We caught up with Reuben James to talk song writing, touring the world and his home town
Reuben James cut his teeth at Brummie institutions the Yard Bird and the Jam Factory before progressing to Ronnie Scott’s in London where an encounter with Sam Smith changed his musical trajectory. As well as touring with the singer for six years, Reuben has collaborated with the star co-writing the title track from Sam Smith’s album The Thrill of it All as well as Him among many others.
He’s performed with Joni Mitchell, opened for Alicia Keys at the Dubai Jazz festival and collaborated with Disclosure, Honne, Callum Scott and Tom Misch to name just a few as well as selling out Birmingham’s Symphony Hall last November. Lauded as Britain’s best young jazz pianist by the Times, Reuben is now carving out his own vibe with the launch of a new EP this spring on the back of the success of his first solo EP Adore last summer. Expect a heady mix of jazz, soul and RnB.
GRAMMYS & OSCARS
Learning violin and piano from the age of four, Reuben knew he never wanted to do anything else. He attended Birmingham Conservatoire every Saturday morning and gained a scholarship to the prestigious Trinity College of Music in London. Reuben built a name for himself and became a regular at Ronnie Scott’s which is when he got the call from Sam Smith’s people. They toured the world together not once but three times and recorded Lay Me Down and Latch together. Reuben says: “It was surreal. It happened so quickly. The Grammys, the Oscars, all of that.”
Happiest on stage performing, Reuben is now busy growing his own legend. Playing with and collaborating with big names has led to this point and Reuben feels he’s been moving through the stages of his musical career to discover his sound. The writing process is organic rather than structured and differs depending on whether Reuben’s writing for himself or for someone else.
Inspired by everyday events, Reuben’s writing is very personal when writing for him, but not so much when writing for other artists. He says: “When I write for someone else, I’m more of a therapist.” Reuben describes his current work as ‘sonically groove based’ and an extension of what he’s been building through the years. For a period of time Reuben was writing either straight pop or straight jazz, but his current sound is an amalgam of the two genres with RnB thrown in for good measure.
Reuben’s time is split between his home in Birmingham and LA where his girlfriend lives and ultimately where he can see himself laying down roots. Reuben moved back to Birmingham from London because he found the capital anxiety inducing whereas his home town is more relaxing. He never moved to London because he felt he needed to in order to make a breakthrough. He says: “London was about figuring out how to be an adult and learning life skills as much as anything else.” In Birmingham he’s enjoying spending time with family and friends and he’s excited to see the music scene doing so well. “I love Birmingham. It’s home. The music scene is thriving. Jazz and RnB in the city is fantastic.”
It would be a natural progression to move to LA. Aside from his love interest, Reuben just loves the way of life. “It’s sunny every day. You have the best songwriters and producers in the world there. I do yoga, eat salad. I just love it.”
Reuben has worked with some amazing names and his list of collaborations is like a who’s who of music royalty, but I wonder if there’s anyone else on the wish list. He says: “Stevie Wonder, Brandy Carlisle, Aretha Franklin if she were still alive and Beyonce would be cool.” Preferring the quirky little venues to large sprawling stadia – although clearly he wouldn’t say no – he likes to be right next to the audience and ‘feel the people’.
The future is clearly bright and for now Reuben is just focusing on writing great music that as many people as possible get a chance to listen to.