Over the past few years, Nashville artist Reuben Bidez has made impressive strides in his musical career. Bidez has created his own avant-garde sound and has taken the time to nurture his music so that he can introduce its timeless nature to the city in a slow-burning manner. With his EP Turning to Wine on its way to being released, Bidez is becoming a permanent installment in the current music scene. A unique paradox exists within Bidez’s art: he channels a certain natural memoir of a 1970’s songwriter while pushing the bounds of conventional rhapsody and inventing “counter-culture” music.
One would assume that any artist who can thrive to that degree would take himself too seriously. Bidez shatters that assumption. He spent two hours with The Repertoire discussing everything from being colorblind to the helpful nature of the quadratic formula. He describes everything he experiences in a way to which any listener could relate, and he just might have missed his calling for lighthearted comedy. As a final introduction into this young songsmith’s life, here is his personal description of suffering from colorblindness:
“Being red-green colorblind is not as bad as it sounds. Really all that means is if there is a pink flower in a sea of green grass, I am going to have a hard time picking it out. It just kind of all blends together. But I think I make up for it in other areas. I have 20/15 vision, so I can see things that are far away...and I can see the future.”
Ladies and Gentlemen, without further ado I present Reuben Bidez...
Repertoire: Where did you lay your musical roots?
Reuben Bidez: I have been in music for a while now in some form or fashion. Basically I was performing a lot of church music in Atlanta, and the church scene in Atlanta is pretty big. There are also a lot of churches in Atlanta that do not have musicians on staff. I would come in and play modern style music for those churches on Sundays and ended up cutting my teeth regarding music in the church. I eventually got to a certain point where I wanted to explore more musically and I knew I would need a change of scenery to do that. At that point I convinced my wife to move to Nashville. I had always been afraid of Nashville.
One year, I took a semester off from college and visited Nashville during that time to see about transferring to Belmont University. I just remember driving down Broadway and seeing these guys playing on the side of the road for change. I immediately realized I would move here and become one of those guys and got scared off from Nashville. It wasn’t until much later that I became more confident in my ability and had the support of my wife, which made the move to Nashville much easier. I moved here two years ago and started over as a musician. Even though I have been doing music for ten years, I am treating myself as a new artist. My music that people are familiar with is not really what I am doing now. Moving to Nashville has been a bit of a reset.
R: Let’s talk about your past history of trying out for American Idol. How did you separate yourself from that past and re-invent yourself as and independent artist?
RB: I did not get much exposure from American Idol. I made it through maybe three rounds and sang for the producers. The producers somewhat dashed my dreams by telling me, “We don’t think you have a voice that’s going to wow audiences.” That was a hard thing to hear, but it helped me remove some of the dissolution of how to “make it” in music. I was a big fan of American Idol when it first aired and I was writing music to some degree, but I was definitely more of a singer at that time. I was into all kinds of different music. I loved (and still do love) Broadway musical type music, the influence of which you can still hear in my music. Through trying out for American Idol, I thought if I put on a huge performance people would take notice of me. So to hear that you don’t have a voice that will wow audiences is heartbreaking.
I actually tried out again the following year, and the producers remembered me. I figured this time I would make it, and they ended passing on me again. I even tried out for The Voice a couple of times. Those shows are just looking for something that I am not, and I had to come to terms with the fact that they are making a television show. The fact that I am not a crazy person who will boost ratings is okay, I have to be myself. I found out that through being an artist and a songwriter, you really get to choose how to represent yourself. The cool thing is that people appreciate your authenticity.
R: Tell us a little bit about your upcoming EP Turning to Wine...
RB: I have put out a couple of little things since I moved here, but I got to the point where I thought, “Alright I need that statement piece of music.” I couldn’t live off of singles and acoustic versions of songs anymore. I deliberated and even considered self-producing the EP. I realized, however, that I needed to go into the studio with a legitimate producer and have somebody help me birth that statement piece. I am friends with producer Mitch Dane, and I ran into him at a Christmas party that year. He asked me to come in and talk about what I was currently working on, and when I told him that I had considered self-producing the EP, he replied, “How about you let me do it instead.” It ended up being such a better experience. Sometimes you can be your own worst critic, but sometimes you can be really nice to yourself when you are out of the energy it takes to push yourself. Having a second, unbiased person that you trust to help you is so necessary.
R: How did you go about the process of recording Turning to Wine?
RB: We went into the studio in January and I wanted to record five or six songs. Four of my six songs I brought to the studio ended up making it onto the EP, and we decided that two of the six songs were not ready to be cut. I actually ended up writing one of the songs on my drive from Atlanta to Nashville during that recording period, and I brought it to Mitch the very next week. Mitch loved it and we put it onto the EP.The last song of the EP is the most country-sounding song, which is what I intended when I wrote it. The song ended up being such a classic song, so I knew I could record it in a way that is still authentic to me. The EP ended up being six songs with five of the songs recorded with a full band. We actually recorded those songs all at once as a band, which was something I had never experienced before. The musicians were so talented that it did not sound sloppy yet sounded human and natural. We do not have a release date yet, but for the first time I get to bring a full team together to build up the release, we will announce a date.
