Artist of the Month: Reuben and the Dark

Photo: Mackenzie Walker

Photo: Mackenzie Walker

Meet our October Artist of the Month - Reuben and the Dark! Probably one of the biggest bands to come out of Calgary recently, Reuben and the Dark is a musical project started by Calgary musician, Reuben Bullock. I first became aware of them when I heard their single "Rolling Stone" on the radio but it wasn't until I was invited, last minute, to a Boy & Bear show in October 2014 when Reuben and the Dark opened, where I really became a fan.

This interview was conducted back in July, hence the mentions of summer festivals and the Calgary Folk Fest. Reuben and the Dark will be back in  Calgary, opening for Vance Joy on January 17, and their live shows are fantastic so be sure to visit their website get tickets to that!

So you’re in Toronto right now? How’s that?
Reuben Bullock:
It’s good. We’ve been here for only a couple months now. 

Is it a big difference?
For sure. Mostly we came out here to be closer to other big cities so it’s a bit easier for touring. Playing out of Ottawa, some festivals up north, Montreal and stuff is really difficult. We toured the west so much, it’s nice to now be up here in these cities more.

You’re playing Folk Fest at the end of the month. You last played it as a solo artist back in 2012. What’s it like coming back under a different name with a full length album under your belt?
It’s cool, I’m really looking forward to it. The Calgary Folk Fest was actually the very first show billed as Reuben and the Dark. I was booked as a solo artist but we changed it last minute. The Calgary Folk Fest was the beginning of the band, Reuben and the Dark. We played our very first show as that namesake so it’s pretty cool that festival started a lot of things or us. 

You grew up in Calgary?
Yeah, I lived there for almost 15 years. I spent the majority of my life there, since I was about 13. 

What was it like, for you, growing up in Calgary?
It was good. I had lots of friends. I was really big into skateboarding so that was kind of my whole upbringing was riding skateboards and then transitioning into music when I was a bit older. There’s a great music community. The thing about Calgary, you can do whatever you set your mind to. It’s a big city and it has opportunities but it’s not overwhelming or overflowing with talent or existing businesses for entrepreneurs and artists that want to start something. There’s still space, which is a really cool thing about Calgary.

When did you decide that you wanted to do music full-time?
I was playing pretty non-stop since I was about 22 and I knew I wanted to do that as soon as I wrote my first song, I just wanted to do it all the time. So, as soon as it became a possibility, I just jumped at it and I’ve probably been a full-time musician for the last three or four years now. 

Growing up, what was the Calgary music scene like?
My earliest memories of it were just, how strong the all-ages scene was, all the indie, emo bands and punk shows. That was probably my first experience with it. Then, from there, it became more Broken City, The Palomino, Republik [RIP], those kind of shows. Going out to that a lot, it’s cool that it’s such a tight-knit community, where all the bands are playing all the time, they all know each other and they all share drummers. It’s a nice community. It’s a small community even though, at first, it seems like there’s so many bands there, all the bands know each other and get along, at least when I was there. That was really cool. A bit of a small town feeling. 

Do you believe it’s grown and bettered itself since then?
For sure. A lot of bands have come out of Calgary and the scene there seems to be blossoming. There are all these new bands I’m hearing about. I think it’s maturing.

 Even though you’re currently not living here, does Calgary still feel like home?
For sure. I’m getting married in Calgary the weekend after Calgary Folk Fest, all our friends and family are there. Calgary is still home, for sure.

What’s next for Reuben and the Dark, what do you have planned next?
We have a couple festivals this summer and we’re working on new music. So just writing and recording right now. 

Do you think it will be for another full-length or an EP?
Another full-length is the plan. No real set time but we’re working on it pretty full-tilt right now.

Christopher Lloyd Hayden, drummer for Florence and the Machine, helped produce some of your previous music, is there anyone else you’d love to collaborate with in any way?
Yeah, lots of people. I think the collaborations happening on this next record are really just going to be within the band and maybe working with a producer or two. There’s a chance we’ll work with Chris again on this album too, we might take a trip out to London. 

With Reuben and the Dark, you’re Reuben but do you want to try and keep it the same people in the band or do you find you might switch it up?
Reuben and the Dark is the music. The lineup changes and it has over the years. We definitely have an extended cast of people we play with. It’s less of a band with original members and more about just having a live band. The Dark is not a specific group of people, Reuben and the Dark is the project. We typically play as a five-piece band, six sometimes or sometimes it’s solo or two people. I like for it to kind of remain open. 

A lot of times Canadian bands find themselves in this “Canadian Music Bubble” they can’t escape from. I have a friend in Charlotte, North Carolina, who’s heard and loves “Rolling Stone”. What’s it like to have listeners from all over and escape that bubble?
That’s the goal – to not be a Canadian band, to not even be an American band, it’s to just be a band, to just play music and try and transcend these things. It’s really nice. We’ve had a little bit of success in the States and we’ve got to do some pretty cool festivals. We’ll continue to tour there as well as the rest of the world whenever we can. People do get caught up in the Canadian band bubble, that’s just because there are so many bands and it’s really hard to make an impact anywhere else in the world. We’re all taken care of in Canada, people really support Canadian music and Canadians also really support American music but the States doesn’t really support Canadian music in the same way. A band from New York can come to Canada and it’s like, “Oh, cool, this band’s from New York”, but if a band from Calgary books in New York, no one’s really lining up at the show to see the Canadian band. You represent your country as much as you can but you really just try to represent the music and hope it stands alone and can be an international thing. You don’t want to sound like you’re from Alberta. You want to just make music and Alberta makes its way into the songs, of course, or wherever you are, but try and be an international band. 

You just released a deluxe edition of Funeral Sky. Was the release a label or an overall band decision? 
We had some extra material and the way we recorded a couple of the songs we play differently live. It just seemed like a nice thing to do before putting out a new record. It was a band and label decision.  There are a couple different versions of the songs, there’s a new song we recorded for this The Globe and Mail Project, “Red River”, and then there’s a song off of one of my solo albums too. It was nice to put that out there and keep putting music out.

Were you listening to music or were there any musicians that inspired you when recording Funeral Sky?
With that record, maybe not, because the songs had been written over a long period of time, some of them were written in the studio but a lot of it was going into back catalogues. We re-recorded some songs that had already been on an album and just pieced together the best representation of the band. The album is pretty diverse and dynamic, I don’t think it was modeled after anything sonically. I don’t think I could say any bands were really on the playlist during that time just because it covered a lot of time and we were trying to focus on putting the best songs that we had, at the time, on it. A lot of the songs were written prior to putting the album together. 

Before you performed solo and now you’re going under the moniker, Reuben and the Dark. Would you say Reuben and the Dark is just a project for you and you’re interested in trying other things musically? Or would you keep playing as Reuben and the Dark until it’s run its course?
I call it a project but it’s just me, I can’t really do anything else. It’s just songs I write, I don’t write a certain way for this band. There may be some solo albums that come out in the future. I end up writing really quiet, folk-country tunes a lot and they aren’t as fun to play with the band but it’s all in the same vein and 90 per cent of the songs I write end up being the band’s songs. I think it’ll just be Reuben and the Dark for as long as I can imagine.