It didn’t seem worth it for Reuben Bullock and his band to drive eight hours to play a single show.
Kelowna’s music fans clearly thought differently. One hundred and fifty people crammed into a tiny cafe to watch the set. The band sold all of the merchandise that they brought. Considering the experience of Bullock and his group — multi-instrumentalist Scott Munro plays with Chad VanGaalen, while percussionist Distance Bullock screams for The Illustrated — such a reception should have been expected, but the Calgary-based musician is as humble in speech as he is gifted (and haunting) on the mic.
There’s a sense of satisfaction in his voice when he speaks about his second full-length, Man Made Lakes. He’s quick to point out, though, that he’s ready to record another one — a better one — right away.
“That’s the experience and the process of recording and performing,” Bullock says. “You’re always chasing things. You’re trying to materialize them inside your head. You never get it right, but you get closer.”
But Man Made Lakes is a project worth celebrating as a triumph in and of itself. Bullock’s quivering yet harnessed voice, which was deservedly praised after the release of Pulling Up Arrows, has been further refined and smoothed. The new 11-song record features an amalgamation of sounds that seems to defy classification (something that Bullock is obviously pleased about); Josh Ritter, Timber Timbre, Fleet Foxes, Neil Young and even Sigur Ros might serve as reasonable influences, but Bullock is sure to reiterate that he’s not attempting to replicate anyone’s sound.
“I have no idea what our genre is,” he says. “It should be such a simple thing. But I don’t really want to know. I’m always getting tagged as a singer-songwriter, just because the band name is my name. I’m just that guy with the guitar. It’s not like that though. It’s not alternative folk, or indie folk. It’s kind of like folk in the sense that there’s a lot of storytelling, but it’s not traditional storytelling, so I don’t know if it falls into folk.”
The storytelling that Bullock mentions has never been a struggle for him, and the depth of the tales he tells on Man Made Lakes are expertly poetic, just as they were on Pulling Up Arrows. But the instrumentation that accompanies the narratives on this album has thrust Bullock into another realm of musicianship. All the songs were built by jamming in Lorrie Matheson’s studio — although some of the song’s skeletons had been kicking around in Bullock’s mind for up to five years — and most were recorded on the first take. The resulting album features magnificent (yet often subtle) crescendos of emotion, such as on “Bow and Arrow,” “Burial” and “How to Fight.”
“The first record was very quiet and stripped down,” Bullock says. “When we put a band together after the record. I realized the potential of having a live band and having four or five people singing. It was a different world. We exaggerated that in this album. There’s more people singing it in the album than there are singing live to punctuate that. That’s the thing I like to get across live, and you want to make it a little more interesting and do things that you can’t do live.”
In saying that, the live show is the ultimate focus of Bullock’s music. It’s where everything comes together for him and his band. As a result, it made sense for Bullock to rent the “classy” Arrata Opera Centre for the CD release, as it’s the “one time where you have a lot of control over how you’re being perceived and what the environment of the room is.” He also hand-picked the opening bands. But as the show in the Kelowna cafe proved, it doesn’t really matter where the band is playing or who’s opening for them. They’ll draw crowds.