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Climb Every Mountain

Ryan McPhun is an American living in New Zealand. He moved there five years ago and as you can imagine, his accent is a bit strange.
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Photo by Jo Galvin

Ryan McPhun is an American living in New Zealand. He moved there five years ago and as you can imagine, his accent is a bit strange. Along with native kiwis Amee Robinson and Imogen Taylor, Ryan is in a band called the Ruby Suns. They’ve just released their second album,

Sea Lion

, which sounds exactly like the idea of ditching school with a vanful of your friends and stealing away to the coast for a sunny weekend of stoned freedom. The idea of it, not the reality where you got pulled over a block away from the beach and the cop found the bag of mushrooms in Craig’s backpack and you all spent the entire day in the tiny beach-town police station trying to skirt the blame until Craig finally bit the bullet and you had to wait another three hours until his parents got there to deal with everything. Just the idea.


Vice: What’s a sea lion? [note: This interview was conducted by an Australian who claimed that no Aussie has ever heard or used the term “sea lion.” We know what a fucking sea lion is and are frankly appalled that this knowledge has somehow bypassed an entire continent of supposed English speakers.]


It’s kind of hard to describe. It’s bigger than a seal or a sea otter but probably closer to the size of a walrus seal. It’s like a big seal but it’s got this weird, big thing on its head. I guess that’s why they call them sea lions rather than seals. Cause they’ve got funny boofy bits on their heads.

So why’d you call your album Sea Lion?

Good question. I think that I’m just really into animals in general. I’m pretty inspired by doing road trips and travelling and things like that and one of the places that I really enjoyed was a seal colony.

Do you have a favorite animal?

I don’t have any favorites, I love them all.

OK, how about pets?

I have a cat called Wings.

As in the Linda McCartney band?

He’s called that mostly because he has little wings coming off of his eyes. He’s a tabby cat and a lot of tabby cats have those wings but his are just really pronounced. Plus Wings is a great band.

So you used to have a revolving line-up but now there’s only three of you, right?

Yeah it has been a bigger band. For a while we were an eight piece but we couldn’t ever tour that. Most of the times we’ve toured overseas we’ve been a four or a five piece but we’re a three piece now, for a couple of different reasons but mostly to try something different. We’re using a lot more samplers and a little bit of a backing track.


You sing a song in Maori. What are you singing about?

I was singing about this tree, Tane Mahuta. The lyrics are really, really basic. It’s kinda nonsense about a tree basically.

Right, so along with animals you’re really into nature?

I didn’t hear most of what you said. I’m driving up a hill right now. I think that when I get to the top of the hill I’ll be all right. Ok, yes, I like animals, nature, travelling, outdoors, that sort of crap.

Coming from California and producing fairly sunshine-oriented, good vibes music what’s your opinion of the Beach Boys?

I think a lot of my foundation, I don’t know about songwriting, but a lot of the harmonic stuff I do is inspired by the Beach Boys. I was pretty obsessed with them for a few years and so I was wanting to make really Beach Boys sounding music. I think it’s still an influence on me. Funnily enough I don’t think it has anything to do with me being from California, although that’s always mentioned in press releases and stuff. I got into the Beach Boys when I moved to New Zealand. The people that I met there, like Jonathan from the Brunettes and my friend Scott from another band the Tokey Tones, were totally into the Beach Boys. I had Beach Boys buddies to be nerdy with and talk about: “did you hear this demo from fucking ’73?”.


Sea Lion

is out now through Popfrenzy