Interview with Jamie Ruben
What got you into music, and if you had not gotten into music what would you be doing today?
I’d been looking for the right creative outlet to saturate myself in ever since I can remember. When I was 15, a friend of mine was throwing out a guitar, because it was taking up space and he had to push me to take it home and give it a try. I knew it was the start of something. There were some stops and starts but by 17 or 18 I was playing for hours every night and starting to teach myself how to write music. I hadn’t learn how to practise or write properly yet, but I had found my thing and perhaps the blind, but impassioned notion to aim my life with this at it’s core….
I know I have read paragraphs like the above from other artists before and it’s usually the start of a story of rock stardom…Mine is one of continued sacrifice and barely hanging on to the profession that I very much love, continuing to improve and persevere, freelance gigging as a guitarist and composing gigs for Canadian films and TV to scrape by while furthering my pursuit to create music that is unique.
If I weren’t a musician, I am sorry I have no f_<king idea what I would be doing today.
What do you like to do when you are not playing music and how does that influence your creativity?
My main non-musical hobby is playing tennis. I don’t play tennis very well, but I play often and with a lot of enthusiasm. I love the game. When I started playing tennis with my wife about 14 years ago, it was ‘dating’ tennis. I had played occasionally as a kid and we was rediscovering the game and she was a ping pong ace, but had only held a tennis racket once or twice. As a gentlemen I would try to make a rally last, so it was fun and would never call anything out if it was within a couple of feet. Over the course of our relationship, we have lovingly evolved a fierce competitive tennis rivalry that keeps us both sprinting and fighting for every point till we have received an invigorating workout without having had to really work. We have a blast. We try to play a few times a week, even during parts of the winter months.
I like to spend a lot of time with my family. I have an 11 year old son. I work from home and am often engulfed in whatever music project I have got going in my home studio, but whenever I can switch off, I like to spend time with my son and my wife. In the case of my latest album cover, he hung out with me while I mixed the album and created an abstract painting based on the music that we then pulled into his MacBook to finish/process as my album cover..
How long have you been making music?
Sh*t, then you are going to know my age.. What sounds better to your readers, less experience, but more youthful?F_<k, I will tell the truth. 29 years.
Where are you based out of and how did that influence your music?
I am based out of Toronto. I have always had a lot of eclectic influences. Some of the great Toronto musicians I have learnt from and played with have certainly had influences in a lot of ways. I tend to be a little bit in denial of some of my own influences. I have an odd relationship with that. If I hear something that I played or wrote and I do and can figure exactly where I got the idea to do that, I probably won’t do it again. Under the surface, of course the things you learn being influenced by other artists are so important.
Tell me about your most memorable shows, if you haven’t played live what is your vision for a live show?
I have been having a great time over the last couple of years playing every Thursday night at Pai Uptown at Yonge and Eglinton in Toronto. It is such a great vibe there, the food is fantastic, the environment is so creative and organic. I play a range of eclectic guitar trio stuff to fit the vibe. We do a improvisational version of Crazy by Gnarls Barkley, The surf guitar theme from Pulp Fiction (Miserlou), the theme from the Netflix show Narcos, some other surf stuff and fun improvisational takes on retro guitar music. I love this gig.
I have also done a few shows this year at Drom Taberna in downtown Toronto. That place is very special too. There is never more than one or two spots in Toronto where you can actually expect an audience of people, who predominately don’t know you to come and really listen to your music and respond. Right now Drom Taberna is the place for that. So, the couple of gigs I have done there recently have been really special as well.
What is your favourite venue to play at, and do you have any places you want to play that you have not already?
I have tremendous respect for every venue that has ever hosted me into play. So, I couldn’t name a favourite. I thank any of them that are reading..:)
If you could play any show with any lineup, who would be on the ticket?
Damn, that’s a hard question. hmmm, I know I am going to think of other answers later. I was just listening to some Esperanza Spalding in my car and I would love to be her guitarist. I would need some woodshed practise first. Is this an ‘living or dead’ question. Could I be a second guitarist in Jimi Hendrix band live at Woodstock? Jimi would just be like “take this one Jamie” , “thanks Jimi”.
What is some advice that you would give to someone who is just getting into making music and some advice that you would give to your younger self?
Does the advice I give my younger self have to be about music? I would love to tell my younger self so many things. What kind of humour is appropriate and then some other social matter to start I am.
Though, truly I think if I were talking to my younger self I would just be so in shock of the situation and “How it could really possible to time travel to my younger!?, this is too crazy” . Then I would realize that I must be hallucinating and I would try to snap out of it somehow.
Of your songs which one means the most to you and why?
I have made a lot of different music over the years, but this album (Instrumental Obscenity) as a whole is by the far the most meaningful, because I made the time to really invest and work and experiment then work some more and experiment some more, then contemplate and come back and start from scratch and create something unique and powerful. I didn’t set out to be self-expressive with it, but when I listen back to it, I hear it as that and it is a wild thing and it’s wild music. I think you would enjoy checking it out and going for the ride.
I can’t pick one song over the others publicly. To say that every song in this album is like a living thing would be a very overly hippy cliche thing to say that I wouldn’t say. Nevertheless, I wouldn’t want to personally insult any of these songs, but my current album ‘Instrumental Obscenity’ means more to me that any other music that I have made.
Which songs are your favorite to play and which get requested the most?
On my album, it appears that the big fan favourite is “No Shit”.(track 4)
Currently my live playing repertoire is a bit different than my album because I have a regular gig with my trio. Everybody loves our version of the Narcos theme song (aka Tuyo by Rodrigo Amarante). People say that is their favourite. I think our version of the surf guitar classic Esperanza is on that list as wel..
What is your creative process, and what inspires you to write your music?
On this album, I made a lot unique sounds by taking live instruments like cellos and flutes and sometimes voice or sax then re routing them through my electric guitar rig effects and tube amp re recorded back in as sonically sculpting electric new layers of sound. Each piece ultimately needed 70-100 tracks with all the live parts, layers, textures, guitar experiment, actual guitars etc.
I also wrote and charted music to record with a cellist, violinist, flutist, trumpeter, trombonist, saxophonist, drummer, vocalist, percussionist etc… mostly remotely. So I would create a mockup of their parts digitally, then write a part and send them a wav to play with, with some notes and they would send back their parts, sometimes we do zoom calls.
Do you have messages that you like to get across in your music, if so please tell me about them?
Sparsely placed melodic female vocal hooks laced with profanity can mean something different to anyone. And, that is very much an intentional part of the concept of the album.
I used mostly hooks as opposed to verses, so the verbal messaging is very simple and universal where the nuance and complexity of the musical story being told lays in the instrumental layers of the songs. Ultimately, if the listener has invested themselves enough to take that lyrical message and turn into something more detailed and substantial as a story in their mind, then I have done my job well.
How can your fans best keep up to date with you, any socials you want people to check out?
I am on Instagram @jamie.ruben.music and I would encourage you to follow me on your streaming site of choice (Jamie Ruben on Spotify, Apple Music, Tidal, Youtube music, Amazon music etc.) .
You can also check out my website ljroriginalmusic.com/album which is currently the home of both my Album page and my composer for film/tv stuff. Drop a line to stay in the loop.