Bad backs, bad sandwiches and the new album
Left: Reuben's stylist was always dedicated to creating a unique look
One of the British rock underground's most beloved rock bands, it's hard to believe Reuben aren't scraping the stratosphere by now... instead of scraping seeds off sandwiches. However, Reuben manage the difficult task on holding down day jobs, setting up their brand new record label and touring the arse off the British circuit with what appears to be superhuman ease. With new album In Nothing We Trust due out on the aforementioned imprint very soon, Heather Crumley caught up with the band in Glasgow, and found that being unstoppable doesn't always mean being invincible.
Reuben are unwell.
Mid-way through a largely sold out tour, bassist Jon Pearce has injured his back, and singer Jamie Lenman spent last night in hospital due to a rather nasty bout of food poisoning, although he is now taking the unusual step of trying to cure himself with a chicken sandwich from Greggs.
"I don't wanna eat this," he laments. "It was the only thing there. Well, there was a bean... I don't wanna eat beans. Hmmm. I've got an idea." He then begins to scrape the poppy seeds from the top of his sandwich with a spoon. "Continue the interview!"
It's hard not to warm to Reuben immediately, as amid the obvious stresses of this particular tour (a still recovering Jamie greets me wearing only a towel, and Jon spends the interview glued to the back of the sofa so as not to aggravate his back further), they're still incredibly enthusiastic about this, their third interview of the last couple of hours, with Jon and drummer Guy Davis even taking the time to sit and chat before and after the dictaphone has recorded their thoughts on their forthcoming third album In Nothing We Trust, holding down day jobs and the evils of the chicken sandwich.
What can we expect from the new album?
"Long songs. Nice artwork. More funny long titles," offers Jamie.
"More heavy, but more pop at the same time," continues Jon. "The lighter bits are poppier and the heavy bits -"
" Not content with just poppy seeds, right," interrupts Jamie, looking at his sandwich with utter hatred, "but sesame seeds as well! What's the f**king crack?"
"You know," says Jon, "In America, they were doing random drugs tests on office workers and they were finding all this opium in their blood, and were sacking them all, and it turned out that they were having poppy seed rolls at lunchtime, and there were little bits of opium in the poppy seeds!"
Then without missing a beat, he goes back to talking about the album.
"It feels more natural and raw sounding compared to [second album] Very Fast Very Dangerous. I prefer it to the previous two albums in terms of song and production…"
"In terms of album," adds Jamie.
Jon nods, "There's more depth, whereas Very Fast Very Dangerous -" (Jamie interrupts with "Watch your words!") "- was very straight forward. Don't get me wrong - I love straightforward, but I'm really pleased with this record. A lot of bands go 'yeah, it's our new album, our last one was rubbish', but I'm really pleased with all the records we've done."
"There's nothing worse than hearing a band slag down something they've done, especially when they're in the midst of promoting the new one," adds Jamie. "Korn are the biggest perpetrators of that - whenever they have a new album out, they go 'our last one was sh*t, but this one's brilliant', and then they just do it again next time round. It's such bullsh*t."
You've toured with a lot of big bands in your time - who have been the best and worst?
"Billy Talent have been the best in terms of shows, kindness and pleasantness," smiles Jamie, "They're amazing. "
"They gave us advice, they let us share their riders and their dressing rooms," agrees Jon.
"The worst band," continues Jamie, "were Presidents of the United States of America, who were our heroes, and then didn't give us the time of day. That broke my heart a little bit."
He pauses and once again glares at his sandwich.
"This is just full of mayonnaise! Anyway, we play with a lot of bands, and I make a real effort to watch every band play. If a band comes up to me and says ‘we're big fans of your band, we're chuffed you came to see our show tonight', I'd give them the time of day, you know? And that's what we did to Presidents, and they went ‘uh-huh. I kinda wanna be alone right now'."
Are there any bands around just now who you rate?
Jamie nods, "Sucioperro [tonight's support]. They're amazing."
"We were friends with them before we knew them as a band," adds Guys, "and we were listening to the album today in the van on the way over, cranked it up and it just sounded great."
"There's not a lot of bands at the moment that are really doing it for me though," sighs Jon, "There's a lot of indie bands I'm not really down with, but that's what's fashionable. Fashion changes, though, and I just feel it's getting old."
"Yeah..." adds Jamie, "like this sloppy sandwich."
Rock is currently in the stranglehold of scene culture, with new genres springing up on a seemingly weekly basis. However, despite being faced with comparison to Hundred Reasons and Vex Red in the early days, Reuben seem to have managed to escape being lumped in with any particular scene. But has this worked against the band?
Jon considers this. "It's a problem in the sense that if it means you can't tour with bands then you won't get features in magazines, but it's good that you don't get ‘oh, they're so 1998'. Bands feel like they're watered down as part of a scene, and I'd just rather be our own thing."
"There's a lot of UK bands that are really good friends with each other, though, so there's a nice scene in that sense," adds Guy.
"Yeah, like us, Oceansize, Biffy Clyro and Aereogramme always go to each other 's shows, but whether that's seen by the music fan, I don't know," Jamie continues, before a big lump of chicken makes a bid for freedom, "I've dropped this on my jeans! That's disgusting! I'm so sorry!"
What do you think of the whole scene culture?
