We connected with the multi-talented Ruben Hultman to talk about his latest EP, Portraits, creativity, music, and more. You can go deeper with this interview by listening to the tracks from Ruben’s EP at the same time. There’ll be YouTube videos along the way or Apple Music and Spotify links at the end of the article.
So let’s start with the basics about Ruben Hultman:
I’d love to know how you got into music in the first place and what inspired you?
My older brother is a drummer and my dad is a singer. They were playing together in a blues-band when I was a kid. I remember following them to rehearsals or gigs, hanging out and just experiencing how the energy of the music filled up the whole room. What got me in to rock & punk music was when my brother bought me the Foo Fighters album ‘One by One’ on CD for my fifth birthday. We blasted it through the speakers of his old stereo in my room and I remember him saying “you can keep this stereo if you want to, so you can listen to the record when ever you like”. A few years later I developed a hobby of buying CD’s, instead of just downloading music like other kids did. My brother was at the time playing drums in the Swedish punk band Charta 77 & their album ‘Spegelapan’ laid the foundation for what came to be my love for punk music.
Have you ever thought of performing under an alias or artist name?
Actually I haven’t considered to use an alias since I am the only person living named Ruben Hultman. Also the reason I decided to use nothing other than my own name for my music was to make my songs feel more personal, if that makes sense.
Is it correct that you play all the instruments on Portraits aside from drums?
Yes, that is correct!
The drum-parts are written by me, though with input and some adjustments from Zack Liljeberg who is playing the drums on the EP. Zack is a childhood friend of mine, who is currently studying music at Musicians Institute in Los Angeles.
What instruments can you play?
I started taking singing lessons when I was nine years old at the local music school in my hometown. One year later I got in to guitar lessons as well and a few years after that my brother started giving me drumming lessons. In high school I started playing bass in an indie-pop band with my classmates, simply because we had no bassists in our class. I also took piano lessons during my second year in high school, but if you put me behind a piano today I can only play a very basic 4-chord song. Funny thing though is that before I got in to singing lessons I tried playing French Horn. Honestly I am glad that didn’t go too well, haha!
Do you enjoy being a solo artist? I’m sure there are pros and cons..
I do, actually. Even if I write music that is arranged for a full band I really appreciate the creative freedom that being a solo artist gives me.
Your EP is named Portraits. In having had a listen already to the EP, was this name chosen due to the reminiscing/memory elements of the songs on the EP? It’s most obvious in “Pictures” of course.
Yes, you could say that. The meaning behind the title I guess you can say is that we as humans & individuals have complex personalities. Based on who we talk to or what situation we are in we portray different parts of ourselves to the world around us. Naming the EP Portraits was for me a way to break down my own personality & also learn about my different selves and how I show them to the world.
[Hit PLAY to listen to the tracks from Portraits as you read.]
The first track is “Melancholy Melody”. This has such a wild and chaotic feel to it, by way of emotion as well as sound. You’ve done this really well, it’s easy to feel that sense of futile clutching at straws and thrashing around in emotion. What inspired you to have this as the first track?
There is a meaning behind the order of the songs on the EP. The thread going from the first track to the last is the process of an individual who is going from the feeling of hopelessness to hope. You could say it is an artist going from feeling disconnected with the passion for the art, to taking that feeling of emptiness and turning it in to inspiration. While explaining the songs I will refer to the protagonist in the lyrics as “the individual”.
In ‘Melancholy Melody’ the individual has hit rock bottom, seeing no purpose in anything. The intensity of the track is supposed to portray the frustration of feeling lost yet at the same feeling stuck going nowhere. The reason it is the first track on the EP is that it is from here the individual starts to grow.
There’s a shift in this song where the ‘young boy with his heart broken’ is spoken about it and it hits pretty hard in the feels. It’s clear you’re feeling what you’re singing; do you find singing about emotive topics to be healing?
Definitely. I write lyrics all the time to vent how I feel. Even if at the time when I am writing a piece I am referring to a person, I can look back a few weeks later and realize it was just as much of an inner dialogue.
Is it hard to put things out that have you a little vulnerable? How do you deal with that?
Of course. It is like ripping out a piece of your heart and punching it in to an mp3-file, hoping people won’t tear it apart. I’ve had different approaches to it but lately I’ve started to think of the things I create as something I only do for myself. Because in the end thats what it is, I capture my emotions in my music and put them on display for the world to see. If people like what they hear, I can only be glad to have made an impact on them.
“Pictures” is smoother and it has that feeling of being lost in reminiscing land. I’m in love with the long held notes of this track. It adds to that dreamy sense. What does “Pictures” mean to you?
