Story and photos by Sara Kuefler
A tune spontaneously dabbled in on a solitary piano in the middle of the floor of the unoccupied Calgary Opera; a magnificent main stage festival show, with The Dark creating undulating layers to lift Reuben Bullock’s vocals and guitar; a depth of feeling that remains vivid and heartbreaking weeks or months hence. With experiences such as these, it becomes clear that something otherworldly is present in the artist.
Reuben Bullock has the ability to transcend with his music. While appreciating his performances in person, the edges of reality soften and blur, as the music envelopes and penetrates, creating neural pathways that somehow lead straight to the soul. Reuben and the Dark are currently touring in support of their outstanding album “Arms of a Dream.” We are fortunate in Calgary to be able to open our arms to welcome Bullock, along with his exceptional band The Dark, back home as they prepare to play at the Jack Singer on Oct. 30.
I had the privilege to pose a few questions to Bullock, in respect to his music as well as the tour:
I remember watching you play in the old Ant Hill Building in Kensington, as part of Market Collective, back in the day when you were the MC music director I believe. You’ve come a long way since then. Tell me a bit about your journey to get to this tour.
Those days were so formative. It’s crazy to look back at that. It’s been a very long road… but somehow time has flown by. MC really gave me an inside look at the Calgary music scene at the time. I met so many people and spent countless hours on that stage. It’s amazing seeing what the market has grown into too. This year marks a 10 year anniversary for both of us.
Your set at this year’s Folk Festival was so atmospheric and beautiful, both in terms of the music and visually. In fact, one of the photographers who was in the pit with me broke down in tears after we came out. She said she was overwhelmed by “too much beauty”. You seem like a very mindful person. Do you put a lot of thought into the aesthetics of shows in order to compliment the music and enhance the impact of the performance for patrons/fans?
Thank you. That’s so touching. The shows are all pretty emotional for me too. Most of the time I just want us to get out of the music’s way. Let the songs really reach the audience. I suppose I focus more on reverence than aesthetic… but getting the band to dress in white and black felt right. We try to control the environment whenever we can, and when it comes to those big festivals, sometimes it makes more of an impact to dress in an intentional way.
I’ve noticed a fair number of religious references in your songs. Are you quite influenced by Gospel? Are you a religious or spiritual person, or does the Christian model serve more in the sense of metaphorical illustration of emotion – similarly to how you frequently use the elements or nature in the pictures you paint in your songs?
I came from a religious upbringing. At this point I don’t subscribe to any kind of sectarian belief… but I do consider myself spiritual. The church brings up constant questions, and religious references are a direct way to raise certain emotions I try and convey. Some of it is irony. I try and write soul music I suppose… ideas of being lost/found. Saved/condemned/forgiven/free… that all really resonates with me from my childhood.
Does “Arms of a Dream” (the album) have a theme personally for you that you would like to share? Or do you prefer to leave it a bit more mysterious? Obviously love figures heavily in many of the songs.
Yes, I always prefer to be vague with explanations. Ambiguity tends to lead a lot of these themes. Duality. AOAD represents a space where dream and sleep states speak to each other. The songs are all conversations with a subconscious side of mine.
Out of curiosity, where do the sound clips of the man speaking in some of the songs on the album come from? What is said is quite poignant.
A man in the desert. Joshua Tree CA. He devoted his life to building a magical place for people… I recorded a part of a conversation I had with him while I was passing through.
I was reading about how you began playing the song “Bobcaygeon” (my favourite Hip song as it happens) to connect with Ontario audiences in a special way, which evolved into you recording it and donating proceeds to the Downie-Wenjack Fund. Will you be playing that during the shows on your Western leg of the tour?
Yes we will! We are also going to be travelling with info packages to give out at our shows… hopefully bringing this cause into conversions with our audience across the country.
Do you tend to mix up your set list and show structure from performance to performance, or do you keep it pretty consistent? Do you like to improvise?
It’s always different. We try and structure something at the beginning of a tour, but I always end up changing it as we go. It’s nice to have freedom… to be spontaneous.
What is your favourite part about touring/performing shows?
Do you write while on tour? Or do you prefer to wait until a quieter time to incubate and formulate ideas? What do you find inspires you?
Writing has become an involuntary thing… I try and write down as much as can. Whenever it comes to me. Lots of songs are started in tour though. It’s a pretty stimulating environment. So much travel and change. I prefer writing at home, with time and care, but it doesn’t always go that way. Words inspire me. It’s often that two words, placed beside each other in a certain way, will spark a song.
Is there anything you would like to say to your fans who are eagerly anticipating attending a show on the Arms of a Dream tour?
I can’t wait to sing you some songs… and thank you. From the bottom of my heart. It means so much to have such a caring audience. Oct. 30 is going to be a magical night.