5Q :: From Canada with love and/or spaghetti, it’s … Spookey Ruben!As far as genre bouncing goes, records don’t get much more adventurous than those crafted by Spookey Ruben.
As far as genre bouncing goes, records don’t get much more adventurous than those crafted by Spookey Ruben.
The Canadian wunderkind, who has been wowing America’s indie masses for the better part of two decades, was in the state earlier this week for a show at the Kitty Cat Klub in Dinkytown.
The Budgeteer caught up with Ruben, because, well, anyone who can have their debut album compared to Brian Wilson’s immortal masterpiece “Pet Sounds” is good people:
Budgeteer: I was impressed with the number of layers found on your new EP “Shackleton” (and many earlier compositions as well). When you originally come up with a song idea, is the whole vision pretty much there, or do you tinker with songs in the studio after the original base structure has been recorded?
Ruben: Generally I would say the whole vision of a song does sort of all come together in my head before touching any instruments, but realizing it is always a challenge. I am practically obsessive compulsive when it comes to “tinkering.” Over time many of my tinkering obsessions would gradually evolve to the point of painting myself into a corner and totally losing the plot of the song, i.e. the original inspiration.
In the past couple of years I’ve been able to free myself up again and see the studio as a blank canvas that’s asking to be painted on quickly and impulsively — not overthinking everything. The most recent result of that is my new EP, “Shackleton,” which I am very proud of.
On a similar note, how do you recreate your more-imaginative songs in a live setting? Do you rely on pre-recorded sound effects or do you just ditch them completely and present stripped-down versions of your works?
My current live show is based on a basic “drums/bass/guitar” rock setup; sometimes my bass player plays keyboards and sometimes I trigger samples and sound effects.
It’s always been important to me to make it clear to the audience where all the sounds are coming from.
I am totally against live bands that play along to backing tracks and loops — [that] totally defies the reason of why I would want to see people making music together.
Live performance is about walking a tightrope without a net. If you wish to see lip-synching and karaoke shows, just stay home and watch music videos.
My first introduction to your music was the inclusion of “Wendy McDonald” on a CMJ sampler back in ’95. To me it seems like you broke into the American market much quicker than some of your fellow Canadians. Do you feel the same way?
Hmm … many Canadian bands signed major label deals in the ’90s. I was one of a hundred that got an early break.
Speaking of that song, its parent album, “Modes of Transportation, Vol. 1,” was compared to the Beach Boys’ legendary album “Pet Sounds.” Was it hard to keep a level head when such high praise was thrown at you, especially so early into your career?
I will admit that a lot of the sudden attention went to my head and I definitely burned a lot of bridges pretty early on. It has taken many years to gain perspective of why I do what I do.
Finally, you throw so many different genres and approaches to songwriting together on your records — who are some of your bigger influences? And what kind of stuff were you listening to growing up?
Before I began studying guitar I was a pop music fanatic. I would tape BBC Top 40 shows onto cassette and listen back to them over and over. [I was introduced to groups like] Level 42, Haircut 100 and Captain Sensible — I loved it all.
When I started learning classical guitar, and soon after learning electric guitar, I discovered heavy metal and immediately abolished my taste for anything “pop.” Metallica, Slayer and Voivod were my top three faves for awhile.
But there were a couple of bands like Saga and Rush that fused pop with metal in their own clever way and, deep down, I think I always felt a kinship to that type of [approach].
Growing up in D.C., I was exposed to groups like Shudder to Think and Bad Brains who also had a huge influence on me. “120 Minutes,” the late-night “alternative” show on MTV also had a huge influence on me; I freaked out on bands like Lush, the Sugarcubes, the Sundays and Cocteau Twins.
NEWS TO USE
Learn more about critically acclaimed Canadian artist Spookey Ruben and his brand-new EP “Shackleton” at www.hi-hat.ca.