Beyond the Fold: John Reuben
Check out the "Locals Only" feature on John Reuben in this week's Alive. Reuben will release his new album Word of Mouth Monday at the Basement. For more on his music, click to www.johnreuben.com.
Here's more from an interview I did with him last week.
Three weeks ago, I got the new album from Columbus musician John Reuben, who I'd never before heard. I started asking around about him, and golly, did I almost toss this one by the wayside.
A little research about the prolific Gotee Records artists led me to a number of awful terms - the most terrible being "Christian rap" and "Chrstian rap-rock."
Now, I dig God and all. I just have real problems with mainstream contemporary Christian rock and rap - each of which uses the template but not the texture of a great musical genre to proclaim what I feel are, for the most part, simple and unexamined evangelical messages.
I'm not alone, of course.
With the exception of bands like Over the Rhine and Sufjian Stevens, most critics won't go near records bearing the "Christian" label, in hopes of avoiding that non-threatening sound often heard on late-night infomercials for Gospel-rock compilations. Oh, those crowd shots, those sober thousands holding candles, swaying along to Michael W. Smith with their eyes closed.
Reuben's fifth full-length, Word of Mouth, to be released at the Basement Monday, is a far cry from that image.
"I've never made any ifs, ands or buts about my faith, but I definitely understand where the negative stereotypes can come from. I figure, at this point, I might as well just run with it."
Speaking last week over the phone, Reuben was quick to separate his music from that of artists bearing similar labels. They do one thing, he does another. His is a bit more diverse, perhaps, and much different. On the other hand, he didn't throw fellow Christian artists under the bus.
"You know, you go to the shows, and you see parents there with their kids - hard-working parents who bust their butt to pay the bills and they're out to have a positive evening of entertainment. It's hard to hate on that."
I described some of the sounds of the record in print this week, and his many diverse textures are one hallmark of a great pop record. But what really makes his collection such a dynamite album - and certainly a killer Christian album - is its depth on both sonic and emotional levels.
Reuben's a totally laidback guy, who speaks with a kind and lethargic tone. Over the phone, he laughed at his occasional bumbles and took the time to really get his points across.
One of those points we got the chance to discuss was the personal struggle he underwent in making this record. He mentioned that much of the lyrical content was too dark for the positive attitude he wanted to convey.
When he asked me if I thought it sounded "positive," I said that I did.
"Good, good, man. To be honest, I had to try really hard. I think it's very good to explore some negative aspects. It's good to explore some of your darkest, most bitter moments in life.
"But I feel that if you dwell on it always, you end up becoming a very miserable person. When I went into the record, I actually scrapped a lot of the lyrics - they got too ugly for me. Not even ugly in the sense that I was trying to sugarcoat something - I just didn't like the way that I was sounding."
The result isn't ugly or saccharine. Instead, it's a record that deals with the personal struggles that most people - Christian or not - deal with daily.
And a record that speaks to that is one worth hearing