Hailing from Melbourne, Australia, Ruby and Pete are PRESIDENT STREET.
Creativity comes from the most unexpected places. Drunken nights out, family tragedies, strange role models. And we never know when it will surface.
Take Pete Moses, the founder of Australian two-piece President Street, who have just landed the prestigious opening-act gig for UK artist Roachford on the back of two top-five hits in the dance chart, not inconsiderable success on the UK college radio circuit and two headline UK tours of their own.
Pete’s first musical thunderbolt was when he was working in Hong Kong, on a client night out with maybe a little too much refreshment when he decided to join the Mexican band on stage at a restaurant, as you do on drunken nights out, and started banging out some rhythms on the congas. And with such artistry - even though he’d never even thought of playing music until that (drunken) moment - that the drummer came over to his table later and asked where he was gigging. When he heard that Pete had never played anything before, he decided to hook Pete up with local musicians.
‘From there I dived into the world of percussion and soon started gigging around town but for me it became more and more about writing and creating,’ says Pete who taught himself songwriting, keyboards, guitar, production and put some demos together, never having had a single music lesson in his life. It was like that creativity was in him.
Ruby has a strangely similar story to tell. Growing up in a Greek-Macedonian/ Hungarian family in Melbourne, she was singing before she could talk and taught herself to build enough of a tune by ear on the electric piano bought for her brother. She used to run home from school to pen her own songs in secret, starting around the age of 7, to release her imagination and as her form of therapy and escape from reality (she recently found them and reckons they’re actually not that bad) and is now the voice and half of the songwriting talent in President Street.
‘I remember I resisted joining the high school choir for years and eventually joined for one term at the insistence of one teacher in particular but was so bored by it - I pushed against any training for voice because whenever I was exposed to it, I found it quite creatively restrictive,’ she says, another one who never had a music lesson in her life. ‘It felt like it took away from the spirit of it,’ she says. ‘I wanted it to be just me.’
‘I didn’t grow up in a house that was filled with music’, says Pete over a glass of wine in Melbourne, where President Street are based. ‘The musical one was my mother but I never really got to know her. I was the youngest of 5 kids but unfortunately, before I was two, my mum and two of my brothers and sister were hit by a car while they were walking down the street and killed. Then two years later another sister died suddenly from a complication in hospital and at that point that left just me and my oldest sister (she was about ten) and my dad.’
From an Indian/Portuguese background he grew up in Perth, his mum was from a highly creative family and was classically trained in piano and voice and sang live on Indian radio. ‘Had my mum survived I’m sure it would have been important for her to get me to music lessons,’ says Pete. ‘But because of what happened, I wasn’t exposed to any of that.’
Pete’s world was President Street, in a gritty, working class area of Perth directly under the flight-path and the street where his mother and siblings were killed. The only music around was Aussie rock like AC/DC and it was only through the Latin music he fell into in Hong Kong that he came to r’n’b, the likes of Prince and Maxwell, huge inspirations ever since.
With that background and that tragedy, compounded when Pete’s dad died suddenly of a brain tumour when Pete was just 13, he might have gone onto a life of nothing in particular. Instead, he studied law and wound up in Hong Kong, where he would sometimes take clients out for drunken dinners.
Ruby, growing up surrounded by sexist expectations where her musical aspirations were discouraged and disallowed, studied at the same school as one Kylie Minogue (and Dannii) albeit decades later. ‘There were pictures of them hanging in the school’s little Hall of Fame,’ she says, something that reinforced that her dream was possible. ‘She’s amazing and I always admired her along with the triple threats like Britney and Christina and the iconic voices of Whitney and Mariah and Celine - though I grew up on The Beatles, The Rolling Stones, The Bee Gees, Michael Jackson, Rod Stewart... my dad was very musical and that’s what he played at home.’
The coming together of the strangely similar Pete and Ruby is the story of a million bands worldwide through the ages: wanted ads - but in this case through a creative arts online audition and casting platform. Or ‘Tinder for musicians,’ as Pete puts it. Rather than put an ad looking for a singer/collaborator, Pete thought he’d actually go through the profiles placed by singers/collaborators. And Ruby’s stood out. ‘Everyone else’s profile’s had the same sort of professional head-shots,’ says Pete, ‘whereas Ruby’s was a picture of her on holiday. That just seemed really natural and confident to me. And while everyone else included professional recordings done in studios, Ruby’s was just her singing acapella into her iPhone in her bathroom.’
‘Well, everyone knows bathrooms have the best acoustics,’ laughs Ruby, who, from writing songs as a child had gone on to study psychology at University, without ever being able to push her creative side to the side: ‘I just kept coming back to it. I forced myself to finish my degree to make my parents happy but all I could imagine being happy doing was music. When you have that creativity inside you, it just has to come out and anything else feels a little soul destroying so, after I finished uni and did some travelling to just live for myself a little - I put it out there into the universe and met Pete soon after.’
‘And once I heard her voice,’ says Pete, ‘it was like... Amazing!’ They met and clicked instantly - ‘I was quite taken by Ruby’s voice’ - and having worked on and recorded the songs that Pete had ready, started in on songs that Ruby was bringing to the table, which is where the collaboration began. ‘The first seven or eight songs we released I had basically written and Ruby came on board and performed on. But now we’re doing it jointly and bringing it out of both of us. I sing like shit and lucky for me, apart from having an amazing voice, Ruby’s also an incredibly talented songwriter and she can take it somewhere.’
‘Sometimes I’ll come with a song that I’ve started to formulate, sometimes it’s more Pete, and some we just sit down and start together....’ says Ruby. ‘We’ve had to work out a language for talking about music. I’m quite impressed that Pete can extract what I’m trying to do without me being able to really convey it in musical terms. He speaks Ruby. President Street has naturally evolved,’ she adds. ‘Now it’s just Pete and I and that feels right. Our first EP was called Involuntary Actions because for both of us music is like an involuntary action, something that just has to come out.’
‘And being drawn to it without knowing why...’ adds Pete, who says that as soon as he discovered music - as randomly as he did - it became one of the most important relationship in his life.
A Sydney-based producer and friend has banned them from ever having music lessons, fearful that it might detract from the totally natural approach they both have to music. ‘He said to me, I don’t want you to learn guitar. I could never be a session guitarist but it’s my tool for creating.’
The last tour of the UK they did was very low-key, just Ruby singing and Pete and one other guitarist. Now they are moving things up a level with a supporting slot on the huge UK tour for comeback king Roachford for which they have an eclectic roster of songs lined up. ‘Need You Now is very moody and dark,’ says Pete. ‘Can’t Go On is very fluffy. We don’t try to write to genre, we just write to the emotion we’re trying to bring out and we work back from that: what instruments? What tempo?’
And though they’re Australian - albeit with various cultural flavours - they feel their success is very British. ‘I met someone in LA who liked my music,’ says Pete. ‘She introduced me to someone on college radio in the US then we charted. That person introduced me to a radio plugger in the UK, a brutal gal who just said, “Send me your songs and I’ll see if I like them” and within ten minutes came back and said she loved them and wanted to do something with us. That’s what’s so refreshing about the UK. It’s, Can you write? Can you perform? Can you deliver?’
Now they’ve had the two hits, concluded a couple of tours... ‘And now the Roachford tour, which is going to be exciting as it’s on bigger stages and we’ll have to up our game, adjust our performance, elevating our whole act.’
‘It’s an organic thing,’ sums up Pete of the whole rise of President Street. He’s not kidding. They should think about putting that on their tour T-shirts.
The duo are dubbed by numerous music curators as "the ones to watch" for 2021, PRESIDENT STREET have their sights set for a big 2021!