- 26 Apr 21
Hotly tipped Enniscorthy singer Reuben Hester discusses his powerful break-out single ‘Sold My Soul’, which became an online sensation after being shared by pop superstars Little Mix.
Reuben Hester is in the South of France, where I imagine there’s sun, wine, a nice villa, and all the other joyful things one enjoys on holiday.
But Hester is actually working. His side-gig is as a videographer, which he does in addition to music. The singer’s work does take him to nice places, he says with a grin, but I sense he’s a naturally nomadic soul.
Born in England, Hester and his parents moved to Ireland when he was just three years old.
“I don’t remember moving there at all,” chuckles Reuben, who’s also lived in Manchester and Berlin. “I grew up in Enniscorthy – went to school, did the whole thing.”
‘“The whole thing” includes music.
“I was a little choir boy, I was in the orchestra for six years,” he continues. “And anything else my parents would bring home for me, because they love music. I’d try to play instruments by ear and develop it from there.”
Indeed, Hester was exposed to a lot of great music in childhood.
“My dad was half-Jamaican,” he explains. “So I was in a reggae household. We had these massive speakers that you would find in a nightclub, and they would be blaring every weekend. The neighbours didn’t like us very much! In my own music, I incorporate a lot of the bass line melodies and slower rhythms that I picked up from reggae.”
Hester formed a band called China Lane in 2016, While busking on the Manchester streets in 2016, Hester formed the band China Lane, who enjoyed moderate success. Their feel-good indie pop, however, is a far cry from his current output.
After losing his father to an overdose last year, Hester broke out with the explosive, frenetic ‘Sold My Soul’ – an alt-pop tune that’s simultaneously innovative, radio-friendly and deeply personal.
“I found myself with a bit of writer’s block for about three weeks,” he recalls. “I was in my house in Manchester, and I was walking around, getting the chord progression on the piano. Then I’d leave the piano to replay the chords over and over in my head. I’d worked myself up a lot. I remember crying, and being angry and energetic. I had all these feelings, but it came out really fast.”
Hester was naturally protective of the track during its creation.
“I produced the keys and the orchestral section,” he notes, “but I also worked with another producer. I’m not the best producer in the world, but I can get a decent demo. They were able to bring in better drums and bass, to give it the sound it needed. But I didn’t want someone taking it the wrong way or making it too commercial.
“I mean, I know it’s a commercial song, but I didn’t want anyone adding generic sounds. I wanted to keep some rawness.”
When it came time to release ‘Sold My Soul’, however, Hester says he couldn’t wait to have out in the world.
“I’d harboured all the emotions in the song,” he says, “but when I gave it away, it was like I was giving everything else away as well, and letting go of it. I’d like to think that someone else will hear the song and find their own relief in what I’ve written. That would really make me happy.”
It seems the song did have the desired effect – after Little Mix shared it on Instagram, the tune really took off.
“I didn’t know what to expect when the song came out, honestly,” says Reuben. “I didn’t know how our old fanbase would react to my solo music. I think the reaction I got was quite overwhelming. When Little Mix shared it, I was gobsmacked.”
He also had a wave of artists and fans sharing their own stories and traumas with him. While it’s occasionally hard to navigate, he understands such expression is cathartic for people.
“I want to advise people, and help them get through problems,” says Hester. “But I also don’t want to give them the wrong advice or potentially make it worse. Because not everybody is me, and my advice isn’t necessarily what they need. I believe that if someone is really struggling, just listening is almost better.
“Sometimes it can be hard when people message you knowing you’ve been through a hard time, and want they want to connect, but it’s very important to be able to give people the time of day. There’s an artist who I had a long conversation with on the phone, Benjamin Francis Leftwich.
“His dad died as well, and we had a long conversation about alcoholism, because he had a problem with it. He speaks quite openly about it. It was such a nice conversation, because I look up to him. If there’s people who look up to me, as much as it takes a mental toll, it’s still nice to respond and acknowledge someone’s pain.”
• ‘Sold My Soul’ is out now.
Revisit Reuben Hester's recent performance on the Hot Press Lockdown Sessions' Y&E Series here.