Episode 03 Transcript: Reuben Hollebon
Reuben Hollebon & Danny Carissimi From The Sugar High Podcast
Danny: So, you didn’t you play music at all in high school.
Danny: Did you think about it?
Danny: Why didn’t you start playing earlier?
Reuben: You know, you've got so many things to do as a kid, to learn, to ffall over, to go around, running, bleeding, you know, doing everything that kids do. You know, you concentrate on that. And music seems so far away when you never really learn how to do it. So, it was just that when I was about 18,I suddenly realized that if I do try, I can do it. And I only took a month from starting to end up in a music college. I was like, let's go do this.
Danny: So you started playing guitar, and then you applied to go to a music school?
Reuben: Yeah, within a month.
Danny: What was the plan before that?
Reuben: I was applying to go to medicine. I mean, my family wasn’t really the kind of “ go to a university” family, you know? They were just like, get a job and get money to get by, sort of thing. But I thought “Nah, I’m going to be the one that actually goes to make more than ten thousand pounds a year.” Not to say that, you know, there's a problem with living off that much money, it’s just that, now that I look back, I don't know how you even made it through. But I just wanted to do something a bit more ambitious. Medicine was the five, and I didn’t want to graduate six years later.
Danny: So you chose the the short and easy path of being a musician instead.
Reuben: Yeah. Yeah, it took time.
Danny: But it is interesting though, that it seemed more attainable to you. I guess, more desirable at the time.
Reuben: Yeah. I mean, music's -- performing as well -- something that didn't come naturally to me. I'm not -- I've never considered myself to be naturally talented, but I've got a good ability to work at something. You know what, if I carry on doing this, I could be good at this.
Danny: Well, what drew you to it, if you didn't feel like you had a natural talent for it?
Reuben: A complete obsession with records, obsession with records. Like, from when I started working when I was...how was I? I'm probably 11, 12 working in the gardens and doing all other odd jobs. I spend almost all my money on music. It's going to go into the city, which is 18 miles away, and buying two records a week away. Before you knew it you end up with a massive collection. CDs back then.
Danny: You know like antiquated what you just said sounds? Like “I had to get on the bus go 18 miles to get my CDs.”
Reuben: Yeah, and you had to pick. Then, you had to pick. You had to go, “Right, you know what, if I get that record, I can’t afford that record this week.” But, the belief was because you know, we were -- in the age when it was just sort of like happening, and it was like OK what's this going to be for music? And the idea was that you would it, [and it] would mean you avoid buying a shit album.
Danny: I read this thing that you would go play your part of kind of a community, you like play this open mic and it said that you would have mushroom tea.
Reuben: That definitely happened once, at least. It was a really good place in Yorkshire where I'm fortunate -- I think is probably shut down now -- but it was, anyone could go and play, and everyone got one song, and there were no microphones. And you listen, and if you don't want to listen you don't go. And it means that anyone can be encouraged to play some music or do a skit.
And we'd say the same crap jokes every week. And if you'd gain a few weeks you'd learn the jokes and it would be your turn to say the same crap joke right. Everyone would join in but it just encourages people to try and learn how to do music. And for me, that was the first place where I was capable of actually getting on the stage. Some of the people there are incredibly talented, some of them. The talent line up of fields you know it doesn't matter because it is just about drawing.
Danny: It's at that at that time you're going to universities and you're playing every other night and you're going to this open mic thing.
Reuben: I wasn't getting to play every night, because I was -- I had to work. I worked three 10 hour shift night shifts a week.
Danny: What job are you doing?
Reuben: Stacking shelves. And then I was engineering about one day a week, and rest of it trying to be at uni and then go to this.
Danny: This is a fantastic story. I want to like, buy the Hollywood rights to this. Like, stacking stacking chairs, you know, working 10 hour shifts overnight.
Reuben: Yeah, but it was just like, everyone else has to. It's no big deal man. And you know people like -- so someone paints a great picture or writes a great novel. I don't give a shit if they were poor or rich. It doesn't matter. That’s not the good thing that's happened. The fact is that they've done it. If they had to do it whilst they were struggling, it might make a good film. But for the book that will last, that book doesn't need all of that context to necessarily be a good book. Fashion says it enhances it but it's not true. It's like when they say the musicians that write have to suffer in order to write, is wrong. You need to be happy in order to be able to do your art. And then you might achieve something. But it's easy for people to go, “Oh I'm just too content, that's why I can't write.”
Danny: You know, regular logic would tell us that starting something when you're younger is better and will make you more successful. You started pretty late. Do you think there's an advantage?
