Be the Sharing Type
The Canadian R&B singer shares his experiences working with Classified and finding his inspiration for music
When Ruben Young first entered adulthood, he was on a career trajectory that any parent would be proud of. Graduate university, find a good job and begin working towards a future. Despite finding his way relatively easy, Young did so by leaving his musical passions in the rear view mirror. As a contestant on Canadian Idol at the ripe age of 16, Young felt it was his destiny to follow his musical dreams. He did so by pioneering one of Calgary’s largest music endeavors to date.
“I had just finished getting my degree in Finance from the University of Calgary. I was working at an investment bank, but I really wanted to make sure that I have music a decent crack. Then, I had this idea called 50 Days of Summer, which was 50 days of pop up shows in a row,” says Young. I would go to My Favourite Ice Cream Shoppe down the street and just post up on the piano and get my friends to come play some R&B jams. It was all an effort to get my name out there and meet Calgarians. I wanted to see what the vibe is like. I got a $10,000 radio endorsement and got hooked up with free beer for the summer.”
After seeing success in the first year, Young wanted to turn the pop-up shows into a full blown festival. He combined his knowledge of the internet with some marketing tips he picked up and took to the internet with his idea. While his intentions for the campaign were innocent enough, people weren’t as receptive to the idea as Young hoped they would be.
“We made a Kickstarter campaign for 50 Days of Summer that raised $10,000. We made a music video using just city sounds, which got some good buzz. Together, we made another Kickstarter video where we explained the idea, and we had some words in the video that rubbed people the wrong way. It came across as us saying that Calgary’s music scene needs a hand and we’re here to give you that hand. People got really salty from that. AUX magazine wrote an article saying “What happens when thirsty yuppie marketers throw a music festival.” That article got shared over 1700 times on Facebook.”
The negative reception caught Young off guard, as he felt the general public misinterpreted his information. From fellow musicians to music lovers across the city, the negative press caught Young off guard.
“I was getting hate mail from random people in different music scenes. They came to me and said ‘I don’t know who you are and I’ve never seen you at one of my shows. Don’t pretend that you’re here to save Calgary’s fucking music scene.’”
After sorting through all the hate mail, it was time for 50 Days of Summer to begin. As quickly as Young was able to put everything together, it began falling apart one piece at a time.
“For our first event, we had a big tent and party buses that were picking people up from different areas around the city. We had tonnes of fun shit, as well as all the proper sound and what not. Then came August 15, 2015. I’ll never forget this day. It was 6 degrees outside, with heavy wind and rain. It was like a hurricane. On top of that, we didn’t have a proper liquor license to serve beer outside. They hadn’t realized that their license had expired. The Alberta Liquor & Gaming Commission came and shut the party down. All in all, I put about $20,000 into that day and lost most of it.”
Young was determined to make the rest of 50 Days of Summer a success despite having very little to work with. With his hands already full, Young was forced to sail into this storm with no other hands on deck.
“It was hard to put together a team of people that were willing to help out for 50 days. If it were a five-day festival, then maybe it would’ve been easier. By the end, I was making the posters, doing the sound, buying all of the equipment. If an artist dropped out or a venue canceled, then I’m the one that has to figure it out. By day 50, I was bust.”
On top of everything that was going on in Young’s life, he was also dealing with a complicated on again off again relationship. Young explains that this relationship has roots dating way before his musical days, which is why it played such a large role in his life at that point.
“When I was in grade 12, there was one guy who was really popular. He has a little sister, and everyone knows not to mess with her or else you’ll get a punch in the mouth. Everyone had a crush on this girl, including myself. One day, we’re at a party and I straight up fell in love with her. When you’re young, crazy and in love, it’s all you can think about. We began low-key texting and she was the first girl I felt comfortable telling stuff too. When I graduated high school and went to University, she started seeing someone else and I got pretty cheesed about it. Then I started dating someone and she got pretty cheesed about it. We were always in the back of each other’s mind.”
This went on for a few years, right up until the beginning of Young’s music career. Right as he was dedicating his life to music, she dedicated her life to him.
