Three years since the release of his last album, 2019's Unfurl, Ry Cuming (aka RY X) is today returning with his latest album, a breathtaking new project called Blood Moon.
And while we dubbed that record "13 perfect tracks," this new LP embraces imperfection, finding beauty in some of life's most intimate moments, and letting listeners into such private spaces otherwise kept closely guarded. But for Cuming, that seemed to be the guiding light as he made this record.
"I feel like it belonged to something bigger than just me," he says, speaking with Variance from Morocco just days before the album's release.
For a singer long known for crafting such intense, emotional work, this new record is some of his most ambitious, testing even the outer ranges of his own abilities while showcasing some of the most intricate, tender moments between lovers, one of which happens to be Cuming himself.
"This was really the child of my time in closeness to myself, in close proximity to my feelings and my own experience," explains Cuming, revealing he began work on this record during the pandemic. And while he mostly felt at peace in the midst of the global health crisis, he says spending so much time with himself, candid and unvarnished, he was allowed to examine his life and his relationships in ways he hadn't before.
"It allowed for a lot of inward exploration and there was like a quietness in the world at large, and I think that allowed for a much deeper excavating into emotional, spiritual existential spaces," he says.
Cuming has long acknowledged this sort of deeper experience which surrounds much of his music. It's part of what makes his live performances feel like something greater than a concert, and he recognizes this.
"It's not quite like going to a show," he says of the experience when he and the audience are in the same space. "It feels like there's more of a container, more of a sacredness, more the importance, more gravity with it. And that's both incredibly beautiful and challenging at the same time."
Perhaps not coincidentally, Cuming released his Live from the Royal Albert Hall album last year, in the middle of a time of such uncertainty, when live events were largely on hold, as many in Europe and much of the Western world were still feeling isolated and concerned about the future, due to the effects of the pandemic and the associated lockdowns.
"I feel like as a live artist, the work—it expands and starts to transcend some of the recorded material," he shares. "A live recording is always very different from being in the space, being in the room, but I wanted to begin to share that ... Especially at a time when people couldn't have that human experience as much."
He adds: "There's a fallibility to the live experience, when you don't know if an artist is going to make it to the next note. You don't know if it's all going to fall apart. It's so human. And when I make music live on stage, there's no computers running during those shows. There's no backing tracks. It's raw. It's happening, right there. It felt poignant to share."
While this new album is reflective of an artist who has grown, who has expanded his songwriting and production skills, the greatest change between Unfurl and now seems to be a greater awareness of self and a confidence in himself as an individual.
"This is a record about continuing to challenge myself and explore, emotional and sonically," says Cuming. "That's the role of an artist. If you're going to do it, dig deep."
And that is exactly what Cuming has done. Noting his own sensual experience of the world, the singer says his life has been one of important "partnerships and loverships," and this album reflects those most intimate relations.
"It's not just about one person," he says. "These are micro-moments that I am sharing. It is about my relationship with love. These are moments you wouldn't tell your friends about, and yet you're writing them and recording them and sharing them with millions of people. But they're done in such a different form. In a way, it feels almost like writing all the most personal things in a diary and then publishing the diary for complete strangers."
He continues: "There's a beauty in it. There's a release point. It's about saying, 'I feel these things. I know you guys do too. Let's be in revelry of this experience together.' The lust, the passion, the challenge. Let's honor it."
Beyond his own solo work, Cuming has also been collaborating with names some fans might not have previously expected, including on Drake's surprise new album Honestly, Nevermind, which also arrived Friday with little warning. It includes the song "Sticky," which samples an unreleased RY X track Cuming had been working on with producer Carnage. Both are credited as co-producers and co-writers alongside Drake.
"He just hit me up," he recalls of the unexpected collaboration with Diplo. "I knew him, but not very at the time. He hit me up and said he wanted to do a record with me, and I like to dabble and explore," he says with a smile.
But he's careful with these "explorations," noting he sees them as almost separate from his own work.
"It's been interesting to push the boundaries," he says. "I don't do it too much because I want to keep the RY X well pretty pure. I could definitely see avenues towards success if I really wanted to take them. 'Oh, cool, I just take all these routes!' But for me, it's continuing to push that away and come back to the heartbeat of it and and continue to honor that."
No matter the format, Cuming admits it's a privilege to work with other artists and to have his work appreciated by his contemporaries. "I love jumping in with different artists and trying to bring some of my heart into their work, and there's definitely some more of that to come."
For now, the focus is getting back to what he loves, getting back to the live show, finally getting back on tour, and allowing Blood Moon to belong to the fans now, noting he is ready to leap forward after spending much of the last two years focusing inward.
"I'm taking one of those deeps now," he says. "And I'm ready to give." ■