Reuben: There’s definitely a difference. I'm not sure it's an advantage. I know that the media and everyone is geared towards finding the precocious talent that was just completely exceptional story on. Sure. But, if you took Mozart as an example he was brilliant at the age of four or five, which means he had a pretty an aptitude to it. He also had a life situation which meant he got access to it really early on. And this guy is a genius and they probably had a complete switch in his brain which meant that he was just phenomenal. He knew what the music was before he wrote it. But his career wasn't actually that long. He did start young, but for me, I could work for 50 years.
Danny: I mean, you started playing at 18 -- when were you actually writing songs?
Reuben: I probably didn't write songs until I was like 23 or 24.
Danny: And that's the story where your friend with the dick -- I think your friend was going to take his dick out on stage, if you got on the stage and it encouraged you to go onstage.
Reuben: Yes. No, that was my safety net. But he did -- it doesn’t matter which person it is in particular -- he said that he has, and I never actually saw it, but particularly odd thing going on.
Danny: He had a weird dick.
Reuben: Yeah. And he said that if I struggled and was too nervous, I could just shout and he would come stand up and everyone would just be looking at that, and therefore he would take all of that away.
Danny: I don't know about the United Kingdom the United States if you get on stage and take out your dick, I think you go to jail.
Reuben: Is everyone still scared of being naked here?
Danny: Yeah for sure dude. I got arrested one time at Southern Methodist University because I was peeing in a dumpster. You know, so I imagine that if you take it out on stage, your friend might have gone to jail, and that means he's a good friend. So you played -- did something click with you when you played that night?
Reuben: No. It was terribly awful.
Danny: It wasn't one of those moments where you're just like “damn, I've got it.”
Reuben: No. I could sing loud. I could do it. I've got a very loud voice, when I want it to be, which, when you're playing in a room where no one use the microphone it's a great gimmick. So you come out and you loud loud out loud. And unless someone gets that in the first couple of seconds, they’d just be like, what on earth are you doing? You’re just shouting at us. You know? And so I spent a year or two learning how to play being really loud, because people like that. But I'm trying loads of different songs, loads of different styles listening to a lot of records, and it took me another three or four years to actually sing and go, “Oh, you know, I'm singing like me now. You're no longer singing like this person, or this person.” And that came from being quiet, and it came from seeing this beautiful woman who came on to an open mic, and she had a ukulele, and there was just one microphone. Nothing was plugged in. She just started a song really quietly. And it was really sweet, and she hadn't sung by the time she came in with the soft vocals, the whole room was waiting because everyone went “Oh wait a minute, there might be something good there.” When I realized you can do that, and capture people more frequently than just being loud, the thing with writing songs changed and I managed to write songs properly.
Danny: That was the moment more so than being on stage.
Reuben: Yeah, that was the moment where I was like, “Wow, OK, all right there's there's something -- there's something to this.” And then there was one recording session, with a track called “Seven,” which is off the first little EP that did. I played the original versions to a producer, a chap called Greg E. Dodds, and he said “Yeah, it’s all right,” because it had drums and everything else, he said but the keys, the vocals. So he said, go away rewrite it. And we did that, and I played him that track the next day, haven't rewritten it just softly playing guitar and singing at the same time on a mic. We did that two more times. And on that second or third time, he just came over I was like, “Yeah, the one.” I was about to tell him the same thing. He said, “Right sing once again on it.” And we heard that record. It was like, right, I've made that record. I've actually made something special to me. And hopefully, because we're all quite similar, if it’s special to me it’ll be special to other people. And that now informs all of the way that I try to make music.
Danny: Is this the story where you you'd like written like, 49 songs?
Reuben: That happened just before that, yeah.
Danny: So you kind of whittled it down and then this particular song, “Seven,” was the one that really stood out to you.
Reuben: Yeah. I actually ended up being seven tracks, and seven is also a number of great significance or sort of no significance throughout history.
Danny: What attracts you to the number seven? I'm curious.
Reuben: 77 is the number for more than you can count. That's -- that's what it is in the Bible. It's more than you count, so when I was seventy seven, that means many many many. And that's also why that number is used when they say there's 144 thousand people that get access to heaven in certain faiths, because it's many people. It's a number that’s so incomprehensibly large. But then, people have viewed seven as a lucky number through the years as well, and have always referred to as that, and other people refer to it as a “bad luck” number. And there are other recommendations particularly in theology which says you need to talk to seven people first and there's often seven brothers.
Danny: How do you view it?
Reuben: The track is about the fact that where I grew up is falling into the sea every year. But that land is reclaimed by humans in the first place. So therefore, is it significant that it's falling into the sea, or is it just the natural course of event? And so is 7 a significant number or is it just around an abstract sort of imprint on such a number, just like the song?
