Story and photos by Sara Kuefler
We are all connected. Connected to this world we live in, connected to each other. And yet we are all entities unto ourselves. It can be difficult to reconcile those two modes of being, but every so often you can feel both at once. One such time occurred recently in Calgary when we had a very intense rainstorm where we received a huge volume of precipitation causing flooding in some areas. During the afternoon, before the storm released, the energy that was building was palpable in the air like static electricity pulling at every molecule. I spoke to several people who felt a response to the weather that day. And that sensation is a very apt metaphor for the period in which Reuben and the Dark revisits Calgary. Like a beautiful storm, gathering force, crackling with current.
Reuben and the Dark has recently released a Deluxe Edition of their 2018 album, Arms of a Dream, which includes added tracks like “Hold Me Like a Fire”, recorded with a choral section at the Studio Bell National Music Centre. In addition, you will find the recently released “You and I”, an alternate version of “Hallelujah”, and RATD’s beautiful cover of The Hip’s “Bobcaygeon” added to this new version of the album.
“You and I” comes with an expansive music video shot in Portugal. The footage used in the video was originally meant to be tour footage but was later reconfigured into the music video, directed by one of the band member’s partners. The band was on tour in Ireland and had the opportunity to visit Portugal on an inexpensive flight. This is how the warm rocky Portuguese landscapes came to be featured alongside intimate shots of the band. Elements like rocky cliffs, the ocean, the sky, are all so suitable to Reuben and the Dark’s sound – that connectedness, yet oneness, all encompassed within songs that have such an intense spiritual and yet very human feel. In fact, Reuben says he feels “[he] exists on a cliff’s edge a lot of the time”. A look at the music video may help explain that viewpoint as you literally get to look out at the breadth of the sea from atop a cliff in one of the shots.
In questioning Bullock about “You and I,” he explained that it was actually written in 2015, in Mexico, and was meant to be a part of the original version of Arms of a Dream, but somehow didn’t quite seem to fit with the tone of the album. It was one of those songs that was written very quickly. Bullock expressed that sometimes writing illuminates what is beneath the conscious self, similarly to what can be revealed in therapy. Writing songs can be an education in oneself and Bullock finds that the lyrics he pens often end up being things he wants to hear, versus coming from personal experiences he has had. As such, he is mindful of what he says lyrically because those words are sung over and over and can soak into the soul and consciousness. Some of Bullock’s lyrics do feel mantra-like, and the repeated line, “you and I are gonna be alright”, featured in “You and I”, lends some comfort in the face of the seriousness and grand scale of human struggles like identity, creativity, relationships and living a meaningful life.
I was curious about Bullock’s writing process in general as his compositions are so beautifully layered, transcendent and expressive. While the process varies from song to song and is not overly structured, he said that, “you have to take it one step at a time and not overthink the whole process because it can be intimidating.” As he says, “there are technical aspects, but most of the writing comes from feel. Some songs you might work at and never finish while others are already there…Sometimes it comes down to getting out of the way of the song.” Another important element of creative production is taking time to fill your cup so to speak. Bullock says that you have to ensure you have times where you are absorbing and taking things in, so that when you do write what comes out isn’t empty.
Not only has the album been re-released, but Bullock has also released several tracks that were written collaboratively with Adrian Gonzalez (identified as AG on Spotify) to be featured in high profile TV programs. Bullock met AG, a producer in LA, some time ago and found that working on these tracks was an interesting departure from what he normally creates with RATD.
“They are very dramatic,” he notes.
He also explained that he got to view the process from two sides, with many of the tracks written prior to knowing where they would be used, but others quite specifically mandated to fit a certain tone in order to accompany something visually. While these tracks may be outside Bullock’s comfort zone as a writer, I can think of few with the same capacity to tap into the grand scale drama featured in them in quite the same way. They certainly contain his signature.
This week Calgarians will enjoy the opportunity to experience Reuben and the Dark live on the Calgary Stampede Coca-Cola Stage during Sneak-a-Peek on Thursday, July 4. As someone who grew up in Calgary, Bullock is no stranger to the Stampede. He fondly remembers going on rides with his little brother, through Big Brothers and Big Sisters of Calgary, on the grounds, saying that the family aspect is his favourite part of the Calgary Stampede. Playing in good company with some excellent Canadian bands, such as Feist, Mother Mother, and The Glorious Sons, Bullock considers his inclusion in this year’s line up “an affirmation”. He also feels it is an opportunity to play to a larger demographic, in comparison to “our own little pocket” – speaking of the Calgary arts community.
After the Stampede and a few other Summer shows RATD will have a chance to rest for a short time. Bullock notes that, “this is the first time in 5 or 6 years where we have had a couple months off when the sun is shining”. He mentioned that with all of the writing that has been going on it is a good time for some rest. The band is preparing for new releases in the Fall, so this will be the proverbial quiet before the storm. With the taste of the singles that have come out, we all will be waiting with bated breath for that storm to envelope us with the Fall’s new material. In the meantime, if you are able to make it on July 4, do so, as Reuben and the Dark is always an experience live, and one you will be grateful you had.