[ john reuben interview @ purple door 02 ]
His voice a little raspy, his eyes showing signs of tiredness, I sat down alone with John Reuben for a few moments just as Relient K was about to come on stage to close Friday night at Purple Door. It was as if we were in his living room. Here is what I asked:
cMW: My first question. What is a tall, thin, white Jewish guy from Pataskala, OH doing Hip-hop music?
JOHN REUBEN: (Trying for a serious voice) I would have to answer your question with another question. What is a charming, beautiful young lady like yourself doing interviewing me at Purple Door? Just kidding. (laughs) No, I mean I am not kidding.
cMW: I am not charming? (laughs)
JR: No, you are very charming. But I would have to say I got into Hip-hop at an early age. I got into poetry first. But then I got kind of linked up, I used to live on a farm which was actually a place where a lot of inner city teens came from like New York City and places like that and I was exposed to different music, and I just added that to the poetry I was already getting into. I just kind of gradually started getting into it.
cMW: What has changed in your music ministry since you first appeared at Purple Door two years ago?
JR: The guys I perform with have changed. I think I am just more motivated now than I have ever been. I think a lot young artists are always hungry and naïve to everything and as they get older they become bitter. I think it is kind of the opposite with me. I think I went into doing music already kind of having a pretty level head, not sure even exactly what it is I wanted to do, just knowing that I love to do music, and I love communicating with kids. I think now I am definitely just more focused and I have more motivation.
cMW: I was impressed just before your set at Creation East when you were setting up the stage before your set at the Fringe stage.
cMW: Every time you walked out on stage, the crowd cheered and you just kind of stood there and chuckled at them. What were you thinking at that time?
JR: Probably…um…Oh, you are talking about Creation East, that was one of the most hottest moments of my life. I was probably praying about how I was going to make it through the set because I was so hot. I don't know, it's always weird because it's amazing to me that kids are really into my music like that and really get something out of that. I think with me sometimes a lot of kids that come out to our sets, they go past just being fans, a lot of kids are there because they get something out of it. We kind of communicate and we build together and we connect. I know this sounds super cheesy. So to me, some of these places I go I feel like family reunions. I see a lot of kids I know, I see a lot of familiar faces, and people that are really into what's going on, and I feel like we get to share together. So it's kind of the approach I take. So it's always nice to get a lot of love when you step out on stage.
cMW: You got a lot of exposure travelling with Five Iron Frenzy, Relient K, and Ace Troubleshooter. I heard that Relient K invited you on that tour, and Five Iron Frenzy did not even know who you were. Is that true?
JR: Uh, yeah. Kind of like that. Actually, that was a really unique situation. So many twists and turns. Yeah, Five Iron did not really know who I was, they were not even sure if they wanted us on the tour. Because originally it was going to be a John Reuben/Relient K tour, and Five Iron wanted Relient K. Then I ended up becoming super good friends with all of the Five Iron guys. I am already really good friends with Relient K, but everybody from that tour is good friends of mine. And Five Iron especially. We're good friends. It's kind of funny.
cMW: I have noticed that many people do not become a John Reuben fan until they come to one of your shows.
JR: That's a good observation.
cMW: I am one of them. I saw you here……it was cold. It was a ski event.
JR: Oh yeah. Definitely.
cMW: But I have heard a lot of other people have said that. What would you say to that?
JR: I would say that I mix a lot of fun. I think when you are live people get to really see who you are, you have a chance to show them your personality, and have a chance to connect with people. I always like being live more than being on a CD. So, definitely.
cMW: Tell us more about what you think of the mean people you mention on your Hindsight CD. Do these people affect how you proceed in the music business?
JR: Kind of. Well, I did not take a lot of stuff too serious. I think it is just kind of a way of throwing out that...a lot of times I do not do that stuff to defend myself. You know even like, to be some sarcastic jerk. A lot of times when I talk about a lot of different people it is to make a point, especially a lot of the intros and interludes and stuff. But to make a point that a lot of people are so consumed by their music and their art that they forget that people are people and a lot of times art shouldn't separate us as a whole as much as it does. Music, our little subculture. And so I think a lot of that stuff is trying to make a point that when I make music, I make exactly what I feel God wants me to make, not to fit into some certain type of clique, or to kind of clique off and be some sort of, "I am with these people here." I make music for everybody. And some people don't understand it so they like to throw and point the finger. The funny thing about it is that I grew up being very cliquish at one point in my life and I kind of broke off from that and said, "You know what. I want to get to know a lot more." And the more I stepped out, the more I feel like I grew as an artist.
cMW: Also on the Hindsight CD, you mention your desire not to "sell out." I have a student in my High School youth group (where I am a leader) who does not want to listen to Christian music because she says that all Christian musicians want to "sell out." What would you say to that thinking?
