On lockdown in London, away from his home and studio in Los Angeles, recording artist (and fine artist) Joseph Reuben embarked upon a creative challenge to produce one song every day for 30 days. Dubbed project S.A.D (an acronym for “song a day,” but also a reference to the swirl of emotions he felt in the pandemic), Reuben accomplished his mission, with the result being high-quality pop productions. Now, listeners can select from 20 tracks to help him assemble a debut album. Reuben offers listeners one minute of each—but it’s enough to feel their power and understand their melody. With 20 options, there are thousands of ways the album could turn out.
Despite years of success as a commercial composer (Rueben was also the first composer in over 100 years to perform an original composition at Windsor Castle), it was a crisis of confidence that initiated Reuben’s challenge. “When creating music, very often I wonder, over and over, is this any good,” he tells us. “So much of this self-doubt is draining and harmful to the early stages of any creative process. So I began to write a song every day, often giving myself only an hour to finish all the lyrics and melodies. This allowed me to create in a state of ‘play,’ free of judgement, as the intention was to get something recorded, however raw.”
One week in, Reuben looked at what he’d produced and found that “some of the songs were surprisingly strong and full of emotion. Perhaps more than music I’d spent months on. I decided to do this for one month and for the first time in my life, allow my listeners in.” Anyone familiar with Reuben’s work as a songwriter (as opposed to a his advertising or theatrical compositions) is aware that he’s been exceptionally guarded with regard to album releases since his days playing at Williamsburg’s Zebulon in 2010, Glasslands in 2013 and The Living Room in the LES one year later. Still, he’s amassed a following for his charismatic songwriting and earnest lyricism.
As many people consider the album to be a sacred art form and the result of an artist’s complete control, Reuben’s decision feels very of-the-moment and social-media-friendly. And yet, his motivation pertains to the way he creates. “I’ve been working in an incredibly insular way my entire professional life. Whether it was composing music for film and TV or writing songs,” he says.
“One thing I’ve learned over the years that I’ve been making music is that I don’t always know what’s best. I can have an intention to move a listener in a certain way but I can’t determine what they’ll connect with most,” he says. “For instance, ‘no regrets’ from S.A.D was meant as a quick improvisation made in an hour but I received more messages about that song than any other. Somehow its rawness moved people more than other tracks that I’d spent a full day on. When some artists release music, they have an A&R team suggesting what the singles should be. In my case, I decided to go straight to listeners to get feedback.”
With any taxing creative endeavor, inspiration is key. “Writing and producing everyday became extremely addictive,” Reuben says. “When talking about creativity, a lot of people say ‘I’m waiting around for inspiration’ and while I’m a big believer that perspective and time away from projects are crucial, for me, there was no waiting around.”
Vote on one of Joseph Reuben’s 20 tracks online now.
Images courtesy of Greg Woodward