Danny: I like singers that do a great job with what they have. You know, like you have a good voice right, but it's not like operatic or whatever. And you talk about how you work really hard at it, but it seems like for you, a song having meaning matters much more than you doing vocal acrobatics.
Reuben: Oh yeah. They're just useless. It's like -- it’s like guitar solos are often useless. There is a bit when they make sense, but I like the Queen's The Stone Age vibe, which is you get one guy, and that goes on the record. There's no, if you do it wrong it doesn't go on the record. It’s whatever you do, goes on the record. Otherwise, when doing a solo, here, that is how a guitar solo should be; that's how vocal acrobatics should be. You know and you can use them, and I probably at one point during trying to sing did start to do it a bit too much, but tore it back down to the simple meaning; the simple little combinations of words that can excite you memories a little bit.
Danny: What attracts you to being a solo artist, as opposed to being in a band?
Reuben: Oh naming. I would just name myself wrong. I’d call myself “Cups,” or you know, “Spoons,” or “Wall Paint.” That was Wall Paint, by the way, not Warpaint, who I do like. That comes with some annoying connotations because they presume you're doing songs about love and I've only really written one song about love of another human in a sexual manner. There’s a lot of love in there, but it's not run in that in that context. And it comes with the idea that you're strumming C F and G A B and maybe an A minor on a sad day. And that is slightly frustrating because Bob Marley was a songwriter, you know? Thom Yorke is a song singer songwriter.
Danny: Thom Yorke and Radiohead.
Reuben: But he's also a singer songwriter trip.
Danny: It's true, but it seems like you're drawn to being -- I don't want to say like, I mean, you are a solo [artist]. I mean, it's your name. You tour with one guy.
Reuben: I do here, but I tour with a band in England. And last time I went to Denver, I set up a band in a week and toured with them.
Danny: So you prefer being in a band as opposed to being solo.
Reuben: I love being in a band. It's different vibe. I mean, this is great because Chris, great bass player and he's great company and he can do all the other bits and pieces that are necessary when you’re touring so that you can concentrate on making music but solo you get so much control over things which is phenomenal. But being in a band is such great communication and fun, but it's a really different way of approaching the music, and it takes a while to get to the comfortable place where you can get as meditative as being solo. But you can do it once you know the band well enough, when you don't have to think about which one needs to a beer next and all that. Like, once you get to that point, then it will be grand. But I’m not -- I don't define myself as a solo artist, or a singer-songwriter. I'm more of -- but I understand that people need to --
Danny: Right, but you but you almost don't even define yourself as a musician. I mean you are a musician, but you might still become a doctor one day.
Reuben: Yeah if I get working at it.
Danny: By the way where are you joking or being serious about that?
Reuben: I’m thinking about it. But you know, in time.
Danny: I love it.
Reuben: I mean, I'd still be doing music for, for hopefully another thirty years, but I'd also want to spend a bit more time doing great things like building stuff, and gardening, and maybe racing some cars if I got rich you're a jack of all trades my friend.
Reuben: No, I'm just a guy who doesn't really know what it is that makes him happy, but is happy nonetheless.
Danny: All right. This is one of the last things we have talk to about, because I know they’re going to start soundchecking soon. But I was thinking about that on the way here, there’s too much I want to do. But you've narrowed it down to music.
Reuben: No. I'm doing music right now, but most are doing a lot of other things I want to do. But music is obviously a big focus, you know, and this is getting its little run on, and I'm like right, let's chase it. It's not blocking off everything else, and you can -- you can take it two ways you can go, “There are so many books out there. They'll never get to read all the books I want to read,” or, “I'm never going to be bored because there's always going to be another one.” So, it depends which way you want to look at it.
Danny: Do you think it's important artistically to focus in on one thing?
Reuben: It helps, because you have to work hard. You can chance upon a couple of good things, but you have to work hard. Like, I know someone who got a chance to read Jeff Buckley's journals. And after “Grace,” he was lambasting himself if he didn't write two songs a day. You know, and that -- that is the level of dedication you have to take you. You aren't a musician if you don't play for two or three hours a day regardless of what you're doing. If you don't squeeze that in -- you know, and when you're traveling that's tough, and sometimes it goes down half an hour, but you have to do it. You know, it’s like, if you’re a writer, you don't spend hours trying to get the best place to write. You're just write, you know? And eventually you become better at it. And then once you realize if you do something like that for 10 years you'll actually be a lot better than you thought you we're going to get.
Danny: Well I'd love to keep talking but unfortunately we've got a sound check going.
Reuben: Sounds like it.
Danny: I have so many questions or so much for us to talk about we'll do next time.