The last time we spoke to singer Jesse Ruben was way back in March 2019, when he had just released his EP Hope, something that we seem to be seeing less and less of in a COVID-19 stricken world. But Jesse has managed to remain remarkably strong during this period, in spite of the cancellation of live performances, with the release of his latest single Future.
“I wrote Future a couple of years back, and I kept trying to figure out the perfect time to release it. I never realised it would be so appropriate today, with all the stuff that’s going on in the world,” says the 34-year old Brooklyn-based singer. “Initially, I was going to put it out in April, then decided to put it on hold until the whole pandemic cleared up. But when it became clear that wasn’t happening anytime soon, I decided to release it in September. I think so many people are releasing new music now because it’s the only thing we know how to do, something we can give people and hope it helps them get through this period.”
Future then becomes a beacon of hope amidst the darkness, where Jesse reminisces on his relationship with his wife, actress and now blogger Jen Jacob. Originally written sometime in 2018, he’d already been performing the song for a number of months, asking audience members not to film or post about it because Jen wasn’t aware of the song. Miraculously, she never did find out, at least, until their rehearsal dinner for their wedding in October that year.
Marathon medals in Jesse Ruben’s room
“For Future, I was really just writing it with the thought of singing it for my wife at our wedding weekend. I didn’t want it to be too heavy handed, and just kept the lyrics simple,” says Jesse. “You’ve got lyrics like ‘you helped me believe/that gold medal’, and in one of the rooms, we’ve got medals hanging on the wall from the marathons my wife and I do every year, and the song is just so full of imagery like that. And then the chorus simply goes ‘as soon as we met/I knew you were my future’, and that’s a statement where you really don’t have to add anything to. You know, I’ve written so many songs about her already, but this song is a little different. I don’t know if I believe in soulmates, but there really was something about her I knew when I saw her, and I guess that’s the reason we’ve been together 8 years now. I still love her, she’s so amazing, and we’re not perfect human beings, but being together, it’s just the best feeling, and this song sums it up in the best way possible.”
That’s not to say he hasn’t been going through his own period of difficulty, especially with the dark and foreboding atmosphere COVID-19 has brought. “It’s been a very rough period for musicians in general over the last few years. For one thing, when CD and physical sales were replaced with streaming, that changed a lot of our main source of income,” says Jesse. “In Canada, the musicians apply for grants from the government, because to them, it’s important that Canadian music is created and shared. Whereas it’s not the same in the USA. My wife is an actress, and there’s a lot of benefits for her thanks to being part of the union, with good health insurance, being paid on time and so on. But the music industry doesn’t have that, and with all these deficiencies, a lot of people tend to lose out on basic things like financial stability. I wouldn’t trade my life for anything, because I’ve written some incredible songs, but I just wish that in the states they’d take care of the creatives a little more.”
The isolation in particular has been taking its toll on Jesse, who’s known for his strong audience engagement during his live gigs. “Before COVID-19, I was a lot busier touring and travelling. And playing my music live in a concert hall or a room and interacting with the audience, that’s something that feels so weird to be without. An interim solution is how I’ve been doing weekly online concerts, but it’s really not the same, and nothing replaces the feeling of live music,” he explains. “The music industry is really competitive, and people rarely talk about how hard it can be on one’s mental health. The single has been doing well, but it could always do better, and you end up looking at the streaming numbers, the social media response, and it’s all too easy to compare yourself to others. It’s hard being creative too in this environment, sure you’ve got the time now, but the mood and atmosphere of how things have been going makes creativity so difficult. With winter coming especially, I’ve been asking around if anyone knows a good therapist, and I’ve been learning to focus on the positive side of things, to accept the reality of what’s happening, and appreciate all the good things that’ve been happening in my life, without being dragged down.”
One of the ways Jesse has found to be immensely comforting is the act of running, something he tries to do when he can to get out of the house to break the isolation, even if just for a while. “Interestingly, I don’t listen to music when I run, and it’s one of the few times I’m actually not plugged into my phone,” he says. “Running is something that’s been helping me get outside of the house during quarantine, and I feel so free when I’m running. It’s really just putting one foot in front of the other, to keep moving forward, and it’s almost like a metaphor for change and to become a better person. I’m always learning, trying not to get stuck in my ways, and running I guess, can also be applied to surviving this pandemic, one step at a time and taking things as they come.”
Jesse teases that the upcoming album he’s been promising fans is almost ready for release, with perhaps another 2 or 3 more singles to be dropped before the album officially comes out. “In terms of writing songs, I think what’s important is really to have your audience in mind as well, to take care of them and use your music to help as they listen to it, and use that music to reflect their lives back to them,” he says on his songwriting process. “Future may have been written about my wife, but other people have managed to interpret the song in their own way, like how I sent it to my brother I haven’t spoken to in years, and he took those lyrics and related to them by making it his own. Essentially, I’m writing about the shared human experience, and the songs will pick up whatever I’m feeling from other people’s lives, and hopefully, never feel insincere, because I want people to know I mean what I say, and that helps develop the connection between listener and artist.”
“For now, I’m just writing a million songs a week, finding a middle ground between avoiding what’s happening outside while taking care of myself. We’re all still trying to make a living in such an unprecedented time, figuring it all out and doing out best. No one is thriving right now, you’ve got friends wondering how to raise kids in this environment, people afraid of falling sick, and this whole collective trauma. That’s why I’m not letting it put a stop to life, keep making my art, and not let this take over.”
Ultimately, at the heart of Jesse’s art, are songs of hope, that we can and will make it through together. Music becomes a reminder for us all that there’s a shared humanity, and our connectedness that will see us through the darkest of times. “I don’t know if we’re ever going to get back to normal anytime soon, and who knows how long it’ll be before concerts become a regular thing again. It’s scary, especially for the live entertainment and service industries,” he concludes. “But it’s ok not to be ok, because we’re all in this together. People need to recognise that it’s ok to ask for help when you need it, because they’re not alone, and they need to take care of themselves. I sincerely believe that the good guys always win, humanity will always win out, and we’ll get through it. I have a lot of faith in us as the human race, and that we’ll do the right thing.”