By Sebastian Buzzalino
Vulnerability through artistic practice is largely about opening up spaces: within the artist to explore difficult or repressed emotions, and within the audience to move through the work with empathy and openness. The best works that arise from opening up have the capacity to challange the type of harmful narratives that have historically made sensitivity a flaw — like the idea of cis-hetero men prioritizing their emotional well-being.
This is the place that Reuben Bullock was coming from when he began work on Un|Love, his third full-length via Arts & Crafts. As an indie-folk singer-songwriter, Bullock is no stranger to writing heart-wrenching songs with an optimist core, and is a firm believer that things can get better by going through the process of feeling and dealing with his emotions. But, as he says over the phone from Montreal, the album sprung from darkness.
“This record came from a place of some real suffering. For a lot of the songs, I tried to turn that suffering into something soothing. The whole core of [my current songs] feel super vulnerable,” he says. “Un|Love was the result of hundreds of words with the prefix, ‘Un,’ before them and I became obsessed with how it confused the definition of the word.”
Bullock filled notebook pages with words that were destabilized by the addition of the prefix. Perhaps unwittingly, separating the prefix from the word with a vertical line opened up a more postmodern approach for his vulnerability: he wasn’t just interested in inverting or negating the original feeling, both of which would maintain the binary dynamic, but rather had a higher ambition. By providing space for his vulnerability to run free, he aimed to allow the audience the space to explore their own pressure points through his work. On Instagram, Bullock put the call out to his fans to respond to the idea of “Un|Love” and interrogate the area between words and feelings.
“I wanted to start conversations about how other people feel these emotions. I have a real curiosity of what that title brought out in people: was it something dark and painful, was it love and beautiful, or something in between?
“A lot of people reacted to the two polar sides. They reacted to the pain of the word [‘love’]. A lot of people felt like it challenged the word: they thought it was a positive thing in the sense of unlearning old ideas and [developing] stronger form of love.”
At the core of his music, Bullock’s primary concern is that people are reacting at all to the things that dig at them. “I’m constantly challenging myself,” he says. “I just started realizing that the audience is amazing and they really hold us in a place where we can do what we want to do: just to dig deep and put out the things I’m going through, sing about stuff that matters to me, create lyrics that are more intentionally thoughtful than they have been in the past.” In short, it’s about opening up new spaces for emotions and letting those run free as a form of therapy — about the intersection of audience and music as liberation.
Reuben and the Dark’s Un|Love is available now on Arts & CraftsReuben and the Dark