Johnny Ruffo’s been a busy boy in the past few years. A third place finish on ‘The X Factor’ in 2011, winner of ‘Dancing With The Stars’ last year, touring with One Direction, a top ten platinum smash, a subsequent top 30 hit and a role on one of the world’s most watched soapies. No wonder, then, that the music side of his career has been a little quiet so far this year.
But all that’s changed in the past couple of weeks with the release of his shiny new single ‘Untouchable’. So naturally, it was absolutely necessary for us to put in a bit more face time with the cheeky popster and get the lowdown on the new tune. And we soon discover it’s got him buzzing with excitement.
“I’m so proud of it that I can’t even begin to describe what it means to me,” Johnny enthuses. “And whether it sells ten copies or ten million copies, it’s neither here nor there. I’m so proud of this song because it’s me. It’s me through and through. It represents what I want to do. It represents the direction I want to go in.”
But pride will only get you so far in this business, with the pressure to perform on the charts and in the sales race always on the label’s mind. However, Johnny tells us that his label has been “fantastic”.
“Sony never puts the pressure on you too much,” he says. “Obviously they want what’s best for you and for the company, but they’re amazing. They’ve shown me so much support and I couldn’t be more grateful. The creative control they’ve given me has been amazing and working with Denis has been fantastic. It’s like a family there. I can go there and talk about things and they’re more than happy to help me.
“And the great thing is that the people that I work with now – the team that we built around my project – are great. They’re totally transparent, they’ll always give you their honest opinion and that’s what I like. Whether somebody likes a song or they don’t, they’ll just be honest with you.”
Whereas the singer’s previous singles ‘On Top’ and ‘Take It Home’ were both very dance/pop focussed (produced by Sydney’s DNA), the new single ‘Untouchable’ sees Johnny move into a different brand of pop. It’s more organic, more soulful and seemingly more ‘him’.
“I sat down with Sony and said that I really wanted to have control of this process from start to finish and I wrote the song with a number of people, I wrote the creative treatment for the video, I wrote the storyboard for the video, went through the styling, worked very closely with my choreographer for the dance routine. I feel like I’ve had a major say in this project every step of the way. I’m really happy with the final product, so hopefully people like it.”
But does the new direction spell the end of his songwriting partnership with the DNA boys?
“No, not necessarily,” Johnny admits. “I think it’s one of those things where if I write a song that would require their style of production, then I’d love to work with them. They’re great guys to work with and they’re brilliant at what they do. But the style that I’m producing now is probably a little more organic with the vocal layers and vocal production.
“I just feel like the new single is taking it back a little… it’s a bit more old school and I feel like it’s coming back. People want to hear those amazing vocal layers like Queen used to do, like The Eagles, Justin Timberlake, Michael Jackson… They were all pushing that boundary of amazing vocal production.”
Speaking of vocal production, Sony tells us that ‘Untouchable’ features a staggering 58 layers of vocals.
“Myself, Michael Tan and Cliff Raux wanted to write a really catchy tune that matches the likes of those trendsetting artists. We wanted it to be that next level,” Johnny reveals. “The vocals took us three or four weeks… just the vocals. Michael and I sat down together yesterday and there are about 12 or 13 versions of the song from the very first to the final.”
As he mentioned earlier, Johnny was also extraordinarily hands-on with the creation of the super-stylish video clip (above), sourcing the cameramen, meeting with directors and studios and working hard with his choreographers to ensure that everything about it was just right.
“There were tiny flashes and elements of dancing in ‘On Top’ and ‘Take It Home’,” he tells us. “But I wanted to work harder and I did. I’ve worked my arse off to try and get better and I want people to see that. I don’t want to do all of this hard work for nothing… let’s put it in the video, let’s make it very performance-based and show people how hard I have been working. So we did that.
Though ‘Untouchable’ took three months to create, Johnny hints that we won’t have to wait too long for new music next time, revealing he’s got a couple more hits-in-waiting up his sleeve.
“This isn’t the only song that we’ve been working on,” he reveals. “There are two more songs that I’m really excited about. They’re very funky, Stevie Wonder-esque. His riffs and his basslines… we’ve tried to have a similar thing.
“You listen to a Michael Jackson song. A Stevie Wonder song. A Queen song… one thing they all have in common is that you only need to hear the first ten seconds of the song and you know who it is instantly. I find that these days, a lot of that essence is lost. It takes me ‘til the first lyrics to work out who it is. That’s why we have that little vocal riff at the start of ‘Untouchable’ – so you hear it and you (instantly) know who it is.”
Still on the subject of new music, there’s an album coming. But before we all get too carried away, Johnny’s not really in a massive rush to get it out there.
“I’m in the studio now,” he admits. “So we’re working on it. There are a number of tracks that I’ve already signed off to go on the album, which is good, and then we’re just making sure that the remaining tracks we choose are the right ones.
“I don’t want to put a date on it. I could probably put out an album tomorrow – I have 30 or 40 songs sitting there ready – but can I get the best 12 songs out of that 40? If we can find the right tracks and record them and have them done right, then yes. If not, then when it’s ready.”
But Johnny tells us that his future plans revolve around more than just an album.
“We’re currently in the process of planning a tour,” he reveals. “So we want to have an album to tour. That’s the essence of why we would do an album. Get out there and have an album of ten/twelve tracks. You’d have that and a couple of covers in there and you have yourself an hour and ten/fifteen minute show to tour with. So that’s the plan. That’s the direction we want to go in. But I don’t want to put out an album for the sake of it.”
In the meantime, we’ll have to make do with ‘Untouchable’ which, incidentally, has also been released in both the UK (where Johnny’s character on ‘Home & Away’ is still showing) and in the US. The Gary Pinto/Michael Tan/Cliff Raux/Johnny Ruffo co-penned track is impressive, overflowing with super-sweet vocal layering, tight beats, oodles of style and a slick video clip, showing that young Mister Ruffo’s ready, willing and more than capable of taking his career to another level.
Johnny Ruffo’s single ‘Untouchable’ and its accompanying video are available digitally now.
The single is also available via the US and UK iTunes stores.