Eric Frederic was having one of those weeks — the kind everyone experiences from time to time when things are normal, and which have only become more common, and exponentially more stressful, these days.
That evening, the Bay Area-born musician and producer known professionally as Ricky Reed, was in the midst of the 10th episode of his live streamed, collaborative, music-production show, Nice Live, when he heard a vocal performance that made him cry.
It was April 23 — a little over a month into the pandemic — and his guest was Daniela Bojorges-Giraldo, better known to her fans as St. Panther.
“That’s not my brand or anything,” Frederic says with a laugh, as he recalls that night. “I’m not a crying-for-clicks YouTuber here.” Still, he couldn’t help it, and that’s when he knew he had something.
Frederic has been making music for about two decades now. He got his start as the frontman of East Bay pop punk outfit Locale A.M. before joining up with the proggy post punks Facing New York. From there he fronted the outlandish Oakland party rockers Wallpaper., which helped raise his profile as a hit-making producer — and in the years following the success of Wallpaper., he’s been involved with a slate of top pop talent, from Megan Trainor to Twenty-One Pilots to Lizzo.
But while he’s continued to earn accolades for his work — including a 2020 Grammy nomination for Producer of the Year — Frederic has been itching to put out an album of his own. After releasing a string of singles as Ricky Reed in 2016 and 2017, plans to release a true solo record were put on hold with the birth of his daughter.
In the months and years that followed, Reed says he would often return to the collection of solo songs he had put together, wondering when — if ever — he would get to release them. During times like these, he says his wife would advise him to take his time: “Don’t force it. Don’t push it. You’re gonna know.”
Jumping ahead to that fateful night in late April, as Frederic broke down in front of everyone watching the Nice Live stream, the producer remembers “the words that my wife Laura had been saying to me for the past couple years started ringing in my head: ‘You’re gonna know. You’re gonna feel it. You’re gonna need to put out music.’ And that night I knew I had started making my new album.”
And so, the seeds of The Room were sown. Using his already-in-motion Nice Live, Frederic enlisted a slew of higher profile and lesser known collaborators — including Jim James of My Morning Jacket, Leon Bridges, Alessia Cara, and Dirty Projectors — inviting them on the show and refining their collaborations (often completing tracks right there on the show, in real time) until he had the 10 songs that comprise his new album, which he released on streaming platforms last week.
The Room is not a blistering set of high-octane, fun-loving anthems, as fans of Ricky Reed experienced on the last Wallpaper. LP, Ricky Reed is Real, which was released back in 2013. Rather than dealing with feelings of insecurity and anxiety by popping bottles and cranking the amps up to 11, this Ricky Reed confronts the fear and uncertainty of 2020 directly and earnestly.
Gone are the euphoric blasts of irreverent revelry, as found in 2012’s summer banger “I Wanna Puke My Brains Out” — with it’s stomping garage rock guitars, Silly Putty bass drops, and buzzy neon synth patches. On “Real Magic” we instead find a soulful, loungy Rhodes lick, a spare, rolling drum machine beat, and a lyric that aspires for a more spiritual (rather than bacchanal) kind of transcendence.
Frederic says that the pandemic has stripped away a lot of the daily routines that helped keep him grounded.
“When you can’t do any of that stuff, you’re left with a lot of time looking in the mirror and kind of wondering who you are without all the stuff,” he says. “For me, that has been a rollercoaster — fighting feelings of despair and trying to cope with loneliness… also these moments of real clarity and real hope.”
Though as the album’s producer — as well as a contributing lyricist and musician — he imbued many of the tracks with these moods. But, he also leaned on all the other artists involved by imploring them to follow a simple guideline: speak from the heart.
“The only rule is to be honest,” he would tell them. “How you feel now. How you feel today. Maybe how you felt last week or how you hope you feel tomorrow… no one has to sing about wearing masks or hand sanitizer, but just be honest. The result, I think, is a really beautiful kaleidoscope of the highs and lows that we’ve all been going through.”
Be sure to tune into this week’s edition of the SF Weekly Podcast to hear the whole conversation with Ricky Reed.