. I think fathers of young kids have always been horrified with the state of the world they’re raising their babies in. I think that is one’s lot when you become a dad, but I think things are especially mad at the moment.”
The album’s intro has a recording of Rundell jangling his keys as he comes home in the early light from a night of DJing, the dawn chorus creating a counterpoint to ominous electronic tones that linger like ghosts of the evening’s excesses. It helps to illustrate the strange dichotomy of swapping one hat, that of the club DJ, for another – that of the father. Which on the face of it are two things that aren’t always the most compatible.
“But it’s the way I pay the bills,” he says.
Despite its occasionally serious themes, ‘Stop Lying’ is an infectious pop record that shows Rundell is as skilled in songcraft as his sometime 2 Bears cohort and Hot Chip man, Joe Goddard. Lead single ‘Sweet Cheeks’ is a disco-funk burner with a sterling vocal from singer Jovis (“He sings a brilliant falsetto and he looks great in a pair of leggings,” says Rundell) and a bassline in love with The Clash’s ‘The Magnificent Seven’. ‘Every Morning’, meanwhile, is a mid-tempo disco song dedicated to the joy of fatherhood, with a heartfelt vocal from Rundell himself, while ‘Kinder Nature’ marries melancholy post-punk guitar with synth bass, and is decorated with intricate bleeps and counter riffs, with a message of empathy at its centre.
These accessible songs seem some distance from what Rundell does as a club DJ, playing credible-though-anonymous house and techno, but as he explains, he sees great value in the function of pop.
“Music exists in context,” he reasons. “As a DJ, you tend to learn what fits the moment, or at least you try to be sensitive to it. There’s always a moment for a good pop record with a daft lyric and a fun beat, so you get something like ‘Sweet Cheeks’, or a sentimental love song that’s quite simple and straightforward. I believe in pop music as a force for good.”
The record’s clear high point and the track that will be of most interest to Electronic Sound readers is the excellent ‘Falling Out’, a zinging neon slice of 1980s-style synthpop that should electrify fans of Yazoo and Pet Shop Boys’ greatest early material. Made in collaboration with house producer Riton, it’s perhaps the best thing Rundell has created so far.
“I had an idea that I wanted it to be a bit like Pet Shop Boys’ ‘Paninaro’. It’s like New Order as well, those kinds of sounds, and Chicago house.”
Its lyrics concern the breakdown of a friendship after a night out, and the ways in which sometimes it’s better to sever a relationship rather than keep it going for the sake of it.
“It’s from a personal experience, falling out with an old friend,” says Rundell. “You drift apart, don’t you? That lyric is about how people stay in relationships long after they cease to be real or healthy. I think you see it more as you grow older. You have these very tight groups of friends when you’re younger, and there are people who are desperate to keep them alive, but it’s alright to let it go sometimes.
“The time that we spent is always going to be a thing that we had, but it doesn’t mean that you haven’t completely pissed me off and shown a side of yourself that I don’t want to be around anymore. It’s like Ivor Cutler said, ‘If everybody liked everybody there’d be nobody left for anyone else’. It’s a bit narky that tune, but it provided some musical inspiration.”
The sleeve of ‘Stop Lying’ depicts Rundell against a modern-day Hieronymus Bosch nightmare-scape, where, as well as devils with mirrorball heads carrying off clubbers with bottles of alcohol spilling from their hands (perhaps an allusion to the dangers of too much partying), there are demonic figures with computer screens for faces. The online world of social media misrepresentation, not to mention screen addiction, is something he sees as a problem, but Rundell knows that the internet could be used as a positive movement too, and talks about it with characteristic wit.
“The internet looks like freedom on one level, but is a form of intellectual slavery on another,” he says. “A screen is a symbol; it’s our way of viewing the world in a lot of ways. Part of my hope is that we’ll discover what the internet is for at some point, and that will be some massive fantastic unifying force. The Arab Spring was like that. In 200 years, will people look back and say, ‘It was all just wanking and looking at pictures of cats, like some sort of caveman’, before the real thing is revealed? I am hopeful about it. Our generation has a responsibility as parents to figure it out. We can all help each other in that way. There are so many things that the internet is brilliant for. It still isn’t completely sewn up yet.”
Rundell started in the music business working for Matthew Herbert’s Accidental Records. In 2006, he set up 1965 Records with James Endeacott, who’d worked for Rough Trade and signed The Libertines. Run as a joint label deal with Columbia, 1965 had great success with Scottish guitar band The View.
“We had a right old time for a few years, but the credit crunch happened while we had a few records in production,” recalls Rundell. He met Joe Goddard at one of Hot Chip’s Greco-Roman club nights, and began to collaborate with him. It wasn’t until 2010 though that The 2 Bears released their first record, the ‘Curious Nature’ EP, which featured a cover of The Fun Boy Three’s ‘The Lunatics (Have Taken Over The Asylum)’. Two albums followed, and the band gained popularity, but as a solo artist and a singer, Rundell has been something of a late bloomer. He only decided to make his own material when Goddard was tied up recording with Hot Chip.
“Now you can’t shut me up,” he laughs. “It was something I had to get out of my system. Now I’m fronting a band and my mother thinks I’m completely ridiculous. It’s a thing I’ve grown more confident with through doing it and being encouraged by the success of The 2 Bears, and a lot of my musical friends around me.”
He loves making music, particularly singing, and his vocals have a beguiling mellow flavour it’s hard not to warm to.
“I really enjoy singing, very selfishly, as a physical thing to do as much as anything else,” he says. “Singing in harmony with people is one of life’s great pleasures. It’s a vibe, when you get it happening there’s something in the room that wasn’t there before and it’s more than the sum of its parts. It can be golden.”
In addition to his solo material, Rundell is still part of The 2 Bears. They released a new EP at the end of 2017, one track of which, in typically irreverent style, samples late rapper Ol’ Dirty Bastard sending a shoutout to London. He also has his weekday Morning Glory show on Soho Radio with his former label cohort, James Endeacott. Clearly more musical adventures beckon, though if Rundell is to be believed, fewer (very) late nights.
“I’m trying to find another way of feeding my kids that doesn’t involve me having to be in a nightclub every weekend,” he grins.
‘Stop Lying’ is out on 1965