As proof of the growing media buzz, the band made a recent cover of Calgary’s BeatRoute Magazine. From left to right, Shea Alain, Scott Munro, Distance Bullock and Reuben Bullock.
by Laurie Sarkadi | photo Doug Kim for Magazine
Shea Alain, the 23-year-old Yellowknife musician who winces when asked to name his former high school bands, (“Hello to Morning” and “Tennis Court Oath” are but two) is certainly not boastful by nature. In fact, it takes two interviews, an email and a Google search to learn the lanky Sir John graduate has been recording in London, England with producer Chris Heyden, who is also the drummer for British rock sensation Florence Welch, better known as Florence + The Machine.
Unlike the soaring, epic vocals that have shot Florence’s international popularity into the stratosphere, Shea has been lending his smooth, flawless harmonies and steady guitar rhythms to the Calgary-based, four-member, indie folk group Reuben and the Dark. It was a track by songwriter Reuben Bullock, overheard in a café in Mexico by Florence’s manager, Mairead Nash, that brought elements of the two bands together, and led to Nash signing Reuben and the Dark to her British-based label Luv Luv Luv Records.
“That was pretty fun,” recalls Alain of his time in London. “Just Reuben and I went over. We were just going to be there for two weeks and we stayed for a month.” They recorded two songs, including “Shoulderblade,” a languid love song released last October that features the group’s signature harmonies and swelling crescendos, with a dash of Sgt. Pepper. Earlier this year they reconnected with Hayden in a Calgary studio to complete an album.
A trained respiratory therapist and graduate of SAIT, Alain works each winter in Calgary hospital emergency wards. Eager to break into Calgary’s live music scene, the multi-instrumentalist met Reuben Bullock while he was curating the Market Collective, held every two months to feature local talent. All the spots were full, but Bullock’s girlfriend persuaded him to give Alain a shot.
“Yah, I got in trouble for it,” recalls Bullock. “There’s so many guys with guitars and she actually got me to make another spot.
“Shea came out after to one of our shows and he said, ‘I could see myself in your band,’ and then it just happened.” Bullock, who plays with his younger and older brothers, says Alain was the first member of the Dark who was not a sibling.
Alain reconnects with parents Donna and Denis and his own siblings each summer in Yellowknife, courtesy of Dan Stockton, who flies him up to work with his company North Cair Medical Supplies.
“I always look forward to it,” says Alain. “When I graduated from SAIT I was scared I wasn’t going to come back.”
It was Stockton who also sponsored the band’s flights to Yellowknife this past Christmas break, where they played a sold-out show at the Top Knight with Erebus and Terror, and an intimate home concert in Old Town, which is where I caught up with the thoughtful, hand-knit-sweater-wearing, seriously nice guys (I should disclose that I’ve known Shea’s family awhile and he was both of my twin’s favourite summer soccer coach). Yellowknife was the northern icing on the cake, after the band completed a cross-country tour last fall in a Chevy Starcraft van dubbed the “Latina Limousina,” sprinkling their spare, four-part-harmonized, broody anthems across 22 cities from Vancouver Island to New York City.
“We’ve been staying with so many Yellowknifers across the country, guys who I went to high school with, so the band has met a lot of people from here and I just really wanted them to see it and experience it,” says Alain.
Proof the band got an authentic taste of the capital can be found in a music video of the song “Eli” shot during their visit by local filmmaker Ian MacDougall. It features Alain driving band mates on a snowmobile and warm, by-the-woodstove cello and guitar playing inside Monique Robert and Dan Gillis’s houseboat. At the home concert, Reuben Bullock and his brother Distance profusely thanked everyone in Yellowknife for opening their hearts and homes to them.
Sold-out shows aside, Alain says the main purpose of Reuben and the Dark’s northern visit was to promote the band as a potential act for this year’s Folk on the Rocks music festival, which will announce its lineup soon.
Alain brought his own solo, songwriting talents to the festival’s main stage in 2009 after winning the Rock the Folks youth competition. A lucky few in Yellowknife may have even picked up his self-titled CD. I know I did, but for the life of me can’t find it now. Alain shyly protests my request to purchase another, preferring instead to focus on the new sounds of his collaborations with Reuben and the Dark.
The young men and their music may seem quiet and introspective, but critics in Canada and across the pond are trumpeting their praises loudly. Exclaim! Magazine promoted their fall tour, DIY (thisisfakediy.co.uk) claimed to have “Canada fever” in November, calling Reuben and the Bullocks “one of the country’s finest new hopes,” while Calgary’s BeatRoute magazine featured them on its February cover. Alain hopes the growing media buzz will help promote upcoming album releases.
You can find links to the band’s videos and concert dates at reubenandthedark.com. To watch the “Eli” video shot in YK, search “Eli Reuben in the Dark” on youtube.com.