“One day, right before 50 Days, she texted me saying she wanted to go for coffee. Things rekindled from there and we were inseparable. It was just like I was 16 all over again. As the festival was beginning, she was getting ready to leave for her semester abroad. She would text me almost every day while she was gone and I would respond.”
As the festival continued to go on and Young began to lose energy, so did his newly found romantic endeavor.
“I remember around day 46 of the festival we talked a little less that day and a little less each day afterward. On day 51, we didn’t talk at all. At that point, I was feeling pretty low. Now that 50 days was over, I didn’t know what to do. I didn’t hear from her at all. Three weeks later, there was a new guy popping up on her social media pages.”
At this point, everything in Young’s life came to a screeching halt. The festival was over and the girl he was still in love with moved on without him. Feeling lost and confused, Young turned back to music to get his life back on track. With nothing else going on, Young was able to finally dedicate his full attention to his craft.
“I always felt like I wanted to just sit down and write, and now was the time. I called a buddy of mine and asked him if I could spend the weekend up at his cabin. 50 days kicked the shit out of me. I was broke, tired and stressed. I went up to the woods and wrote for a couple days straight.”
Young stuck to his roots during his musical boot camp, finding inspiration in his recent heartbreak and from some of his favourite artists.
“At their roots, all of my songs are ballads. They all start from the piano and I take those ideas and turn them into something else. I learned this from one of my G.O.A.T.s, Justin Timberlake. He starts everything from a piano or a guitar. Then he gets in a room with his producer and makes it into his tracks. He started the bass-influenced R&B before anyone else. Other artists stayed in their lane, but J.T. will bring guitars and synths into his songs.”
Young says he’s been able to find success sticking to his guns and not straying from who he is, despite what others have had to say over the years.
“When I sang on Canadian Idol when I was 16, the judges told me to sing something closer to my age. I was singing Bobby Caldwell and other 1970s songs because that’s my shit. That’s the type of sound I want to infuse into my records. I want to be the John Legend meets RL Grime.”
During his trip, Young was able to produce over 40 songs, including his upcoming single, “Bad Habits,” the title track from his upcoming EP Bad Habits EP. Young says he was able to undergo his creative renaissance by seeking guidance from sources he wouldn’t normally do.
“I found new ways to get over writer’s blocks by seeking inspiration from other people If I was stuck, I would call a country artist. I went outside of my comfort bubble. From those experiences, I’ve been able to bring something to the table regardless of who I’m writing with. If I sit down at a piano, I know how I feel and what to do with it.”
The trip proved successful in life, as he was able to get a fresh start on all aspects of his life, both musically and for his working career.
“I got a new job at an alcohol company and they sent me everywhere for training, from Toronto to Vancouver. All of this is happening while I’m still writing some songs. I got invited to the Business of the Arts Young Professionals Summit in Montreal, which is reserved for the top 100 young innovators in arts. They recognized my work from 50 days and invited me out. I felt like I was the least cool person in the room. I got introduced to a bunch of different producers.”
Young’s second wind was now at full speed. Everything was looking up when all of a sudden he was dealt a blow that was almost devastating enough to be career ending.
“It was my first official week on the job. I was driving out to Banff when I got called by the company’s HR department. As a liquor company, they had a zero tolerance policy against demerits on your driving record. If you have three demerits, you go on probation. If you have four, they terminate you without conversation. At that time, I had five demerits, which meant that they had to let me go.”
ALSO READ: Escaping SoundCloud Hell with IHATEYOU$HEED
Despite his demerits not being related to any form of drunk driving, the company had standards they had to enforce.
“I was confused. Just because I went 41 in a playground zone I can’t work here anymore? On paper, I was a risk to them. I called my boss and he told me it is what it is.”
Despite losing his job, Young was given one final hurrah with the company. Young’s boss allowed him to finish his work day, which involved driving back to Calgary for a Special Olympics fundraiser. Knowing who would be there, Young made sure he made the most of this opportunity.
