American singer-songwriter, Jesse Ruben was recently here in Malaysia to greet fans and perform songs off his latest EP, “Hope” at The Bee, Publika.
The American singer-songwriter first gained recognition for his single “We Can” in 2013. The success of the tune led to the birth of “The We Can Project”. Its mission is to inspire kids to achieve their dreams and make a difference in their local communities.
However, the project first came to fruition when an elementary school at Vancouver reached out to Jesse, expressing how it inspired the students and staff at the school. This prompted Jesse to visit their school and as the saying goes “and the rest is history”.
To date, the project has over 300,000 students as participants and has been featured on CBS Morning Show in New York, as well as other local publications. Unfortunately, just as things were taking off with the project and his music career, Jesse was diagnosed with Lyme Disease.
It took him 9 months and numerous doctor visits to figure out exactly what was going on. Fortunately, he got better over the course of 2 full years. These days, he’s been busy performing shows around the globe.
Thankfully, our friends from Universal Music gave us the opportunity to speak to him about his journey with Lyme Disease, the We Can project, and his experience running a marathon with his good friend Kyle Patrick (former Click Five lead singer).
Congratulations on your EP and getting married. In your latest EP, “Hope”, you dedicated 2 songs “Simple Little Ballad” and “Ours” to your wife. Could you talk about how your wife inspired those songs and why it was significant for you to include it on the EP.
Thank you. I really like love songs. I really like them. There are already so many of them. So anytime you write one, it’s like what hasn’t been said. So what I like about specifically “Simple Little Ballad” is that it’s so about her. It’s like so specific. I don’t know anyone else that fits all these tiny details.
But even though it was really specific, people still felt connected to it. People are always like “Did you write that about me, how did you know?” So I really like that song cause it’s so specifically her. Plus who doesn’t love a good lullaby?
For “Ours” I wrote it when we started talking about getting married which was a big deal for me. Growing up in a music school and as a musician, it’s sort of drilled into your head that you can’t get married until you made it. That was really challenging because we were talking about moving into this new step of our life and I was like “I am not ready, I can’t do it.”
So that song was the first time I was really looking out into our future and what’s its going to be like. There’s a line in there about raising kids and getting older. So it was the first time I was like “Oh wow, we are going to spend the rest of our lives together, cool.”
You know, cause that was a scary thought for me but now I am like great.
The latest EP sort of marks your return to the music scene. Why do you think music is therapeutic and how did that play a role while working on this project?
Great question. No one has asked me that yet. Making this EP was very full circle for me because there was a long time where I didn’t think I was going to make music again. So, the fact that we made something so special to so many people, really reminded me that I should be doing this.
For the longest time, I thought I was done and I was never going to make music again. Like that’s it. So it’s really special to see this music we’ve made together have reached so many people on the other side of the world. I am so far away from Brooklyn away right now. So far, you know.
You mentioned that you went through a phase where you thought you were not going to make music again. What helped change that? How did you overcome that phase?
When I got better I had a lot of positivity ‘cos I was so happy to feel like myself again. But for a long time, there wasn’t any. For a long time, it was a nightmare. Like when you wake up everyday feeling terrible, it’s really hard.
I was going a little crazy and when I finally started feeling like a human being again, I was so happy and I was writing like crazy. Thankfully, my support system was really amazing. My friends, family and my wife was awesome. Honestly, it was so relieved to not feel sick again.
Speaking of challenges, you’ve been very vocal about your battle with Lyme disease. What has kept you strong throughout all these years?
Speaking about it has been really helpful. Connecting with people who are also dealing with similar things. A lot people who have lyme disease, don’t know they have it. A lot of them are tired all the time, have headaches all the time, joint pain all the time and they just think it’s normal.
Whereas I know that it’s not. So, connecting with people and helping other people who are going through the same illness, focusing on spreading awareness about it is really important. It also helps to remind me of how thankful I am for not having to be like that anymore.
Your project “The We Can Project” inspires kids to reach their dreams and make a difference in their local communities. Do you have any plans to take on other causes later on in your career?
Oh maybe. I don’t know. I used to do a lot of work around spinal cord injury because one of my best friends is in a wheelchair. So I kinda thought I was going to do that for the rest of my life. But then I got sick and now I am focusing on Lyme disease because obviously it’s a cause that is very personal to me.
