FestivalMusic

Dark Days: Calgary songwriter Reuben Bullock finds himself in some drama when all he wants to do is get back onstage

It’s an opening you’d be stupid not to take.

Reaching Reuben Bullock at his temporary home in Joshua Tree, CA, he sounds a little frazzled, perhaps slightly overwhelmed. 

Even the simple query of how’s it going is met with … something.

“It’s been a wild morning,” says the former Calgary resident and frontman for dramatic roots-rock act Reuben and the Dark.

Asked to expand, he replies, “Ooh, I don’t know. If we talk about this, we may not get to the interview.”

Yeah. No. At this point, not an option.

Thankfully. 

What he then lays down is something straight out of an only-in-’Merica, A&E, true-crime-porn procedural. Wild doesn’t actually even come close to doing it justice.

Bullock had, it turns out, just returned from visiting the local authorities on a matter most urgent, and possibly life-threatening.

Long story slightly condensed: upon relocating to the desert two years ago, he befriended a young neighbour who was living alone, getting him to do odd-jobs around his property, lending him his car to run errands, and basically taking the kid under his wing.

So. A loner.

You know where this is going …

Allegedly, a few weeks ago, said neighbour began to display “manic behaviour,” dressing in military garb and basically stalking Bullock.

It was discovered he had a dugout on his property, with a a large cache of weapons and, more disconcerting, “he had a sniper rifle on my house,” the artist says.

“It’s really fucking crazy and stressful.”

It all came to a head a few days before the call, with the kid breaking into one of Bullock’s other neighbour’s homes to watch the singer. Police were called, he evaded the SWAT team, and went missing for a spell.

“I spent 24 hours losing my mind, thinking, ‘OK, is he hiding under my house, is he in my yard, is he …?’ They ended up finding him a couple of doors down.”

As to what triggered the mental break, Bullock is uncertain, but knows why he’s become a target.

“He thinks that I’m,” he says and then pauses. “He’s got a story about me being evil incarnate.

“He’s lost his mind and he’s targeting me, and it’s really just fucking scary.”

Hence his morning trip to visit the popo, in an attempt to ensure the neighbour, who was, at the time, only charged with burglary (he ate a sandwich), wasn’t set loose to complete the narrative of: We all saw the signs, we all knew he was dangerous — why didn’t anyone do anything?

“It’s just really gnarly and some serious American drama here,” Bullock says.

“I’m afraid to live in my house right now.”

Which, I guess, also begs the question of why the good Canadian boy finds himself stranded down south.

“I was on tour,” he says of the lengthy jaunt surrounding his 2019 release un | love. “I didn’t mean to move to the States, and it’s only been temporary, it’s supposed to be a temporary thing. When quarantine stuff was happening, I was, like, ‘Well, the weather’s nice here and I have some friends and I had packed up my apartment in Montreal and put it in storage’ — we were supposed to be on the road for eight months.

“I didn’t intend to move here. I’ve just been waiting the whole time. I waited for the first six months for our tour to go back on, and after a year passed I was constantly trying to make plans to come back and make our album.

“It’s just been this weird waiting game, where I’ve now, by default … I live in the States full time. Which still isn’t my plan. I don’t want to be an American citizen. I’m just waiting until the borders change and music starts happening again and we can tour.

“But especially now, I’m definitely questioning how much time I have.”

He laughs. “I like being in a place where there aren’t just guns everywhere.”

Well, luckily he has an excuse to come back to the safehaven of home with a headlining set at the Jack Singer Concert Hall on Feb. 20 as one of the acts for Calgary folk fest’s Block Heater.

Psycho neighbour stress aside, it’s an opportunity he welcomes, if only to reaffirm what he does, why he does it, and who he is.

“I am looking forward to getting onstage. It’s hard when you take that away from an artist … I realized I need it,” he says.

“That interaction, that sharing of energy back and forth from the audience to me … that’s a huge part of what I do and how I’ve found balance in it … Playing and performing is where my heart is at, and I think that’s why it’s been so difficult over the last couple of years, because that’s always been the thing that kind of gives you this big hug of affirmation, telling you, ‘Keep doing this. This is good for you, this is good for people, this is good for the community,’ and it fills me up.”

It should also fill the Jack Singer audience up, as not only will it be the first opportunity to see Reuben and the Dark in ages, it also comes with the bonus of a collaboration which should make it one memorable evening of music.

Accompanying the band for much of the show will be the BullHorn Singers, an Indigenous group of pow-wow singers from Southern Alberta’s Kainai/Bloods tribe.

“The stuff that we’ve been doing has been giving me goosebumps,” Bullock says, calling them “the most insane backup singers ever.”

He continues. “I’m really excited about the show because I think people are going to be really blown away by the music we’re going to play together … It’s like nothing I’ve ever done before and it’s such a cool collaboration.

“It’s really special.”

And while the BullHorn Singers will be accompanying them for a set of Reuben and the Dark  songs, they have also been working together on original material.

That will have to wait, though, as there are many more musical irons in the fire to get to once we see the other side of this global experience.

Bullock reveals he and his crew already have a full-length album and an EP mixed and mastered, with another EP waiting in the wings. On top of that, he also has another full-length sync album, for licensing to film and TV, called Trust Fall, so as not to confuse fans of his main project. His music has already been featured in such shows and films as Grey’s Anatomy, All Rise, as well as the trailers for Netflix’s El Camino: A Breaking Bad Movie and big-screen offering Dolittle.

“Currently, I’m sitting on a lot of music,” he says, noting songwriting has been an up-and-down process, again, due mainly to the stress of COVID and the impact it’s had on his recording and touring career.

“I’ve definitely had so many moments where I’m like, ‘Can I do this any more?’ It’s so vulnerable doing what we do, and when you have so many roadblocks already, when there isn’t a pandemic, it’s already so difficult to chase your dream. So it’s definitely deflated me … and I’ve continually had to come back and say, ‘Why do I do this?’ 

“I do this because I like writing songs, I like playing songs for my friends. I still do that. You take everything away, and if I sit down and play something and I really like it, and I think it’s good, I want to share it with my friends, I want to send it to my brother, I want my girlfriend to listen to it.

“So the heart of it is still really there, and I just had to come back to that over and over and over. And through it all, in my moments where I’ve reconnected and felt passionate, I’ve made a lot of music.”

Reuben and the Dark perform Feb. 20 at the Jack Singer Concert Hall as part of this year’s Block Heater.

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