Sweet Destiny Debut Solo Album Interview with Chris Reed

26 Nov, 2012

Interview By Jacquelynne Ocaña for Dig In Magazine

For more on Chris Reed visit:
www.ChrisReedMusic.com

Chris Reed

“I am reinventing myself and my sound so I wanted to release something good and full rounded.” – Chris Reed

Former Aivar guitarist and lead singer, Chris Reed, is reinventing himself as a talented singer songwriter. Drenched in that token Cali vibe, his playful folksy-pop lyrics drip innocence like the soothing sound of ukulele. But deeper in reveals a soulful songwriter, passionate about love and society. A grade-school band director by day, Reed has also created a South Bay non-profit group called Arts Initiative to bring music and theater programs back into schools. His new album Sweet Destiny is due out January 2013 and we are excited to share his artistic process with Dig In readers.

Dig In Magazine: LET’S GO BACK TO THE BEGINNING, WHERE DID YOU GROW UP?

Chris Reed: I grew up in the South Bay, in San Jose and Santa Clara; we moved around a lot when I was little. My dad is a musician so when I was in the third grade, he signed me up to play an instrument. I chose saxophone and while it was supposed to be a group lesson, no one showed up so I ended up having a private lesson. As I got older and I hit junior high, I played in the band. It wasn’t my favorite thing to do, very structured and disciplined. I was more an improvisational player so I would play blues and jazz with my dad a lot. I got to high school and joined the marching band but it was totally not my thing. I stopped playing and didn’t play for another four years.

At one point, I met my now wife and she had some friends that were hip hop artists. They had just started a band and were looking for a sax player. I ended up playing with these guys – typical shows in art galleries. That’s what really got me into music, on this side of things. I did a few recordings and after that they all left town for college. But it is when I got really motivated. I ended up looking for people and asking around, hopping around on tracks with different people in the studio.

I went to open mics in San Jose and played the sax to get my feet wet. But it was at JJ’s Blues, this really cool hole-in-the wall spot, with seasoned musicians playing there. I’d go two or three nights a week and eventually I met a guy named Hugo who introduced me to Matt Gonzalez (bassist) and we ended up being in a band called Aivar together, which was one of my main projects for a while. That’s when everything started coming together.

DIM: TELL ME ABOUT THE BAND AIVAR.

CR: I have always written songs but on sax you can’t really perform and play at the same time. I realized I needed to play an instrument to accompany this. I picked up the guitar at about 18 or 19 for the sole purpose of writing songs with it. Down the road we formed Aivar, a world reggae band. From 2006-2011 it was a big project; it was blood, sweat and tears. We toured up and down the coast, even played Warped Tour twice. We did three albums, but the music was definitely world reggae/ska so we had a lot of people float in and out. A lot of different compositions of the group, and to be honest it was almost impossible scheduling wise. Also, a lot of my songs didn’t fit into the world reggae category. That’s when we realized we wanted different things. It got to be where it was time to just let it go. We said, ‘Let’s finish recording this album, have some fun with it, play a farewell show and stay friends’. We didn’t want to push it to the point where we were mad at each other in the end.

Chris Reed: A Day w/o shoes @ West Valley College

DIM: I KNOW YOU WERE TRAVELING A LOT DURING THAT TIME, HOW DID YOU SUPPORT YOURSELF OTHER THAN GIGS?

CR: I worked in restaurants and bars up until about four years ago. Then I started teaching band actually {{laughs}} – but young kids in elementary school. I had always written and directed plays, but only for fun. Over the last four years, I have also been doing classroom music where I teach the kids about different genres and introduce them to all the different varieties of instruments; I bring in a saxophone, trumpet, mandolin and ukulele and let them play with them.

I also started directing operas. I am involved with the San Francisco Opera Guild to translate and consolidate entire operas and work with students. We work on the opera for a few months, and then the day of the performance the Opera people come in. They run it through one time with the kids and then perform it for the school. Last year I put together a full blown musical, Aladdin, and got the band kids to play in the musical – we did the dancing, the choreography, the blocking, everything.

This led to starting a company with my father called Arts Initiative. We bring all this kind of stuff to a school, the full scope of performing arts; from choir to guitar classes, and classical music education to theater. So, that’s what I do to survive and pay the bills regularly.

DIM: THAT’S A PRETTY PRODUCTIVE WAY TO BE AN ARTIST. DO YOU FEEL LIKE SCHOOL BUDGET CUTS OPENED UP THE OPPORTUNITY FOR ‘ARTS INITIATIVE’?

CR: I think it did. I also didn’t go to college but someone like me can come in with experience and teach afterschool. Some schools have the funds, or the parents will raise it. But some principals say ‘you have to do this by donation because there is no way we can afford it’. The cool thing is though, like theater, it can actually create itself a lot of revenue and it essentially becomes self-sustainable. With Aladdin last year, we made something like $10,000, which covers the cost and then some. Over the course of a couple of years, it will become 100 percent sustainable. That is my goal with this: to go into a school and create a completely sustainable program so they can keep it going. It’s hard to support every program in a school so if I can be a part of bringing art to kid’s lives, I think it’s awesome. The arts are so important. We need the arts to be well-rounded human beings.

Chris Reed

DIM: IT SOUNDS LIKE YOU HAD SOME SUPPORT GROWING UP TO BECOME AN ARTIST.

CR: My dad was a professional musician early on and ran a repertory group at a local church. My grandma is a painter and my mom loves to do interior design. It’s like my mom always said: “You can either be a good criminal or a good artist”. I didn’t really accept that I was going to be an artist until I was 22 or 23. It was hard to fully commit.

