“My hometown was a thousand people and the nearest city was eighteen miles away (laughs). There isn’t a music scene there, but in Norwich which is the city that I then studied and where I was doing music, there’s a lot of bands, there’s a lot of enthusiasm and there’s a lot of love just for making music.”
Raised in the sparsely populated town of Norfolk, Reuben Hollebon grew up along a British coastline that was light years away from the vibrant colors and sounds of London, England. Although the physical distance between him and the center of the UK music industry had done little to discourage him from pursuing a career in the field. Speaking to Pancakes and Whiskey by telephone in mid June, Hollebon talked about how an interest in engineering was followed by a “lucky chance,” at a studio, eventually leading to engineer work for an extensive list of bands and musicians including Courtney Barnett, Basement Jaxx and the London Symphony Orchestra. Recalling his early work behind the scenes, the musician spoke candidly about his earliest experiences recording.
“When I first started playing music with other people I wasn’t initially that skilled on the guitar at all. I listened to loads of music, I had a huge record collection already, but I was the one that knew how to press the button. I went and bugged the studio and eventually they let me start engineering and the other engineer left. I’d write everyday…bands were coming in the morning, tracking three songs in the morning, doing the vocals and the mixing in the afternoon and walking away with demos. You get a good grounding for working with bands and all these different types of music.” Soon, he found himself recording the groups populating London’s expansive music scene.
“It’s the same in the end, it’s no difference who you’ve recorded. You listen, trying to get what they want out of a sound. As long as everyone’s enjoying themselves, then normally the day’s gone quite well. If you’re a producer then obviously you’ve got deadlines as well, but as an engineer it’s a bit more about the enjoyment and the vibe.” Although he does acknowledge that his studio work did much more than provide him with a background in production. Reinforcing a strongly felt creative passion and purpose, Hollebon explained how his time at the studios had shaped a growing artistic ambition, gradually leading to a deeper interest in songwriting and performing.
“I understood which artists wanted to be musicians and which artists wanted to be famous, and I fall in the category of just trying to make music. And that means those people are kind of the people that I ended up molding myself on, you know? You want to get up in the morning and make music, but you also have to get up in the morning and just keep making it and practicing it.” Reflecting on his debut EP, 2012’s Clutch, the musician spoke about choosing which songs would appear on the collection, explaining how different songs often speak to him at different times.
“They were all written quite near each other. But they were kind of extracted from a massive folder of songs that I’d got together. And they were the ones that just resonated with me right there and then. It’s the same thing with the upcoming record; these were the songs that were resonating with me at the moment. When you get that feeling, that’s the time you need to put them out and then move on to the next ones, or maybe move back to some old.” Although when asked if his performing style is something that continually changes and develops with the music, Hollebon explained how a particular song from Clutch had unexpectedly moved him on stage, organically leading him towards a distinct performing and vocal style.
“I found I’ve had a few little moments on stage and a long run of loads of gigs, kind of trying to work out what I’m doing. And it molds what you do, but I first found my voice on one song called “Seven,” where I was just doing a few different performances and then I knew it and it was it. It was no longer me trying to cover someone else, trying to pay tribute to someone else- this is my song, this is what I do.”
And while the musician does acknowledge that he often encounters nervousness prior to performances, he finds enjoyment in the “meditation of it and the connection.” Discussing a previous tour that saw him traveling around Europe in the tradition of the storytellers and troubadours of the past, Hollebon described the singular experience as, “one of those amazing trips.” Flooded with memories, he explained how the tour came together while alluding to the romance and randomness that such a trip inspires.
“Couch surfing, arranging these little gigs. I’d play one place, people would be enthusiastic and they’d say, “Oh you should go stay with our friends in this city…” What was at first like six shows turned into about sixteen over the course of a month…One night sitting, trying to talk with the bums in Nuremburg, they didn’t speak English and I didn’t speak German and I had no where to sleep, and then a festival in Denmark with probably upwards of a thousand, two thousand people watching on the beach at sunset.”
Although when asked if there are any cities he has yet to play that would be particularly thrilling, Hollebon laughingly confessed that “there are many.” Reiterating his love for live performing, he paused before stating, “I don’t really want to limit myself to where that much.”
Currently finishing his debut album, check out Reuben’s Facebook page to see where he’s playing next
Article: Caitlin Phillips