Where in the world is RY X? It’s a question you might ask not because the Australian-born songwriter and producer has a reputation for being elusive, but on account of the worldly image the artist also known as Ry Cuming has cultivated across his decade-plus music career.
Cuming grew up in Angourie, New South Wales, a 90-minute drive down the coast from Byron Bay. He moved to Los Angeles and released his debut solo album, Ry Cuming, in 2010. Seeking a change of direction, Cuming relocated to Berlin and immersed himself in underground club culture.
The city directly inspired Cuming’s first release under the RY X banner, 2013’s four-track EP Berlin. Nine years later, RY X maintains a close connection to Western Europe, which is home to his most avid support base.
The first two RY X albums, Dawn (2016) and Unfurl (2019), established Cuming as a tender-hearted songwriter with an emotive high register and a knack for merging the acoustic with the electronic. RY X’s new album, Blood Moon, continues along this path, alternately gesturing towards the dancefloor and the confessional.
When Tone Deaf speaks to Cuming through Zoom, he’s enjoying a short stay in Hawaii. “I just flew back from Morocco over to the islands here to be with some of my dear friends for their wedding and then I’m back on tour,” he says. “I played some very special little intimate live shows in the Atlas Mountains outside of Marrakech.”
Blood Moon came out on Friday, 17th June, the same day that Drake released Honestly, Nevermind. It was a dual celebration for RY X, who co-wrote and co-produced the Honestly, Nevermind track “Sticky”.
Producer Diamanté Blackmon—better known as DJ Carnage or Gordo—instigated the “Sticky” collaboration. “Gordo was working on about half the record with Drake,” says Cuming. “He just phone called me out of the blue and said, ‘Look, I’m in the studio working with Drake this week. I played him your stuff, he really digs it—have you got anything that we might be able to start working with?’”
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Cuming dug through the Blood Moon archives and pulled apart and reconstructed some demo recordings with Drake in mind. He sent a few things to Gordo, who immediately latched onto the idea that ended up being “Sticky”.
Cuming didn’t hear the mastered version of “Sticky” until Honestly, Nevermind came out. “Because it’s a Drake record, they’re not going to send you the file ‘cause it might leak,” he says. “So I was in Marrakech and they’re calling me going, ‘Hey, record’s done.’ It all just finished up right before it went on the album.”
His thoughts? “It feels great to be a part of it,” he says. “It’s a humbling, wonderful moment—he’s a generational artist.”
Cuming has previously appeared on tracks by Diplo, ODESZA, Duke Dumont, and Black Coffee, and was commissioned to remix Rihanna’s “Love on the Brain”. Though, he doesn’t advertise himself as a gun for hire.
“People that have reached out to me over the years, they kind of come to me in a trusting way of wanting a bit of my energy as part of their creation,” he says. “I’m not really trying to get in any doors.”
In contrast to RY X’s high-profile collaborations, several songs on Blood Moon have the makings of conventional folk songs or singer-songwriter music. Cuming worked on the album with a range of co-writers, including Frank Wiedemann (“Your Love”), Eric Price (“Let You Go”, “Come Back”), Rampa (“Borderline”), Niklas Paschburg (“Spiral”), and Gene Evaro Jr (“Dark Room Dancing”).
Icelandic ambient electronic producer, Ólafur Arnalds, features on the track “Colorblind”.
Acoustic guitar is present throughout the album, while most tracks gain a subtle layering of electronic detail as they progress. Cuming acknowledges the traditional bent to his songwriting but points out a significant way in which he evades pop convention.
“It’s almost like I try to make them even more simple,” he says. “If you were to really analyse the material, it’s often a chorus sung over the same chords as a verse. So it’s almost more hymn-ish, it’s almost more mantra-ish, where you’re in repetition of this chordal structure and what that does is very different; there’s a subtlety to it.”
This divergent tendency was informed by Cuming’s background and is reflected in his own taste in music. “I come from a lineage of underground house and techno music in Berlin ten years ago,” he says. “I come from a lineage of growing up in Byron and Angourie and folk music and ambient music. I mainly listen to neoclassical music and African music and things that are nonlinear in terms of structure.”
The tour behind RY X’s previous studio album, 2019’s Unfurl, included a performance at London’s Royal Albert Hall, where he was joined by the London Contemporary Orchestra. The landmark performance is captured on the album, Live from the Royal Albert Hall, which RY X released in 2021.
Cuming also shared a five-minute behind-the-scenes documentary recapping the experience, in which he speaks of his desire to make music that stands the test of time. “I love the idea of making music that in ten years or 20 years you put on and it still has the same relevance,” Cuming says in the film.
This principle underpins not just the material that appears on Blood Moon, but also Cuming’s collaborative work. “If I’m going to contribute something, I want it to be from an honest place inside myself,” he says. “For me, as an artist, it’s about retaining a sense of purity and gravity in what I’m doing.”