“The We Can Project” has been really fun cause it sort of grew out of nowhere. It was also amazing to go to different parts of the country in the US and meet these kids and see how the song impacted them and how they’re changing. Listen, if we could cure Lyme disease and that’s done. I have to come up with something else to fight for. So, yea I am sure there is going to be something. I am down, hopefully soon.
For your song, “This Is Why I need you”, you worked with Kyle who’s also your friend and manager. How was that process like?
Terrible. Just awful. He was so mean. [laughs]
No, we always worked together. Right after we first met, we started recording together. So we have always worked together in some capacity. I have written with him on some of his records and he always have been a huge part of mine. So when I got better, having him there was really helpful because I really needed somebody who I can trust to make the songs work.
I mean I was still figuring out how to be a human being. So he was really great at mostly telling me not to freak out ‘cos I was freaking out a lot. But he’s an amazing producer. Like we spent so much time together just trying to get these songs to be as good as they possibly could be.
Without him, nobody would have heard them. I think the way they ended up sounding is really special. He did a really good job and we have always work really well together. We will work together forever until he gets sick of me.
You guys also ran the New York marathon together right?
Yeah that’s true. So basically the first marathon I ran was during the time I was doing a bunch of stuff with spinal cord injury. And I was going to these events and for this organisation called “The Christopher Reeve” foundation. Christopher Reeve used to play Superman in movies and he had a spinal cord injury and they created a foundation for him.
So I was talking to them a lot and they asked me if I would run the marathon and I said no. Because that was insane and they asked me again, I said no. When I finally said yes, I texted Kyle out of nowhere like “Hey man I am running the New York City marathon for the Reeve foundation” and he wrote back “Me too”. And that’s how we ended up running a marathon together. We did 3 and now Kyle is injured.
Jesse: What did you think of running marathons Kyle?
Kyle: The crazy story for me was the second one we did. The first one we trained for 6 months and didn’t drink. We did a really good job in training. We ran like a really good marathon. Really fast. No issues. Just kinda like best day of our lives kinda thing.
So for the second one, we thought we got this. We will be fine. We trained like maybe a month and we kinda of split up.
Jesse: Yeah, ‘cos my sister was there. So I ran with my sister.
Kyle: And she had like a slower time. So he ran and save his sister. I went ahead and ran a little ahead of them pretty quickly within the race. And we didn’t see each other the entire race. Only the first couple of minutes.
When we finished, we looked at our times and they were exactly the same. Mine, his, and his sister were exactly the same. Down to the second. And we were like this can’t be right because we didn’t see each other the whole race. So we thought it was probably ‘cos we sign up at the same time.
And a month went by and we finally got the footage, you can see Jesse and his sister crossing on one end cause it’s pretty wide. It was at one of the avenues at New York and it was a wide street. They were crossing at one side and I was limping across at the same exact time.
Jesse: Yeah, same exact time. And they were 60,000 people running this thing. Like what are the odds of that. Just so bizarre. So bizarre.
Are you guys gonna run again?
Jesse: I am
Kyle: I am out.
Jesse: He’s hurt
Kyle: That one I just told you about. I have like a lifelong hip injury. Yeah, my right hip feels different. I ran one after that and it kinda made it worse.
Speaking of collaboration, do you have any artist you would like to collaborate with in the future?
Yes. Dua Lipa was at our hotel when we were in Manilla and boy would I love to write with her. John Mayer is in Singapore right now, I would like to play with him.
But having a dream collaboration is tough because you don’t know how you’re going to work well with people. Like I have gone into songwriting sessions where it was just terrible. Styles were terrible and I wasn’t comfortable. When you find people you can make music with really well is a special thing.
Your last album was in 2010. Have you started working on a new project? A new album maybe?
Yeah. Next month I am going to Austin, Texas to record a full length. A follow-up to “Hope” and I am excited to get those songs out to the world. Have people hear them.
I have been doing a lot of writing since we finished the EP. I have this new record that I am doing. I also just wrote a musical which is very fun. So I got a lot going on.
Finally, can you tease us on what we can expect from the upcoming album?
Yeah. “Hope” is definitely more upbeat, positive message thing which I felt like I really needed.
The next album however is going to be a little more rounded. Deals with some of the same issues but darker perspectives. Definitely more of the emotional toll of my experience cause I couldn’t write about being sick for years. It felt too close and I didn’t have any perspectives. And getting older and getting married. There’s a lot but it’s fun.