JR: That's an interesting question. You ask some good questions. I would have to say, part of that is kind of a premature statement to make, because the more you experience, coming from a guy who has experienced a lot of different artists. People are selling out all across the map - Christian music, mainstream music. And a lot of times you have to check the motive of the different artists, depending on where the student was coming from. A lot of people want to do exactly what they are doing. Again, but somebody would sit back and say, "Well that is selling out, that is selling out." But if someone is doing exactly what God has put on their heart to do, then it is not selling out. But to somebody who might not like it or perceives music the way he perceives music. I would just say don't be too quick to point the finger at everybody because I have probably met some of the most pure-hearted and some of the most rawest, some of the most realist musicians and emcee's in the Christian world than I have in the mainstream world. A lot of the mainstream world is all about money, and some still in the Christian world. I have met some real down to earth, rugged, raw men in my life who can rip the mic and I would not call them a sell out for anything. It's not like they are going to beat me up or anything, but the intimidation factor is still there, because they are pretty raw.
cMW: Speaking of "Christian" versus "mainstream", what do you think of the categorization between "Christian" and "mainstream" in the music industry?
JR: I think Christian music has seen some success so it will tend to separate itself, which can be frustrating. I mean, I am not bitter or anything like that. But I feel I do hip-hop music and it should be put into hip-hop category, not so much lumped into the Christian category. Not so much that I don't want to be called a Christian emcee, or an emcee that's a Christian. Whatever you want to title or label it, that's not really the issue. It's people's perception. So if putting my CD in a Christian category is going to keep kids from picking up my CD, or if they are, like you said, your student already labeling and stereotyping it, I think that is probably one of the bigger problems I have with it. There are issues everywhere. Gotee records has been real good to me.
cMW: Some people think Christian music should have a high "Jesus" factor. A lot of songs should have Jesus or the Bible very obvious. What would you say to that?
JR: This could be a long answer. I think that people should write from the heart, first and foremost, and what God has placed in their heart. I look at my music and I look at the high "Jesus" factor all throughout it, whether I am saying, "Jesus, Jesus, Jesus, Jesus." That's just my heart. I have kind of broken it down, and this is just for my own personal understanding because I like to be able to grab it and have it tangible. I hear a lot of complaints on both sides, "Christian music separates itself, it does not relate itself to people." And I have also heard a lot of people saying, "All I want to do is praise God in my music and that's why I put it in everything." I would say this. My cousin came to me, who is not a believer, and he said, "My problem with Christian music is that I don't understand it." Christians will talk about things, we have our Christianese type of communication. But a lot of people don't understand, and if we are really trying to reach out, and our heart is to really reach people, then the different types of vocabulary and choices of words in the songs we write, if it is flying over people's heads then we are not bringing it to a level where they can understand. Jesus always broke it down when it came to non-believers at a level they could understand a lot of times. Parables is one great example. And for me at this point, I have separated music in two categories. Some music is praise and worship completely, feel good music, and there are some songs I'll just pop that's like, "Go Jesus, go Jesus, go Jesus." And at this point, that makes me feel good right now. That's a little uplifting. Christian music is more reality based for a believer, and that's going to help them a long way, and even non-believers, it's going to help them a long way, too. I mean I write songs about struggling and depression and things like that. I can't count the number of times that has reached somebody. So that's kind of a long explanation. Not as well thought out or articulated, as I would like it to be.
cMW: My last question is, do you have a special song for your wedding next Saturday?
JR: "Here comes the Bride, all dressed in..." (laughs) Nothing yet. Well, I actually wrote a little bit of song, kind of a pretty introspective love song, that will might come out on the next record. But it was before I actually started dating her, about all of the things God was dealing in me.
cMW: Thank you for your time.
JR: Thank you.
- Kim Flanders
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