[Written by Deri Ronan (she/her)]
Strawbey is the sorrowful-dream pop project by Ruben Pope. Originally from Norwich, the 19-year-old draws influences from the melodic tones of The Japanese House and Soccer Mom, in order to distil a novel synthpop sound in his heart-rending play pretend EP. On the 2nd November, a new music video for the single ‘how do you feel’ was released from the EP.
Play pretend has been a huge success. It has been featured on six Spotify editorial playlists, gained recognition from BBC Introducing and secured a place on the BBC Introducing ‘Norfolk LGBTQ+ records of the year’ playlist. It’s a deeply personal project, exploring themes of secrecy, young love, and vulnerability and impressively, the entire EP was recorded and produced throughout lockdown.
In the interview below, Ruben shares more about his music and plans for the future.
I’d like to start by asking for more information about Strawbey. How did the project begin? What inspired you to become an artist?
I guess it all started when I first met one of my, now close, friends at a university summer school a few years ago. We just got talking about music, I then discovered her original music on SoundCloud, and from that point on I knew that I wanted to make my own. I guess I’d say that she inspired me to become an artist then; that’s cool.
I loved the single and I’m so excited to hear more about it directly from you! What does it mean to you?
The song is basically about letting someone go, so I guess it could be interpreted by people differently. But for me, it evolved into being about me leaving a whole era of my life behind, including many people and a lot of incredibly stupid decision-making, navigating the turmoil and melodrama of being young and stupid, and getting heartbroken. The EP is a journey from the disgustingly sweet, blind, innocent love on ‘whatever you do’, to the moment of finally just letting all of that go, on ‘how do you feel’, which is just like this big sigh of relief in a way. In that song I’m really letting every bit of emotion out and leaving it behind me.
Was the single written/released during lockdown? How would you describe the impact of lockdown on your creativity?
It was written a month or so before lockdown, like in early February, and then it was actually the last song we worked on for the EP. I had no idea I was going to make an EP going into lockdown, it’s just something that sort of happened because there was so much personal stuff going on in my life, as well as dealing with life during a pandemic. I needed some form of escapism and music ended up being that for me in the biggest way ever. I wrote two of the songs over the first few weeks of lockdown and the other two were songs I had written in university over the months, just before lockdown happened.
If someone told me I’d be where I am now last year, I simply wouldn’t believe them.
I am a massive fan of The Japanese House, who I understand you consider as a big influence on your music. I can hear elements of their sound in your work and I wondered if you could share a little more about who influences you creatively and lyrically?
Yeh, TJH really inspired the sort of synth aspect of my music. What I’m trying to do with my music, is take guitar pop, grunge and angst, and fuse it somehow with what TJH is doing if that makes sense. It’s the only way I can describe my sound. ‘How do you feel’ is the best example of that so far, and the next song I’m putting out kind of takes the darkness of HDYF but makes it very pop.
Drawing from this, I am a massive fan of many emerging artists in the bedroom pop scene, such as Clairo, Dayglow & Zack Villere, and can hear similarities in your work (particularly with Clairo, and the heavier guitar present in many of her songs). Is this a genre you listen to a lot, or is the music you listen to vastly different from the music you make?
Clairo’s album was on repeat for me last year, my song ‘and if love didn’t defeat us’, was hugely inspired by her in terms of the production. But that song started out as a very slow, almost country, or folk kind of thing, and then we ended up making over 30 different versions of it to get it to where it is now. It was probably the biggest headache of the EP, me and my producer, Jake, definitely pushed ourselves with that one. It’s very sort of experimental bedroom pop I’d say.
Massive congrats on your recognition from BBC Introducing and inclusion on BBC Introducing Norfolk LGBTQ+ records of the year playlist! Do you have any big goals as an artist or are you just taking it all as it comes?
I think for this coming year I want to just keep growing what I’ve got right now, with the eventual goal of making it my career. We’ll see.
Finally, what can we expect next from Strawbey? Is there anything you can share?
Of course! I’ve got a few tracks in the works, there’s one that we are getting close to finishing. There will be another music video which I’m working with Repulsive again. I’ve been lucky enough to get to work on it with a producer that’s worked with one of my favourite artists of the past 2 years, so I’m super excited about that!