In The Frame With Reuben James
No matter the craft, here at MONC we feel akin to our peers from across all creative industries. We appreciate their work and gain inspiration and motivation from their stories and creative processes.
So, whenever an opportunity to connect and share ideas arises, we take it.
In the lead-up to releasing our two new wire frames, Bassano & Nørrebro, we got the chance to catch up with our friend and talented musician, Reuben James.
Heavily influenced by jazz, Reuben isn’t afraid to break convention - we sat down to discuss how this translates across his music, personal style and all other areas of life.
What drew you to music and when did you start playing?
My parents had a huge vinyl collection in the house, my mum brought a lot of reggae and classical stuff, meanwhile my dad was obsessed with Bob Dylan, and my big sister played instruments, she was very musical and really inspired me to take it seriously.
I started playing the piano at age 4 and violin at age 5, and that was it really, I never looked back, I was obsessed. Then when I got older, I would use it to avoid doing house chores and homework by just practicing and practicing.
I also remember I went to see John Legend when I was a kid and I got to meet him and it really inspired me to get deep into the piano.
What is it about music that you love?
I love music because it transports me, it inspires me to wake up in the morning. It elevates me when I'm already happy, and it gets me through the tough times in life, it heals me. And when I play I hope it can heal other people too. It brings back memories of my childhood, every big experience in my life - there’s a soundtrack for it.
Which artists would you say inspired your sound and initial love of music?
I’m an old soul, so definitely Herbie Hancock, Stevie Wonder, Aretha Franklin, Sarah Vaughan, Nat King Cole, Louis Armstrong, Ella Fitzgerald, Robert Glasper, Oscar Petrson… the list goes on and on. You know, timeless music. So, my sound has a heavy jazz influence, with deep grooves and harmony, a bit of RNB - but it's ever changing, I listen to all genres and try to make my music eclectic. Everything I'm into basically all mixed and mashed together.
You're inspired by a lot of great jazz musicians of the past, how do you use this as inspiration for your work?
Well, they have the most ridiculous technique, but that's not why people love them, it’s because of their personality, they leave their heart and soul on the stage and in the music, and I try and make that my intention when I'm creating my own music or performing.
It’s the chords and the harmony that really control the emotion, so I use lots of chord changes and harmonies, and then I try and mix it in with cool R&B vibes, beats, more modern sounds.
But in a live setting, I use so much improvisation, you'll never hear me play one of my songs the exact same way, because I'm just being in the moment, which is so important in jazz. On stage is where I really cut my teeth.
Anyone who knows you, knows that you’re an avid glasses wearer, especially on stage, why is that?
When I’m about to go on stage, they’re the last thing I put on and just like that I’m in character, I’m ready to perform. And in daily life, I just feel like they top-off the outfit. I like to express myself and I feel like I can use eyewear as an extension of my personality.
Just like my music my style is very free and imaginative, I like to keep it evolving.
Lot of artists throughout history have worn iconic eyewear, Elton John, Micheal Jackson, John Lennon. There’s a funny story actually, I was at a party in LA and Elton John showed up and he was wearing the exact same sunshades as me, and I was like ‘oh man, I’ve got to take mine off, I can’t be wearing the same shades as Elton!’.
Today you’ve been wearing our two new frames, Bassano & Nørrebro, what do you think of them?
With Bassano, I love the square fit, it really suits my face, they sit well. They’re smart and chic, it’s got that whole vintage vibe too, but it’s modern, really well made.
Nørrebro are a bit more of an old school retro 90’s kind of feel. I think they're a bit more of a fashion statement than the square ones, very artistic. I’d definitely like working those onstage.
We could talk about eyewear all day, but lets get back to the music, what’s your usual creative process?
I never really prepare for a day in the studio, I just like to wake up early, do some exercise, eat a healthy breakfast and spend time with the my family. I don't put too much pressure on myself, I just try and be open.
When I've got creative block, the best thing for me is to just step away. I know that's probably not the best thing to do and a lot of creatives like Pharrell, who is a big inspiration of mine - he always says you should just go every day, but I need to take big breaks to just live life and let it all inspire me.
And then, occasionally I hit a Purple Patch where suddenly a lot of creativity just washes in and I'm writing multiple ideas a day.
What has been your favourite piece of work and why?
I’d say I'm really proud of my Slow Down album. Just as a whole body of work, I feel like it's really strong. If I had to pick a favourite song from that record, it would probably be Slow Down, because I wrote that in lockdown, and I feel like it encapsulated what everyone was going through.
Your new album is coming out this year, what was it like working on this?
I went up to Big Bear in California to a cabin so I was very secluded, and my friend Cartoons and I made the whole record together in like a few weeks.
I was just in a really free creative moment where I felt like stories and melodies and lyrics were just flowing out of me. I feel like I made the most honest music I could possibly make.
Do you have any live performances coming up soon that we should add to our diary?
I'm performing at Brick Lane Jazz Festival on Sunday 16th of April. So get down there if you haven't got a ticket yet! It's gonna be a really cool gig. I've got some headline shows at Ronnie Scotts this summer, and hopefully a headline UK tour this autumn, so keep your eyes peeled for that.
We’ll definitely be going to see Reuben perform and hopefully, catch him Bassano or Nørrebro.
Click below to explore our new frames.