To follow the path of an artist over time, one must accept surprise and delight, awe and the unknown. For half-a-decade, we’ve trekked along with London-born, Brooklyn-based David King Reuben. His fine art captures the soul, oftentimes upending reality—playing with it in a colorful, comedic and contentious way. Reuben’s artistry has developed in tangent with the interest of a slew of collectors—and an audience. Through layers of charisma and passion, Reuben has long explained his painted works to those interested, going so far as to deliver them to buyers himself. But the performative nature of a master creator wasn’t fully expressed and now Reuben gears up to release a different form of art: an album wholly impacted by the iconic Electric Lady Studios facility.
Sitting in Electric Lady, Reuben quietly—but with precise, animated motions—conveys how it came together. “The album was essentially written by me first,” he shares with us. “Then Joe [his brother, composer and artist Joseph Reuben] worked primarily from my bedroom at home to start the production. Electric Lady has taken on the position of managing me as well as offering constant guidance and resource.” Regarding the latter, Lee Foster, Electric Lady’s General Manager, brought in two-time Grammy-winning producer Stewart Lerman to co-produce the album. “We’re using all the facilities here,” Reuben adds. “We have the best engineers. As well as the Dap-Kings, who worked with Amy Winehouse. I just feel very humbled because these were some references and inspirations. To be working with their drummer and brass section is so humbling.”
“The studio was started by Jimi Hendrix. He’s also a huge inspiration,” Reuben continues about the experience. “All of the musicians I grew up listening to—David Bowie, John Lennon, more—they all produced in the same studio. It’s inspiring. When I throw words at the piano, I feel like I am throwing them out into this space where Lana Del Rey and Kanye West did the same. All the greats were sitting on the same chair, pressing the same keys. When you are in that, your overwhelming sense of inadequacy turns into inspiration. You want to produce something incredible.”
Reuben does not feel divided. Rather, he considers this a unified effort that meets his creative desires. “I split my life between art and music,” he continues. “A big art dealer came up to my and said ‘oh I see you do art and music now. You are spreading yourself thin. This isn’t true. I respect both mediums. I am very regimented and focused.” Time spent at Electric Lady is dedicated to exploring production ideas and laying down real instruments—a process that’s nearing its end. “Where we are, I wake up early, go to the gym, return home to rehearse the piano, do vocal warm ups and then I head to the art studio and spend hours there.” Of course, this will change when the album is released.
Songwriting for Reuben is more like having a conversation. “I sit at the piano and get into the groove. I free-throw lyrics out there. Sometimes I have a particular story I want to talk about. Other times I go back and work it out. There are times when the music comes out first and others where the lyrics do.” The album is an effort to communicate with more people that his privately owned paintings can. Further, “It is really a story of my last 10 years in New York. I always wanted to make a conceptual piece of art but this is about my experience being lost and alone and finding relationships and learning.”
Rather than jumping when inspiration strikes, Reuben believes you must start the stream with effort; to work toward opening creative force and then “let it flow like a mad tap.” In the studio he says, “It’s just trying one thing, failing at it, and trying again. Changing it up every single time. Ideas come out. I love it all so much that it doesn’t matter when I fail.” Remarkably, this is how he makes both paintings and songs. And with time his visual style has advanced. “I hate normal,” he concludes. “I never want to be normal. I have become calm, but calm isn’t normal. Who can sustain calmness in this world? Calm is its own type of madness.”
Images by Max Montgomery