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Rock Sound Classic Features: Reuben

Victoria Durham
Victoria Durham 29 June 2011 at 11.49

A band we wished was still with us…

Reuben were adored by their fans, admired by their peers and loved by us. Our 150th issue celebrations would not be complete if we did not pay homage to the finest, and perhaps most criminally underrated, British rock band of the 2000's.

Our advice? Have a read of this 2007 feature, play 'In Nothing We Trust' very loudly and be sure to pick up a copy of Rock Sound Issue 150 as soon as is humanly possible!

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As photo shoot concepts go, today’s Doctor Who theme could be considered pretty out-there, but a quick chat with Reuben frontman Jamie Lenman reveals that there’s method to Rock Sound’s madness. The singer is a huge fan of the science fiction series, so much so that today he’s agreed to dress up as the seventh Doctor, Sylvester McCoy, and fend off an army of Daleks.

“If 100 per cent is knowing every single thing about Doctor Who, including how long each episode was and who the floor manager was, then I’m about 80 per cent,” he enthuses. “I know enough to really weird a normal person out. If I’m not watching Doctor Who, I’m reading a book or listening to an audio play.”
And it doesn’t stop there, either…

“I love the Doctor like I love a person,” Jamie confesses. “I have as much evidence of him as a person, what he’s like and what he would do, as I have of my wife. I probably know him better than I do my wife! If they get to the end of the Doctor’s lives and he dies, I’ll cry. I’ll be inconsolable.”

Band mates Jon Pearce (bass) and Guy Davis (drums) are also sporting costumes as fourth Doctor, Tom Baker, and ninth Doctor, Christopher Eccleston, respectively – although they don’t quite share Jamie’s Time Lord obsession. Nonetheless, the ultimate question for Reuben’s own fans has to be whether or not the sci-fi influence will find its way into their music?

“I’ve never written a song about Red Dwarf or a Doctor. You’d think I would have done by now,” says Jamie, before an epiphany strikes. “Maybe we could do a concept
album, the 10 faces of Doctor Who! Wow! We could have a song for each Doctor and a secret track for all the weird ones that aren’t official. That’s a good idea…”

Even without the help of Doctor Who, Reuben’s recently released third album ‘In Nothing We Trust’ has deservedly attracted critical acclaim. It manages to be a strikingly diverse rock record while retaining the aggression and energy that make the trio such a great live band. Several songs are well over five minutes in length, not least ‘Suffocation Of The Soul’ with its Nine Inch Nails-inspired atmospherics and complex twists and turns. Then there are album firsts, like bittersweet acoustic duet ‘Good Luck’, the kind of track the band would previously only play live. Meanwhile, opening song ‘Cities On Fire’ takes its slow-burning style from Jamie’s other band Caretaker who, he explains, “listen to Isis and Pelican”.

“We just didn’t say no to any ideas,” continues Jamie. “If we had a crushingly heavy riff and then an acoustic song, that was fine. The album’s been criticised by people who wanted it to be all one vibe and I understand that. It’s good to have records like that sometimes, but they’re never the greatest albums – whereas you put on ‘The Beatles (White Album)’ or Nine Inch Nails’ ‘The Fragile’ and they do it all. Those are the ones we consider to be great albums.”

Adds Jon: “We hope we’ve pushed the boundaries a bit more. After two albums you get to the point where you’ve been doing the same things for a while. I don’t really dig what a band like Feeder do but at least they’ve moved it to another market, and that’s going to secure them a career for another 25 years.”

Lyrically, Jamie has always relied on his own everyday observations and personal experiences. This time around, that’s led to some serious and thought-provoking topics. They include prejudice and bullying in ‘We’re All Going Home In An Ambulance’ and the subject of two friends who were sectioned in ‘An Act Of Kindness’.
“I find it easy to write about personal things. I’ve always been one of those people who you meet and within 10 minutes I’ll be telling you my life story,” the frontman says. “Maybe this album is a bit more serious. By the time you get to the third one you almost feel like a grown-up band. A lot of the lyrics have moved towards thinking about broader subjects that I don’t have such a close relationship with. Someone said it’s like I’m having little conversations. That’s what I hoped to achieve.”
However, as Jon points out, there’s always plenty of wit to counterbalance the darker times. One example is ‘Crushed Under The Weight Of The Enormous Bullshit’, with the line: “All this 80s indie sounds like shit to me, ‘cos I don’t like Joy Division, I don’t like Morrissey”.

“People love that line and they’ve concentrated on it a lot,” says a slightly exasperated Jamie. “I’m glad that all the kids who thought 80s indie was shit have got someone on record saying, ‘Kids, this is shit’. But it’s not what the whole album is about. It’s not even what the song’s about.”

In its entirety, the track focuses more on Jamie’s disappointment at the lack of truly exciting and original rock albums being made in recent years. So, does that mean Reuben are on a mission to fill the void?

“I’d really like to think that we’re filling that gap,” considers Jamie. “I really hope we’re doing that service for people who want passionate, intelligent, heartfelt music. Ironically, this album isn’t particularly immediate or particularly original. A lot of it’s been nicked from other bands like Oceansize, Biffy Clyro, and Engerica. But that’s how you write and you put your own mark on it. So hopefully it will sound a bit different.”

One thing Reuben will stress throughout today’s interview is that they have no grand plan. After two albums and a period signed to Xtra Mile Recordings (then affiliated with Sony), they’ve become realistic about what they want to achieve. So although the press are claiming that ‘In Nothing We Trust’ will be the record that pushes them into the big time, the band won’t be holding their collective breath.

“When people said it three or four years ago, we’d think, ‘Maybe this time’,” says Jon. “But I doubt we’re ever going to make stupid amounts of money or sell a significant amount of records. I think those dreams have gone. But if we can keep doing it at this level and we’re having a good time, why not?”

“There’s no story with this band, no plan,” says Jamie. “If people just stop making up a story then they won’t be disappointed. It does annoy me a bit when people call us underdogs. It works against you. People are also calling this our comeback album. What comeback? If anything, it’s like, ‘Get some new copy!’ With some of these reviews it sounds like they just dig out the standard Reuben review and change the dates and the song titles. They need to beat a new drum. Or maybe they think we should beat a new drum. I don’t know, but we’re trying.”

For all the band’s fierce independence, Jamie will admit that things might have been different if they had played along with the industry in certain respects.
“As a band, we’ve never been embarrassed about going, ‘We’re just guys’. We’re not about pretending,” he says. “But if we’d had an image and we’d thought about writing that pop hit, you could argue that we might have succeeded a bit more. A lot of people have said we should sort ourselves out. But what’s the cost?”
Giving in to such pressures could have been a quick fix solution, but there’s no doubting that Reuben’s integrity is part of their appeal for many fans. Having recently set up their own label, Hideous Records, they’re also in the best possible position to carry on doing things their own way, for as long as they want to.

“We don’t have any pressure so we can work at our own pace,” Jamie stresses. “There’s no big-wig telling us to write a hit. There’s no arsehole telling us to spend longer on an album. Again, it just means there’s no story.”

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