“Classified was performing that night and I was determined to meet him. I grabbed a couple of beers and snuck into the VIP area to meet him. I was able to convince security to let me in and I met him. We exchanged email addresses and I sent him ‘Bad Habits,’ as well as a few other songs I had finished. He emailed me back a few days later and said my music was dope. He offered to work on the project with me, so I flew out to the east coast to work with him.”
Despite only having a rough draft of his single, Young was determined to make the most of this opportunity. He flew out to Nova Scotia to work with Classified, where they got to work right away.
“When I got there, he was just chilling in shorts and a backward had. He was cutting up some weed when he welcomed me in. We started working on ‘Bad Habits’ right away because. I got on the piano and he got on the drums.”
With Classified being one of the founding fathers of Canadian hip hop, Young felt that he was not one to questions the rap veteran’s studio practices.
“He makes everything from scratch in the studio. Other producers are on expensive equipment like Ableton and what not, while this guy is manually punching in beats and sounds.”
Already intrigued by what was going on around him, Young says Classified’s creative process only got more and more confusing as the session went on.
“As we’re working, the door swings open and his brother comes in and sits down with one of his friends. He pulls out a bunch of weed and starts vibing out to the sound. Classified then shouts across the studio ‘Hey, we should get Dan in here.’ An hour later and the door swings open again. I then realized that he isn’t saying, Dan. He was saying dad. Mans walks in wearing some Birkenstocks and ripped up jean shorts. He has no shirt on and his covered in mud. He looks at me and says ‘Let’s do this.’ He picks up his bass guitar that’s missing a string and begins strumming. I asked him if he wanted me to get everything mastered in Calgary. He looked at me and said ‘Naw, this is how I do all of my records man.’ It really is a family business.”
With the gang all there, the team was breezing through the recording. Even when hitting a collective writer’s block, Young says Classified’s expertise and unorthodox methods helped him find what he didn’t know he already had.
“We eventually get to hour 10 on the first day, where we hit a creative block. We can’t figure out what to use for the song’s chorus. At this point, it’s 2 a.m. and most people I work with would’ve called it a night. But I only had one day left out there and I didn’t want to leave without a chorus. I told him this and he said ‘Lemme smoke one more joint and we’ll get back at it.’ So I’m in the booth singing something when he bursts back in through the door. ‘Yo, get on the mic. I have something. I want you to yell this.’ He gave me a phrase and I used it, which is now the song’s chorus. It was surreal, but we were able to break through that creative block 10 minutes before we were about to quit.”
Young describes the entire process of working with Classified as one that he’ll never forget. Although he did some things differently, Young says he was all ears and listened to everything Classified had to say.
“It’s kind of like when Phil Jackson starts coaching a new team. He has rings. When he goes to L.A., Shaq and Kobe listen. With Classified, he gives me an opinion and I roll with it. That’s the type of guy he is. He’s humble and listens to everything. If you give him an idea, he doesn’t come to you and say ‘Look at the platinum records on the wall.’ He was willing to actively contribute. It was the best collaborative experience for me.”
With a brand new single ready to hit the radio waves, Young says he hopes all of his life experiences up to this point connect with audiences through the music he’s worked so hard to produce.
“I want the record to hit as many ears as possible. I wanted to make material I could use to open for the Chainsmokers or for Bruno Mars. If I want to strip it back, then fuck it, I’ll grab a guitar and sing.”
Since his session with Classified, Young has been able to open for acts such as the Chainsmokers and Akon. Now, Young is ready to share his life story with the world. After everything he’s seen thus far, he’s more determined than ever to get his name out there and on top of the music world.
“You have to be ballistic and go hungry. Unless you get super lucky, you have to hustle. Sure, you don’t have to go downtown and hand out your mixtape anymore, but it’s still a grind. If you’re putting out anything, you need those resources. It’s more than just getting people to hear your music. It’s about how you’re gonna get them to embrace it.”
Be sure to check out Ruben Young’s upcoming single ‘Bad Habits’ on his SoundCloud page when it drops on August 4. Also, follow him on Twitter and Facebook so you don’t miss the release of Bad Habits EP later this year.