Throughout Anthony Ruptak’s 20s, he had two constant companions: music and alcohol. A year-and-a-half ago, he left both behind. He got sober, got married and shirked dreams of singer-songwriter stardom for an EMT job on a Denver-area ambulance.
“I thought I would have this artistic awakening when I got sober, but I didn’t touch my guitar for more than a year,” he told BandWagon.
He has rebuilt his relationship with music now, though he has left alcohol behind. Backrooms is both a product of and tribute to change. Half of it was written before he got sober; the other half during this past winter. Along with producer Matt Tanner, Ruptak recorded it over just four days in a remote cabin in Jefferson.
Like his earlier work, Backrooms is emotionally charged, but themes of anger, regret and despair are balanced by love and connection.
“The overall arc is one of evolution and healing,” he explained.
“Clementines” and “Don’t Let the Bastards Win” wrestle with the existential dread pervading the news the past few years. But the album truly shines in its most intimate, personal moments. Scenes that play out over fragile, haunting melodies include a funeral for a well-loved dog, an ambulance ride to a hospice center and a white-knuckle drive to the house of a suicidal family member. On “Angie,” Ruptak proposes to his wife. Literally. Ruptak revealed the song to her during a raft trip down the Grand Canyon in 2019.
“I didn’t realize there would be so much intense happy weeping when I got to the proposal part,” he said. “There was still a minute-and-a-half of the song left. I had to cry and sing my way through it.”
Three of the most heartbreaking songs Ruptak has ever written: “Backrooms,” “Turning Against the Self” and “Cataracts” are about his brother Matt. For years, the two were inseparable. They lived together, drank together and Matt played on all the previous albums. But, as Ruptak underwent a sea change, his brother was a piece of his former life that he had to leave behind.
“It was the hardest ten months of my life,” he told BandWagon.
Recently, Ruptak and his brother have reconnected. But these songs remain deeply-seated in the pain that can only be inflicted by the ones you love most.
Unlike 2018’s A Place that Never Changes, Backrooms is understated, trading layers of instrumentation for a stripped-down ensemble. The music is driving and hooky. Importantly, it leaves plenty of room for Ruptak’s voice and stories to take center-stage.
Catch Anthony Ruptak live on May 6 at LuLu’s Downstairs in Manitou Springs with Covenhoven and May 28 in Denver at the Ubisububi Room. Get Backrooms directly from the artist at anthonyruptak.bandcamp.com