Australian musician Ry Cuming, better known by his stage name, Ry X, is a rare blend. A curator of sound and stage, philosopher, trans-genre musician, surfer and yogi, Cuming wields creative prowess and a well-developed consciousness for the incorporeal. He’s a holy man, in a sense, worshiping at the altar of ethos and expression. His priesthood is carried out alone and also with his collaborators in two other bands, Howling and The Acid.
When we speak, he shares with openness and warmth, and delves into subterranean thought waters with little provocation. I sense Cuming is not fond of the mundane. Maybe the music man would say something here about duality and everything serving a purpose but let us not assume on his behalf, since the things he says can surprise. His words carry resonance, much like his music.
Ry X’s 2016 album, Dawn, released this Spring, conjures the rapturous and intimate parts of our psyches. Dawn is a well-received solo work, but Ry X also enjoys the exploration of collaborating with his band mates, Steve Nalepa and DJ Adam Freeland of The Acid, and Frank Wiedemann of Howling.
“There are really no limitations there. At times I’ve had to fight against myself in thinking that there are limitations and that I should keep things separate. We all know each other. Frank and I are very much brothers and I introduced him to The Acid boys, Adam and Steve. It’s not so much about what the boundaries are as much as what the inspiration is. Having limitations is something that I really try not to do, hence having three projects and working on film scores, and different kinds of things. It allows a lot of types of expression, and that’s important to me at the moment. Frank is well versed in music. He can make music in any style and pulls from so many different influences. Frank is a purist with infinite possibility and that’s something I’ve come to love. You can sample the sound of you hitting a table or wildlife outside and that turns into something that very much belongs in a category. Growing up in Byron and that sense of freedom with controlled anarchy is different from the German approach Frank brings, which is more controlled, so I can bring a freedom, and sense of spirituality to the work. We’re alpha males and we each bring a level of strength to the table. It takes a balance of humility and exploration in order to hear each other out and this creates a wonderful world of allowing freedom without stepping on toes. We get prescribed to certain genres but we don’t belong in any one genre. And I think that’s a beautiful thing, to be able to explore a lot of different soundscapes and bring traditional, millennia year old instruments into the fray, for example, I think there’s beauty to that, and importance to that.”
Cuming moves from intuition, and speaks on the difference between an idea and a reality when it comes to creating music, and on regrouping when hitting blocks. “The difference between wanting to be a good artist and becoming a good artist is the ability to push through boundaries during those periods when things might not be clicking. For me it takes a balance of strength and meditation to know when to pull the plug on something," he says. "There will be times when you have an idea and go into a studio or maybe in a live context or a video, and it’s just not happening. I’ve learned that sometimes instead of pushing through with that one shot in the video, or that one sound, to continue to trust the intuition that says something’s not right. And ultimately, there has to be trust around you when you make those calls.”
In the protecting of his pure, Australian island boy inner self he says, “It’s a balance of knowing how to hold what’s sacred and pure close to the heart. Following your intuition and surrounding yourself with the people who respect that, the community around you can help you uphold that. So it’s not so much about protection as it is letting that out, choosing to be vulnerable and to show the strength in that- to not have to walk on stage and put a persona on, to not walk into walk into a studio in order to make something successful but to explore what’s in the heart. That’s much more relevant to me.”
Cuming prefers to use the term “community” when referring to his fans because he sees what he does as more of a reciprocal exchange with the people who listen to his music. He maintains that when he makes music from his heart, people resonate with it, and the term “fan” creates a hierarchy he’s uncomfortable with.
When I asked about the mechanics of embracing limitation and loving the self he muses, “In all great teachings by people, or the work I’ve done in meditation or spiritual practice, having a consistent practice in something is grounding in the interest of equanimity and helping the artist push past limitations. To be non-reactionary is kind of impossible; to be less reactionary is more realistic. Also, when something incredibly beautiful is happening in your life, to also understand the impermanence of that. When you feel fucking shitty, taking a breath and not judging yourself, accepting undulation and maintaining a sense of brevity of both situations. You can take this in a spiritual way or take someone like Charles Bukowski, who drank and wasn’t so spiritual, some see his work as misogynist or incredibly sexual; he said sometimes you just feel shitty and have to stay in bed for a few days. And after you feel better. I’ve noticed something after coming into this period of my life as an artist over the last 10 years. If you look at a Bjork, or a Kelly Slater in the surfing world, or whatever the references are, someone who’s been doing it a long time; once some magic has happened in your life and a foundation has been created, you do then have to work hard to stay making relevant work, or to stay competing at a high level. Whatever world you want to look at, they key is following your heart and trusting yourself, but when opportunity does arise, to jump on it you have to be good and you have to be ready to do the work. I could conceptualize a million different art projects and albums but to go and make them is a very different reality.”
Cuming is also a curator of the stage, investing time and great interest in choosing venues himself, feeling out the space and researching the history of the venues. He will buy hundreds of candles and fresh flowers to create space for transcendence. This is as much an art for him as making music and music videos, and a chance to fully experience the process of crafting live shows. The ocean is a foundational theme for Cuming, as is traveling and allowing geography to shape who he has become.
Cuming’s decision to shape the stage also extends to his personal life. He once mentioned once making a conscious decision to avoid looking in the mirror for six months. Mirrorship itself is a strong theme in Cuming’s life.
“In terms of mirrorship, other people you’re close to can mirror aspects of yourself and force you to uphold a level integrity in yourself without saying a word. I think this is powerful and one aspect. The other is as human beings, we’re all the same and have the same needs. When you choose to see everyone as a mirror, it allows for so much more compassion to stay in your truest heart. That’s the key right there.”
Humility and the strength of character enough to live with an open heart are the things that Cuming strives to hit in art and in life. And with such strong ideals and aesthetic in every aspect of both, he is sure to keep his “community” growing for a long time to come.