Like any city music festival, there is always a cross section of local and travelling bands. This in here lays the secret weapon of the Calgary Folk Music Festival, as I learned this past summer. Alberta has piqued little international curiosity, or even curiosity outside of its provincial boarders, but the talent that exists in this unassuming region of Canada is staggering, bringing to life a mystique unique to the serene Alberta landscape.
It’s no double that it’s this landscape that offerers the area’s musicians — many of them untapped talent — a chasm of inspiration. Case in point Reuben Bullock, who first hit the stage with his band as an interlude to the festival’s opening night headliner Beirut. The singer/songwriter, guitar player, manager and booking agent (the ultimate one-man band), Bullock is now beginning to feel that tingling sensation from catching the ear of an international audience. Having recently been taken under the wing of U.K. label Luv Luv Luv, the likelihood of a world-wide record release in the not-too-distant future is an exciting prospect.
FILLER sat down with Bullock recently, and found the musician to be nothing like what one might expect of a musician with his talent: humble, hard working and clever on the topic of music and beyond, this Calgary boy shares the latest on his frontier.
You performed with a few different band members during your shows at the Calgary Folk Music Festival this past summer. I know you played solo for awhile, how long have you all been performing together?
I’ve been performing solo for, I donno, not a long time. Probably four years I think, where I’ve actually [been] getting in front of somebody. And then when I recorded my first album, which was just 2009, I recruited a bit of a band, like a session band to record with. We played a CD release show, where I put together a live band for that, and then it just kind of stayed as a live band playing with the same people. So since then, the final line up is kind of how we recorded the latest album, Man Made Lakes.
If it wasn’t for this festival, I’m not sure I would have had a chance to be introduced to your music, are you only performing in Calgary these days, or are you planning on touring?
Kind of…we haven’t been playing in Calgary [lately], the last show we played was the CD release in January. We booked this old opera house, the Arrata. Since then, we’ve just started playing out of town, like Edmonton and Lethbridge, going on small tours.
How was your response from the folk festival? It’s a big one.
Really encouraging. We’ve had a lot of encouraging stuff lately. I’ve been in London for a while and New York working with this recording label based out of London and New York, Luv Luv Luv. It’s this band in New York called Blood Orange, and it’s Florence and the Machine’s management label. They brought me and one other guy out, and we booked a studio. Chris Lloyd Haden, he’s the drummer in Florence and the Machine, produced it. We shared a lot of band members with them.
How was that experience?
It was amazing. This lady, Florence’s mangers, made that band what it is. Took it from this small local act, and just shot them right up, and she approached me and was kind of like, “you’re next.” I want to do this for you. The first song is supposed to come out like any day.
Did you do songs or a whole album?
We did enough for an EP, but they are going to release a double single. A double A-side is what they are calling it…but I’m not sure, you know things change so much. That’s the plan…nothing is really in stone quite yet. I’m not even thinking about it much because it is so out of my hands. If it happens, great, that would be amazing. I’m pretty happy with what we are doing right now.
Well, the band is on hiatus now, so maybe the label will focus its energies on you! We’ve talked about the future, let’s talk a bit about the past. What got you into music, how did you start performing?
The one thing about Calgary that’s good is that it has this like do-it-yourself mentality. Maybe not everyone has it, but the network and the community that I’m in [has it]. I just see so many people deciding what they want to do, and taking it on and accomplishing it and pushing it. And that’s kind of the attitude I kind of took with all of it. I’ve booked almost all of my own shows.
Really? That’s taking on quite a bit. Do you guys have any representation to help you out?
No, I handle all that stuff, which is a lot.
I’m impressed. You said that Calgary has a do-it-yourself sort of attitude, what about its music scene, what’s the vibe?
I think it just takes a while for the people in the city to know that the music that the local bands are making is [on] par, if not surpassing the caliber of the bands that they are hearing on the radio. If you were to ask anyone in Calgary who their favourite local band [was], they would say a bar band they saw playing covers.
Guess you can only keep trying to educate them on local bands. You’re the one to do it. On that note, what drives you, why music?
I got into music really late, playing music. I always loved going to shows, and I just reached a point where I just felt like I wanted to be on a stage. I had been writing for a long time with no kind of structure, just writing for the sake of writing. Never wanted anything published, never wanted to really even share anything with anybody, I would just be frantically writing things all the time on a little notebook in my pocket. I would be a work and sneak off to the bathroom and write for twenty-five minutes, and then go back to work, and then think about a few more things. I knew that I had something that I had to channel, but putting it in a book, and keeping it in my drawer wasn’t enough.
So I started playing guitar when I was about twenty, [eight years ago] and then as soon as I learned three chords I wrote a song. And then wrote ten songs with the same three chords. And then I learned one more, and I wrote another five songs.
What about singing, do you have any formal training?
No, none at all. I didn’t sing until I wrote my first song. I never sung along with the radio, I always felt I had a terrible voice. I didn’t have the range. That’s why I didn’t perform for a long time though, and I just wrote songs because I was really timid. I thought I had such a fragile voice, and I could only sing certain notes.
What changed your mind, how did you get to where you are now?
Now it’s a different thing. I definitely couldn’t go blowing anyone’s mind in karaoke, but I know how to sing my songs now. And I’m comfortable and confident with it.
Like I said before, I’m not quite sure if I would have heard your music were it not for making it over to the Folk Music Festival; how can our readers get a hold of something of yours to listen to?
Online on iTunes. The income for music isn’t substitute for work at this point, but I hope that one day it is. Right now I’d rather 100 pirating sites have it than not, just to get the music out there.
So what are you doing in the meantime before music becomes a full-time career?
I’m a carpenter. I work for myself, which just means lately I haven’t been working at all because I’ve been super busy with a lot of administrative stuff, booking a tour, and this release in Europe. I’m my own manager and booking agent. I’ve been lucky enough that I’ve been doing carpentry for a long time, and have a good network of clients that are really easygoing; they understand what I’m doing. When I show up to work and I’m late, they’re like, “it’s ok, I heard you on the radio yesterday.” That’s always nice, all I can really ask for.