R: What is the one word or phrase you would want listeners to use to describe this EP upon hearing it?
RB: The first word to pop into my head is “refreshing.” I just want people to hear it and think, “Wow, this does not sound like anything else.” Maybe the album sounds reminiscent, but I don’t want to just create another old sound. My buddy Thad Cockrell encouraged me to progress the genre. A lot of my writing style is in the 70’s singer/songwriter era, so I could have made an album that sounded a lot like that. Instead, I thought about what a 70’s songwriter would sound like today. I am somewhat counter-culture with my music, so I am not good with following trends. As musicians, we should be aware of what is going on and write our music in a way that moves people somewhere else. If you produce music that is the same as everyone else’s, it will get lost.
R: What is your favorite venue to play?
RB: I played Vinyl in Atlanta the most while I lived there, and those guys at Vinyl have always been good to me. The venue reminds me of the High Watt here in Nashville. It’s kind of a shotgun room, and it is good room for rock music. I recently played Eddie’s Attic for the first time with my own music, and it was a really cool thing. I always love listening rooms, because I have a hard time playing to people who aren’t paying attention to the music. If people aren’t going to pay attention to the music being played, someone might as well put on a CD.
I love playing Mercy Lounge, and I played my first show in Nashville at The High Watt. Actually, seven years ago my band and I traveled up to Nashville to play the Bluebird. The venue gave us a slot and we got to play a couple of songs during the open mic night. I have never done an official tour, but if all goes right I will get to do that with this upcoming EP. There are few things in life I enjoy more than performing for people, so my hope is to set up a tour for the fall or the spring.
R: What would you have done professionally had you not gone into music?
RB: Everyone in high school thought I would go into fine arts school and study Broadway style music. However, I was pretty good at math and science so I decided to go to school to become a doctor. I went to Georgia Tech and did the pre-med track, during which I took Biochemistry and things like that. I wanted to go into Ophthalmology, even though I am red-green color blind, or become an anesthesiologist. I studied for about a year and a half before I realized I did not love the pre-med track at all and ended up pursuing music.
What is your favorite instrument that you own?
It’s funny, the first electric guitar I ever bought was a ‘52 reissue Telecaster and it is my favorite. It’s not an original ’52, but my dad went with me to help me buy it. He was actually born in 1952, so it was a really cool father/son moment of buying my first electric guitar based upon his birth year. I don’t clean it too often, because I like the fact that I am adding this wear and tear to it. When I saw Keith Richards’s Tele and heard him say he never cleaned it, I set a goal to avoid cleaning the fret board and let the gunk show its history. Though my Tele is not the most valuable guitar, the fact that my Dad went with me to get it makes it priceless.
R: Which album(s) could you play on repeat without getting tired of it?
RB: In regard to new albums, I like the Brandon Flowers solo album Flamingo. Flamingo is the first solo album he did without the Killers, and that record is amazing from the front cover to the back cover. I actually also like Augustana’s self-titled album. Jacquire King, the same guy who produced Norah Jones’ album, produced that Augustana album. The album has these Bruce Springsteen elements to it. We can put it on right now and you can see how awesome it is! The last one I would choose is Robert Plant and Alison Krauss’s Raising Sands, which was produced by T Bone Burnett. If I could aspire to be someone who is cool when I got older, it would be someone like T Bone Burnett. My favorite older album would be Tom Petty’s Damn the Torpedoes. I would also throw in Led Zeppelin’s II.
R: Which movie resonates with you the most?
RB: I don’t know if I would say this movie necessarily resonates with me, but I love The Three Amigos. The comedy in it is witty and clever but it does not require shock factor. That movie is timeless.
R: What is your favorite movie soundtrack?
RB: I love the Les Misérables soundtrack. Not necessarily the movie soundtrack, though that one is really good. I actually think the best recording is the anniversary edition of Les Misérables. That recording was set up as more of a concert where all of the cast members were lined up on stage and would get up to sing each song and go sit back down after the song was finished. Honestly, I love O Brother, Where Art Thou? T Bone Burnett produced the film’s soundtrack, and the fact that they got Ralph Stanley to sing on that soundtrack is so cool. I do not consider myself a bluegrass person, but I think bluegrass players are such talented musicians.
R: Where do you love to hang out in Nashville?
RB: Dino’s is a pretty strong spot for me, because nine times out of ten I could eat. The fact that Dino’s is always serving food even if it’s late goes a long way.
R: What is your go-to word in the English Dictionary?
RB: I love the phrase, “For all intents and purposes.” A lot of people think the phrase is “For all intensive purposes.” Somehow this phrase has slipped through the American school system. You notice these things more and more because everyone has their own social outlet now where they can post things. We are starting to see how from a grammatical standpoint the school system has lest us down.
R: How wrong have you been about a famous song lyric before?
RB: Do you remember that Rob Thomas song with Santana? I thought he said, “Man it’s hot one, like sentimentals from the midday sun.” I thought, “Oh that’s real creative, the sun is sending us sentimental thoughts.” The lyric actually says, “like seven inches from the midday sun.” I figured the sun was really thoughtful.