DIM: WAS LEAVING AIVAR THE POINT WHEN YOU DECIDED TO BECOME A SOLO MUSICIAN, OR HAS THIS BEEN IN THE MAKING FOR SOME TIME?

CR: In March, 2011 I went into the studio with Steven Murr with the idea of recording a song for my wedding that July. I wanted to record a mix tape as our party favors with original songs on it. That’s when we got to talking about recording all the other songs that didn’t make it into an album with Aivar. We started one at a time, without too much pressure. It was in the fall of 2011 when talks about ending Aivar came up so then I started going into the studio more often.

DIM: YOU MOVED AWAY FROM WORLD REGGAE BUT IT SEEMS LIKE YOU TOOK SOME OF THAT GENRE WITH YOU. I SENSE A LOT OF THE MELLOW, CALI-SURF VIBE IN YOUR SONGS. HOW WOULD YOU DESCRIBE YOUR SOUND RIGHT NOW?

CR: It does have that folkie, beachy-pop vibe I guess. I am a huge fan of all kinds of stuff though. I look at it as a folkier Jason Mraz. I think I am moving away from that surf vibe but I can’t help what I write. That is the greatest thing about doing solo stuff in my opinion. I want the song to be good and create itself. To let it be what it is supposed to be. I see it naturally progressing, but I am not sure where yet.

DIM: WHO ARE SOME MUSICIANS YOU HAVE BEEN PAYING ATTENTION TO IN THE LAST SIX MONTHS?

CR: There is a really awesome independent artist, and I’ve been in love with his music for the last year, Josh Garrels from Portland. He has a cool folk, hip hop thing going and a soulful voice with great lyrics. I really gig his style and sound. And then I have been a Ben Harper fan forever. I love his diversity. Those types of artists influence me subconsciously. One of my favorite musicians of all time is Manu Chao, this awesome, crazy world musician who sings in all different languages. I try to stay away from pop music and getting caught up on the radio. I don’t want it to influence what I’m doing.

DIM: ON YOUR NEW ALBUM, THEMES SHIFT FROM LOVE, FAMILY AND POSITIVITY TO SOCIAL ISSUES AND LOSS. WHAT WAS YOUR INSPIRATION FOR THESE SONGS?

CR: The title track, Sweet Destiny, is about listening to our hearts and finding who we are. That is something I struggled with as an artist; you have those moments where you need to check yourself. ‘What am I doing? Is this the right path, are you doing it for the right reasons?’

On Feeling Okay, my wife Maggie and I took a road trip up the coast on this crazy highway up near Humboldt to try and get across to Fort Bragg. I got ridiculously car sick and collapsed on the bed, totally dizzy. That’s when I wrote Feeling Okay. I was thinking ‘you’re feeling okay, man, relax, relax.’ That was my song to calm me down and make me feel better.

Death has been pretty close to me in my life, I lost my brother when I was 12. I’ve had quite a few friends pass and it is a topic I am familiar with. To be honest, the song Can’t Let Go is not specifically about anybody. It just happened one day – I was writing this love song in the backyard and all of a sudden it turned into this. I got a visual and saw all these people in my head – my wife came home and started crying. That’s when I realized it is a heavy song. Sometimes the song just writes itself.

Weight of the World is about three or four different women in my life. I see people not treating them right and taking advantage of them. But I also see them working hard and pushing through, and it inspired me. I think it’s important to appreciate people and let them know. Working with the kids, I wrote Because of You as a thank you from them to their teachers and parents. We all need to hear we are doing a good job and we do make a difference. Everyone deserves that and sometimes there is no one else to do it. Through music I can do that.

Chris Reed

DIM: WHAT IS THE BEST THING ABOUT BEING A PROFESSIONAL MUSICIAN?

CR: I look at it as I was meant to be an entertainer. If I were in any other time in history, I would be doing the exact same thing. This is my duty and this is who I am. I always remind myself of that and anytime I need that extra reassurance for myself that is where it comes from.

There are always those moments and reminders though. I was stoked when someone added me the other day on Facebook from Brazil. I thought, hey that’s awesome. That’s a person I have no connection to, none of my friends know this person, but they took the time to write me and say they really enjoyed my music. You can have two or three weeks where it can be so hard and heavy and a simple moment like that helps refuel you.

DIM: TELL ME ABOUT CREATING THE NEW ALBUM

CR:I recorded at Sound Management Studio in San Jose with friends and producer Steven Murr. He has an amazing ear and really good vision. I would play guitar, ukulele, and another guitar, harmonica, and then add drums and keys. We would get to the point of needing the bass line and bring in whoever else we needed. I brought in Matt Gonzalez from Aivar who did some backup vocals as well. It took from March 2011 till just now (late October 2012). I am waiting until January to release it so it’s done properly. I plan to do a few music videos for Sweet Destiny and Weight of the World before then as well. I am focusing on getting the album done and production ready. All the music is finished and the content is done, just a few final photos. That’s where I am coming with this. It’s kind of calculated and about making the right decisions.

About the author

Cindy Maram

Cindy Maram is Founder and Editor-in-Chief of Dig In Magazine. She is an accredited film journalist for Sundance Film Festival, Mill Valley Film Festival and CAAMFest, as well as writer, vlogger, designer, digital, online & social media marketer. She possess a B.A from UC Davis in Cultural Studies and an M.A. in Mass Communications [Film and Marketing] and Popular Culture Studies from Cal State Fullerton.

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