AS PUBLISHED IN THE KITCHENER-WATERLOO RECORD SEPTEMBER 27,1996

 

BY NICK KREWEN

For The Record

 

This is the story of a man and his two goats.

If you've seen SPOOKEY RUBEN's video for the song "Running Away" on MuchMusic, you'll know that it involves a lot of running, a snowbound castle and a goat.

What you may not realize is that the video, Ruben's second from his debut TVT album Modes Of Transportation Vol. 1  actually required the use of two goats: one on location for the February in Germany, and a standby animal for additional frames shot in Canada.

"Sissy, the goat we used in Germany, was great to work with, " says Ruben earnestly over the line from Ottawa.

"The nameless goat in Canada wasn't too co-operative at all. We took a long time getting her settled."

Why on Earth would a rock video require a stunt goat?

"You can't exactly check a goat into (an) economy (flight)," chuckles Ruben, who wears a crown and a cape while frolicking with the hoofed beast in the snow.

"I wanted a medieval theme. I wanted to write a song about how a prince feels the need to run away from all the pressures.

"I think visually, so I was going to ride the horse for the video thinking it'd be cool. Then I decided upon a goat because it was an odd companion. The goat symbolizes his loneliness."

If you're wondering how such a cockamamie plot line could come from the mind of Ottawa-born Spookey Ruben, then you haven't heard his album Modes Of Transportation Vol. 1.  Beginning with a sweep of orchestral grandeur before suddenly flying off into imaginative pop stratospheres, each of the 13 songs on Modes Of Transportation Vol. 1  are connected by a common thread: contrast.

One minute, Ruben is fluttering in a pseudo-BEACH BOYS motif; the next he's heavily drenched in a STRANGE ADVANCE synth pop groove. It's like opening thirteen boxes of Crackerjack and finding a new surprise in every package.

"That's a good compliment," states Spookey, whose stammered responses give a reporter the impression he's a scattered genius distracted from his next great idea by the burden of conversation.

"I wanted it to be full of surprises. If you look at all the songs individually, you get a totally different vibe from each and every one. On `Running Away,' you'd think we were like a rock band. On `Crystal Cradle,' I create a fragile picture before jumping into a NEW ORDER groove."

After an extended dialogue with Spookey Ruben, one gets the notion that his life -- like his music -- is a series of jarring transitions that began in his youth when he was uprooted from Ottawa to Germany because "my father worked for the European equivalent of NASA."

It's where he got his first taste for his love of music.

"Growing up in Germany exposed me to the whole Euro-pop scene. I was there for Newedeutschewell -- the new German wave" says Ruben, rhyming off such names as TRIO , NENA and BLISS as his musical favorites.

He began playing guitar at age 11, and suffered another culture shock at the age of 14 when his family relocated to Washington. By this time, speed metal had meandered its way into Ruben's musical vocabulary as he worshipped the ground trod by such underground faves as MEKON DELTA, VOIVOD and WATCHTOWER.

He also received his nickname "Spookey" as a result of high school pals who ribbed him about his metal-worshipping appearance of long hair and a t-shirt.

After playing for years in a number of upstart bands, Ruben grew tired of the scene. At 19, he relocated to Toronto -- where he still resides -- enrolled in film school at York University, and kept his musical ideas rolling on a home tape recorder. He eventually applied to VideoFACT for a grant to make a short for his song "These Days Are Old" -- also on Modes Of Transportation Vol. 1 -- and was so bowled over by the response it garnered on MuchMusic that he sent his demo tapes out to a bevy of labels.

Eventually, a trio of record labels battled it out for his affections, with New York's TVT Records -- distributed here by A&M -- winning the war.

"They treated me nicer than any of them," admits Ruben. "They seem to understand me."

Spookey Ruben says there are two easily identifiable aspects to his quirky, spontaneous pop.

"I kind of see my music as visually oriented," he explains. "I often work it backwards, where I hear the final song in my head and imagine what the video would look like before I actually begin to work on it.

"I also like taking everything to the extreme. I like to exaggerate each and every element of every song. I'm into contrasting sounds."

Ruben did that all too well on Modes Of Transportation Vol. 1, recorded mainly in his bedroom. How does that translate on stage to a four-piece format that features JEN FEBBRARO on keyboards, KENNY CUNNINGHAM on bass, and STEFAN SCZEZNIAK on drums complementing the maestro on guitar and keyboard?

After a few seconds of silence, Spookey responds with the only logical answer he can.

"The best way to explain it is to check us out live."

Spookey Ruben opens for BIF NAKED tomorrow night at The Volcano. 9:00 p.m. Tickets are $6 at the door.

-30-

THANKS: PHILIP BAST, PENNY COATES, SHAWN MARINO

©1996, 1999 Nick Krewen, Octopus Media Ink

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