Shot in the Dark

Calgary performer Reuben Bullock grows his audience

Ask Reuben Bullock about his band’s moniker The Dark and he won’t mince words: He’s had plenty of brushes with the uh darkness. He was in Thailand when the Southeast Asian country was slammed by tsunamis — and though he wasn’t harmed his family couldn’t contact him for days. While in his teens he was singled out by an Asian gang who blew up his friend’s car in front of William Aberhart High where he went to school to send him a message. And growing up he was a “target for violence” a quiet skateboarder who was challenged to fights constantly.

So yes calling his supporting troupe The Dark is fitting. “Trouble always seemed to find me” says Bullock calling from New York music festival CMJ. “I’ve whittled down a lot of that [negative] stuff and it’s funny digging up stuff from the past. I come from a family of three brothers and we’ve had one too many brushes with death — and that’s why death is so prominent in my songs.

“But for all the heavy content on our record the songs are brighter sonically than ever. I want to express a depth of emotion without referencing things that are too specific — I try to keep away from the literal stuff.”

Dour as Bullock’s songs might be though things in his professional life are looking much brighter. Indeed 2013 was the year that Bullock grew from local favourite — how many shows has he played at Broken City and the Ironwood? — into a national name. Last spring for instance he signed with Canadian indie behemoth Arts and Crafts which “I trace back five or six years ago when this girl who was managing me sent some terrible songs to Arts and Crafts. They weren’t interested. But the rest happened organically — it started with the folk fest when [artistic director] Kerry Clarke started introducing us to people.”

Then it was revealed that his yet-to-be-titled forthcoming LP would be produced by Florence and the Machine drummer Christopher Hayden who he met after a serendipitous trip to Mexico. They struck up a quick friendship after playing an impromptu gig together. “Then I tagged along for a Florence tour and we went to London and Paris. I got to be backstage at these sold-out shows at Radio City. I saw that it was something that I wanted and I remember thinking ‘Whoa this is what I can do with my guitar.’”

Since then he’s been flying between L.A. and Toronto and Calgary recording touring and living the touring-musician dream. Bullock for his part feels lucky — and when talking about his meteoric year he comes across as genuinely humble. “It’s all pretty crazy” he says chuckling. “I also have been dreaming about this from the moment I started. I wanted to be here so badly five years ago. I had these delusions of this music career and the fact that it’s coming together is still surreal and hard to believe.

“But it feels like we’re supposed to be here and the people who are working with us feel like a bunch of friends who believe in what we’re doing.”

And what he’s doing is undeniably bigger than his previous work on Man Made Lakes and Pulling Up Arrows . On the new record Bullock promises “space gospel with soaring guitars and big harmonies.” And his teaser single the recently released “Rolling Stone” lives up to its billing: Far from being stripped-down singer-songwriter fare it’s a haunted song driven by howling vocals more comparable to Bruce Peninsula choir noir than Bullock’s earlier fare.

We suggest it’s fitting that Bullock’s exploring gospel — he’s the son of a preacher so it only makes sense that he’d be influenced by religious music. He agrees though he sees his music as distinct from his father’s work. “Well him being a preacher certainly rubs off” says Bullock. “I’ve always been into soul music and the choir sound. But any religious references in my music are irony. I have an urge to write or sing and that may resemble [the mission of] my father but I’m not trying to prove a point or pass anybody a message. I have no mission or prerogative.”