These songs were written and produced by January, but the pandemic interfered with their timeline for album release. Now, as we approach another winter, we're reflecting on how sunny days in fall can trigger a sense of urgency, a desire to show up, to stop procrastinating. The fifth track, 10-33, begins, and I ask them to explain the title.
Sandu laughs. "If I told you where that song started off it'd probably be way less inspiring. Don't print it." He looks to Andrew. "Should I?"
Laite shrugs. "How cool do we need to sound anyway?" he says.
10-33 was inspired by the American reality show Ice Road Truckers. Sandu felt prompted to write about "seasonal changes and how it affects people's ability to get things done … getting that last load before the season." Laite says that on first hearing the lyrics, he was reminded of fishermen in Newfoundland: "We've got to pull this seine in, one more load."
It's this spirit of limit pushing that characterizes their second album, both lyrically and musically.
"It's outside what you think you're getting from Rube & Rake," says Laite, comparing their previous acoustic duo esthetic to this album's heightened density and energy.
Leaving With Nothing builds on the Laite/Sandu collaboration, bringing in instrumental contributions from Maria Cherwick, Josh Ward, Steve Maloney and others to give tracks like Fleeting Moment a folk-rock sound that's been compared to bands like Blue Rodeo.
Sandu credits Adam Hogan's contribution as producer with challenging their "stubbornness."
"But that's what you need, to bring people out with that."
"They had to convince me too. I wouldn't have put an EBow on the guitar if it wasn't for Adam," says Laite, referring to a device that creates sound effects on the electric guitar. "That's like something that I did when I was 17 playing weird prog punk with my buddies."
"EBow is a slippery slope," adds Sandu.
Rhythm and colour
This more expansive sound is evident in Leaves of Gold, a song that begins with Rube & Rake's pared-down sound and grows through surprising chords and time changes into a gentle dervish of rhythm and instrumental colour.
"We don't get to go into that world much, to have that interplay between all the instruments," says Sandu. "I really love that, that minute and a half or two minutes — to me, that's my favourite part of it."
LISTEN: Heather Barrett profiles Rube & Rake on the First Listen segment of Weekend AM:
Lyrically, Sandu's songs fit neatly into the Canadian singer-songwriter space. He takes inspiration only rarely from reality TV, and more often from his experiences travelling across the country, from the changing of the seasons, and from the legacy of his extended family in Romania.
"There's themes that pop up that you notice after the fact," he says. Laite describes the ninth track on the album, Crying, as "Josh with his guard down."
In it, Sandu attempts to come to terms with his father's degenerative illness.
"It's a fine line to walk, writing songs when you don't want to be overly sentimental, because then it's just like you're not really leaving much on the table to really interpret or to wonder about." he says.
The song's energetic bluegrass style gives levity to the emotional rawness of the lyrics, creating a hopeful counterpoint.
Despite the delay in the album's launch, with lines like "What will carry us over our days with no work and no play," these songs seem tailor-made for this season in this year.
As we face the return of the colder, darker months while continuing to weather the universal storm of COVID-19, this collection of songs occupies the tricky spaces between anxiety and optimism, between obligation and aspiration.
In Leaving With Nothing, we find ourselves in a space where misery loves company, but in a most hopeful and comforting way.