By Will McGuirk
Reuben and The Dark will light up the Oshawa Music Hall Friday June 28, 2019. The Calgarian band can be compared to Mumford & Sons, Hozier and the stratospheric reachings of U2 with their moody spirituals but such an approach can be difficult to translate live. Lead Reuben Bullock however, says his favourite part of being a musician is onstage.
“Songs are living creatures. . . no two performances are ever the same,” he says in an interview with slowcity.ca. “As a performer, I try to be in constant conversation with the audience. To speak and to listen. Context of your surroundings makes such a difference. Playing gently in a seated theatre or getting people dancing in a sweaty bar. . . or the other way around sometimes. I really do try and listen to the room, to make sure the song is going to be presented in the right way.”
Bullock says he listens to songs intensely as they come to him, plugging into the emotions aroused to best hold onto them as they reveal themselves.
“Songs come in all sorts of ways.. they usually start with a lyric. I try my best to just listen to the song as I am writing it. I try and lean into the inspiration as much as I can. There is a feeling that runs through my blood when I am writing a song. Every step of the way I do everything I can to hold onto that feeling. It is a long journey for a song, from inception to the finished version. Its easy to lose the heart of the tune in that process. These songs are all pretty spiritual to me. Songwriting has never been something I can easily describe. . . and I don't always have the luxury of a perfect environment to write and capture them in. I would love to just write songs on mountain tops and by the river's edge but sometimes the back of a tour van is all I have,” he says.
Bullock shares his influences, some of them fellow van dwellers on a cold road. He cites Canadians; Leonard Cohen, John K. Samson, Feist, Broken Social Scene, Neil Young, Hayden among them. Another inspiration is the Tragically Hip. Reuben and The Dark cover the nationally favoured “Bobcaygeon”
“There are lyrics in that song ‘I saw the constellations reveal themselves one start at a time’ that have been forever burned into my memory. The night Gord died I sat down with my guitar and played through a couple of his songs. . . that one has just always had a place in my heart. I've always looked up to Gord as a poet and such a beautiful spirit,” he says.
The late Hip singer’s work on indigenous issues is also inspiring to Bullock who says Canada and the dark history with First Nations, Metis and Inuit peoples requires urgent reconciling.
“I think the role isn't reserved just for musicians or people with followings. . . it’s a responsibility of every Canadian right now. We are on the edge of a massive shift and everyone with a voice should be finding a way to get involved. We have a very dark past in Canada and there is the potential for some beautiful healing to happen. Awareness is the first step. The Gord Downie and Chanie Wenjack Fund are doing some incredible work towards reconciliation right now. Check their website for more info, but they are setting up schools with information packages and creating spaces dedicated to having these conversations,” he says.
Reuben and The Dark create such conversational spaces within their music and onstage; spaces to listen to songs, to listen to each other and most importantly to listen to oneself.