"People try and categorise, don't they?" sighs Jon. "I just have the basic: rock, pop, classical, really simplified terms. Like emo, new wave, post-pop or indie-electro - what's all that about? It's one thing or another. There's no conscious decision to say you're part of a scene. It's whatever the fans think you're part of. It doesn't matter if you're part of a scene, a good song is a good song. There are dance songs I really like, like I really like The Prodigy, and I don't really like dance music."
"What p*sses me off," interjects Jamie, "is every time a song like Pretty Fly For A White Guy or the Evanescence song gets to number one. They're good songs, but there's so many good songs in the world that could get to number one, and I'm never aware of what's happened to make that particular one break through. There's a lot of catchy songs that don't break through. 'Rollin' by Limp Bizkit got to number one - why not others?"
Are you happy with the level of success you've had?
Jon nods emphatically, "Yeah - I'm happy with it. I'd like to be more successful and live off it, I'd like to provide for a family making money from this, but I'm really pleased with what we've done, and to be able to sell out a tour like this, it's crazy."
"I think we've done really well," Guy continues. "We've got three albums, we've been going for almost seven years... I think that's amazing!"
Jamie interrupts, "You don't have to defend yourself, Guy! The question wasn't 'you're sh*t, what have you got to say about that?'!"
"I was just saying what I'm proud of," Guy mumbles.
"You were doing it in a defensive way!" Jamie roars. "IT WASN'T MEANT TO BE THAT SERIOUS!!!!"
And your rather hardcore fanbase is something to be proud of, too...
"There's a lot of dedication," smiles Jon. "There's these girls that have been making us cakes at every show they come to in the last six, seven years, stuff like that is wicked. Some people get into a band and then kind of ignore it, but there's a high degree of people who got into us at an early age and then go to uni and come to see us in Newcastle instead of London, then they move up to Glasgow and they come and see us here, four, five years on."
"There's always people who wanna say hello after the show, too," adds Jamie, "And usually that's nice to poke your head out and say hello - it's not like we seek it out, but we certainly don't avoid it"
Guy elaborates, "There's a lot of bands who come off stage and go into the crowd with their hat or their hood on -"
"F**k that!" shouts Jamie.
"But I'm always really pleased if someone's recognised or enjoyed us on stage, you know?" Guy continues. "We're grateful. I hate bands who can't be bothered or sit backstage - you're out there, you deserve to be talked to, you're asking for it. If you're headlining the Glasgow People Arena in front of 30, 000 people, you might not fancy it, but at this level, it's ridiculous not to."
There's a rumour doing the rounds online (particularly on one encyclopedia site which is open for the public to edit) that you play in your own tribute band - is that true?
Jon sighs, "It's not so much our own tribute band... We wanted to play some new songs - we had a whole album's worth, and it's always rubbish to go and see your favourite band and them not play the hits, so we called ourselves Los Skeletos and played a couple of shows. It meant there were no Reuben fans there waiting to hear Freddy Kreuger or any of the other singles - they got to see a brand new band playing brand new songs, but people have found out about it now."
"There's a lot of seriousness in music," Guy concludes, "It's just an excuse to have a bit of fun."
It's an over-used phrase, but Reuben are quite possibly the hardest working band around, given that all three band members are still holding down day jobs (Jamie: "It's essential."), taking time off only to tour around the country, as documented on their new DVD What Happens In Aldershot Stays In Aldershot.
"We all try and do a bit of favours for our jobs," Jon explains, "Like when we were in Europe, I was away for four weeks, but when I came back, I worked pretty much all the time for four weeks. It's all give and take, isn't it? If you want something, you do something for them."
"We've all been with our jobs for quite a long time, and we were with our jobs before we started going on tour, so we've got a good relationship," Jamie continues. "I don't think any of us could quit the jobs we have and then find another one that would be quite as understanding."
"The DVD's very honest about things," smiles Jon. "It's us going to stack shelves. A lot of bands our size would try and pretend that they live off the band and they live a rock star lifestyle, but we really don't, and we never try to pretend that we do. Being honest is much better for the soul, and I feel much better doing it that way. Getting kicked out of a hotel for being really drunk with a couple of girls on your arm, that's pretty rock'n'roll, but driving all night across country in thick fog, getting home at five, having a shower and then going to stack potatoes for nine hours, I think is much more rock'n'roll. It's how it is, you know. And I'd rather people knew that."
"It's easy to get kicked out of a hotel with f**king girls on your arms," adds Jamie. "It's not easy to go out and do a job after one hour's sleep."
And with a quick plug for their next Glasgow gig ("Sunday 23rd September!" grins Guy, unfurling a handy poster, "It'll be a cracker!"), it's time for Reuben to get ready. A couple of hours later, they're onstage, tearing up the sold-out ABC2 with a blistering set, made all the more remarkable considering how unwell they have been and how other bands may have cancelled in the same circumstances. Showcasing songs from ‘In Nothing We Trust' amid old favourites cements them as one of the UK's most exciting and consistently on-form rock bands, and it's astounding that they still have to juggle jobs to make ends meet. You hope that the success they so desperately deserve will come their way and enable them to quit their day jobs, but secretly you think that's what makes Reuben Reuben. Bands like this don't come along very often, and Reuben should be treasured.