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What's Up Magazine

The Inspiration Behind the Music: An interview with musician, Jesse Ruben

Aug 04, 2016 04:00PM ● By Nicole Gould
Everyone has a story. No matter where you live or where you’re from, everyone can relate to having dreams and aspirations, giving us a distraction from everyday challenges and hardships. For Jesse Ruben, it all started when he challenged himself to run the New York City Marathon and that was only the beginning for this Brooklyn singer/songwriter.

After completing the NYC Marathon, Jesse wanted to spread his inspiration to others and thus he created the song, "We Can".  What was originally composed in hopes of motivating people to run ended up meaning much more to countless people than anticipated. The song had reached an elementary school in Vancouver, which asked if he’d come sing the song for their school … and so began “The We Can Project,” which has spread across North America. Jesse began touring the country, visiting schools and inspiring students to always go after their dreams.

Just when everything was looking up, Jesse was about to face an unexpected challenge. At the age of 26, Jesse was diagnosed with Lyme’s Disease. Two years without music … two years without performing … two years without anything but hope. Little did he know how his inspiration towards others could circle back and inspire him. Now healthy and feeling more inspirational than ever, Jesse will be competing in the 2016 NYC Marathon raising money for Lyme’s Disease Research.

Take a look into what the artist had to say about his incredible journey.

At what age did you start getting interested in music and what sparked that interest?

I’ve always been very passionate about music, since I was very little. Most of my earliest memories revolve around singing along to the radio, or watching my dad’s band rehearse.

I started taking piano lessons at 6, but the epiphany came when I switched to guitar, at 16. That’s when I knew I wanted to write songs. That’s when I knew what I was going to do for the rest of my life.

Who has been your biggest inspiration/supporter(s) throughout your career?

My family has been very supportive of me, since day one. It is not always easy, having a son/brother who writes songs for a living. I really appreciate them for that.

My girlfriend has been amazing too. She’s an actress, so she gets it. Having other musicians in my life is important to me as well, because they understand what it’s like on a daily basis.

What do you enjoy most about performing and creating music?

For me, it’s all about writing and performing. Writing, because to take some idea, that comes out of nowhere, and turn it into something that impacts people, that will never get old.

Performing is the fun part. It’s about being vulnerable and open and honest and approachable, to help people get through whatever it is that they’re dealing with. Plus, I talk a lot on stage. I like making people laugh.

What did it mean to you when you find out how inspirational your song “We Can” had become and why?

When I first wrote “We Can”, I thought I had done a good job of being inspirational without being too cheesy or preachy. I hoped it would turn into a running song, that people could listen to while they trained for races.

The growth of the song has been gradual and wonderful. I never imagined I would spend a lot of time playing for students, but every year, more and more schools find the song and get involved.

So far, the program based on the song (The We Can Project) has had more than 300,000 students participating. This fall we will have our first international schools outside of North America, in Africa, the Middle East, and hopefully Asia.

Did you ever expect your music to make such an impact on so many people? How has this influenced your career?

When you decide to be a singer/songwriter, you hope that your songs can reach a lot of people. The We Can Project has really been a gift to me, and allowed to affect people in a totally different way.

It changed my career a great deal, because now I have two main things to focus on instead of one. I have my singer/songwriter career, and I have The We Can Project, and they are separate but also compliment each other very well.

What are some of the outcomes to have sprung from “The We Can Project” (playgrounds, walks, etc.) and how will you continue to build on this project as time progresses?

There have been some truly incredible things that have come as a result of The We Can Project. Community gardens created, playgrounds built, one community raised money for and built a home for a family who had lost theirs.

It’s a great way for people to really come together and focus on what matters to them. I am just trying to continue to spread the word about it, and grow the project. My goal is to have 1,000 schools participating every year.

What is your most memorable moment while touring for “The We Can Project” and why?

I’ve had so many. One school in Toronto raised $50,000 for Habitat for Humanity and presented it to them after I performed. A school in Pennsylvania organized a charity walk, and they invited me to participate, so along with all of the students and staff, we walked around the neighborhood, with people sitting out on their lawns cheering us on.

I think the most meaningful one for me was my visit to West Monroe, Louisiana. I grew up as a middle class white Jewish kid from the suburbs. West Monroe is one of the poorest counties in the country. Going down there, to a place that was so different from where I grew up, and spending time with those students was so wonderful. I performed for over 600 students, and the only place big enough to hold them all was the Southern Baptist Church. I was the first Jewish person to ever perform on that stage. It took a lot of different people coming together to make that visit a success, and I’ll never forget it.

At what age were you diagnosed with Lyme’s Disease and what immediate thoughts did you have?

I was diagnosed with Lyme when I was 26. At the time, I was slightly relieved because I had an answer, but I knew how sick I was, so while it was a relief, I was also very scared.

How has being diagnosed with Lyme’s Disease changed your perspective on life and your music career?

I had to completely remove myself from music for two years. No writing, no touring, no emails, nothing. All of my time and energy was focused on my health. I was very fortunate to find a doctor’s office (The Morrison Center, in New York) and a treatment (chelation and ozone treatment) that worked. It was a lot of trial and error, a lot of fear and sadness and difficult times.

I don’t take my good health for granted for a second. It has really altered what is important to me. While I still want to be successful and famous, being happy in the moment, and taking care of myself are more important than that. No matter what I go through in my career, it will never be as bad as being a chronically ill Lyme’s patient was.

I try and talk to as many people as I can who have Lyme, just to give them hope, remind them they aren’t crazy, and that if I can get better, anyone can. I’m running the NYC marathon this year, and so far there are two of us running to raise money for Lyme’s research. No one has ever done that before. I’m going to run it not just for me, but for the hundreds of thousands of people dealing with chronic illness in this country.

If you had to describe your life and the journey you went (going) through in one word, what would that be? Please explain.

Fear. There is just so much of it that comes with dealing with a chronic illness. Fear of not knowing what is wrong, fear that it’ll never get better. Fear that your family and friends think you’re insane. Fear that at any moment, it could come back.

I’ve had a couple small relapses in the last year, but for the most part, I am totally healthy. But after what I went through, it’s always there.

What piece of advice would you give to other musicians who are just starting out and looking to make a difference, just like you?

Make music that you really, truly love. Spend the time figuring out what is you have to say that other’s don’t. Why should people listen to you? And if there is anything else in the world that makes you happy, do that.

Being a musician is wonderful, but it is also very difficult, particularly financially. If you are not 100 percent in, I don’t think it’s possible to get where you want to get. Find other people whose music you like. Tell them. Talk to them. You don’t have to be funny on stage. You don’t have to talk on stage. You just have to be good.


Jesse will be performing at Rams Head On Stage in Annapolis on August 15th & August 16th at 7 p.m.

His new song, “First Day of Summer” was just released on Friday, July 29th. Here’s what Jesse had to say for what inspired the song:

"I was down in Nashville doing a bunch of writing sessions for the record, which is called "A Reply To Violence." It's a collection of songs to help people deal with the difficult stuff life throws at you. I wanted to write one that really balanced out some of the heavier themes, because sometimes when you're dealing with something tough, all you need is a fun, catchy tune. A song that just feels good to listen to. That's what my co-writer (Ryan Horne) and I were going for. The idea and the song came out very quickly. And it's always such a joy to play."

For more information about Jesse and to hear his new song, visit his website here