‘Pictures’ is a very complexly meaningful song to me. You could almost say it is a love song. The chorus describes that feeling of imagining something beautiful that you know you will never grasp – because it only exists in your mind. The verses describes the moment when that bubble of bliss bursts and the feeling of being human & fragile takes you over.
And the bridge (with the drum build up) is so constraining. It’s like memories as torture as well as bliss. Am I on the right track?
Yes, definitely on the right track.
“Grayscale Ghosts” has a great darker sound with the guitar focus and tone of the vocals. The whispered vocals are so cool. What inspired those?
The whispers are there to make the dark tone of the song even more intrusive, as if you can feel the individual mentally breaking down as the “grayscale ghosts” are taking over.
In fact what inspired “Grayscale Ghosts” in general? It feels like a battling of demons, for sure.
The meaning behind the title is supposed to be a metaphor for letting other peoples opinions cause you to have a negative self-image. Drowning in that negativity is to become a “grayscale ghost” dwelling in dark thoughts and losing yourself.
This is such a strong rock track with the drum breakouts as well as the heavy bridge (“Enter the mind of a madman”). It’s impressive how you’ve pushed into a few different sounds. Was that intentional?
Pushing in to different sounds was indeed intentional throughout the EP as well as in the individual songs. I wanted to create a sound that felt like a mix of the music genres I had been playing in my old bands throughout my teenage days to make it sound as much as “me” as possible. I tried to work a lot with dissonant chords in the guitars to increase the feeling of underlying anxiety where I wanted that to shine through & intentionally did not work with a lot of harmonies on the vocals. The reason I did that was to put more focus on the lyrics and the feeling of raw poetry being sung on top of the crashing drums instead of drowning out the words with harmonies.
There’s barely time to breathe between “Grayscale Ghosts” and “Skeletons”, is that deliberate?
Yes. It is to describe how the individual is being taken over by the negative emotions, realizing there’s nowhere to run when you’re being a captive in your own mind.
“Skeletons” almost has a punk feel with the song structure and the guitar riff before the chorus. What can’t you do, Ruben?! 🙂
Wow, thank you! I tried my best to have varying feelings to each track and since I’ve always liked punk music I tried to give ‘Skeletons’ a kind of pop-punk vibe to contrast with the heavy lyrics.
On that topic, what is your favorite ‘genre box’ to play music in?
My heart will always have a lot of room for alternative/punk/rock music, but since I do a lot of EDM-collaborations you can probably tell I don’t like to get hung up on genres too easily.
“Skeletons” has an edge of frustration/anger. Are you speaking about fakery or shallowness here, and the heaviness of being a real life human being?
Both, I’d say. Of course it is up to the person listening to interpret the lyrics as they wish, but it is a combination of both. Under the facade we are all just skin & bones.
Can I just say WOW from 1:29 onward. Such a sick sound! And the ending! Okay having a closer listen now, I think this is my favourite on the EP. What is yours?
I have actually tried to choose a favorite track off the EP for a very long time, but I always change my mind depending on how I feel. I am sorry to say that I can’t choose!
“Brother” has such a fun and sweet sound. It’s making me a little teary. Is this for a real life brother?
Yes, I wrote it for my brother Johan. Actually I based the whole song on that marching snare sound, because when he gave me drumming lessons I played a lot of marching snare-pieces in the percussion ensemble. There was this one piece I remember called “Irish Reel” which we played together with the flute ensemble at a concert. Hence the Irish feel on the lead-guitar in the song.
“Tied Hands” is awesome. Dreamers alive in our heads. Absolutely! I love the change in this song, slowing down. Is this one about creativity?
Indeed it is. The individual has turned from feeling hopeless to feeling hopeful and the message behind the lyrics are basically that you can accomplish your goals and overcome any obstacles if you just believe in your vision and stay passionate.
You’ve got such raw and ‘open’ vocals, do you do anything to get ‘in the zone’ for singing so authentically?
Thank you! Actually I just isolate in my room and try to sing my heart out.
And the fade-out! Amaze. This is such a great EP. How does it sit with you?
If you’re asking if I am satisfied with the EP, I can say that I truly am. Ludvig Ottosson did a great job mixing it and it turned out just as I wanted. My goal with it was to create something that I knew that the 12-year old me would be beyond excited to listen to & I can’t say for sure if I managed since I do not own a time machine, but I knew he would be super stoked to have his songs reviewed by someone living on the other side of the planet.
So what’s next for Ruben Hultman?
I am working on new music & I will go in to the studio to start recording my next release very soon.
Thanks so much for taking the time to share with us about Portraits, Ruben, as well as more about yourself.
Listen to Portraits EP: