Born Ruffians turn up the pop

In Concert

Born Ruffians with the Elwins

When: Tuesday, 8 p.m.

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Where: Lucky Bar (517 Yates St.)

Tickets: $18 at Lyle’s Place, Ditch Records, and ticketweb.ca

Born Ruffians singer-guitarist Luke Lalonde never wants to take the easy way out. In fact, he’s happy to encounter some resistance, especially if it means his band is better for having been to battle.

Lalonde hasn’t had to fight very often during his seven years at the helm of the group, which arrived in 2006 almost out of nowhere. While life hasn’t exactly been a breeze for the band, Lalonde admits he has yet to be fully put through the wringer.

Fairly soon after moving to Toronto from Midland, Ont., the band signed a deal to release Born Ruffians records on XL in the U.K. and Warp Records in North America.

The band’s first two records, 2008’s Red, Yellow & Blue and 2010’s Say It, were both expertly crafted and well received. There was one major problem, though. Lalonde couldn’t help but feel that the group would have fared better had someone in a position of authority been pushing them around.

“We’ve never had a label that really breathes down our necks,” Lalonde said. “It is a good and bad thing, in some ways. [Labels] have never really been involved. We always just do what we want to do, basically. But sometimes, I thought we could have used someone, even as a bad guy. Sometimes you need someone to rebel against. But people just let us do what we do.”

Lalonde and his bandmates Mitch Derosier (bass), Andy Lloyd (guitar/keyboard) and Steven Hamelin (drums) encountered little resistance during the recording of Birthmarks, their third album. There was one big difference this time out, though, according to Lalonde.

The group held itself accountable at every turn. They spent the necessary time on all facets of the production, which resulted in their poppiest, lushest-sounding album to date.

The record arrives April 16 on Paper Bag Records in Canada and Yep Roc Records in the U.S., new business arrangements that should raise the band’s profile as it prepares for one of its busiest years yet.

For Lalonde, the best part is having a record he is truly proud of promoting. The group had the luxury of time while recording Birthmarks; he never felt any self-imposed pressure to “get it done,” as they had on Say It.

“It wasn’t that I hated Say It; it was that I was disappointed. We ran out of time and money. Those songs needed a little more time.”

Lalonde said the band wanted to “get microscopic” on parts of Birthmarks. The difference is immediately apparent in the dense production throughout the record.

By shedding their expectations of what the group should sound like, Born Ruffians flat out got better, Lalonde said.

“The initial MO for the record, very broadly, was to make it more of a studio record. Bigger, more relevant, production-wise. If we have a song on the radio, it’s not going to sound out of place.”

Concert versions of Birthmarks tracks won’t have some of those textured elements when the band heads out on the road.

But the tour that brings the group to Lucky Bar on Tuesday won’t be short on energy, Lalonde said. The upside of stripping away the studio sheen from the new material is that they “are a little more rock ’n’ roll, a little louder and more energetic” in a live setting.

That’s good news for fans of the band. The downside of its upcoming tour is the timing of the trek: All 13 of its upcoming dates will be over and done with before the record is out in stores. Lalonde knows the band will have to bring fans up to speed on the new material, but he’s up for the challenge.

“We’ve been taking that into account,” he said. “We’ve done it before, thinking a record was going to come out, but the tour is booked and the record isn’t out. I know when I go to a show, if a band plays a new song, you just stand and listen to it. From a band’s perspective, that’s kind of bad because the crowd has dipped into sleepy time. We know they are still engaged. They are just listening.”

Fans paying close attention to Birthmarks will notice a slightly adapted Born Ruffians sound, one that puts an emphasis on syncopation and sunnier melodies. On some tunes, it’s like the group is bridging the gap between Paul Simon and Talking Heads.

That’s in contrast to its earlier, more rugged indie rock, but Lalonde knows the core audience will be along for the ride.

“We were fixated on writing catchy songs. We were trying to write choruses that had hooks, as opposed to a spacey song that didn’t go anywhere. It was centred on a pop-music mentality, and often, that comes down to rhythm — a backbeat or whatever.”

mdevlin@timescolonist.com

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