Last week at Pilgrimage Festival I was lucky enough to talk with The Wild Reeds about their songwriting process on the latest album Cheers, the music video premiere of “Telepathic Mail”, and the announcement of their 10th annual holiday show, Friday the 13th of December at Masonic Lodge at the Hollywood Forever Cemetery.
T: So my first serious question for The Wild Reeds is, how bad is my sunburn guys?
Kinsey Lee; Mackenzie Howe; Sharon Silva: (Laughs)
KL: It’s not bad, but you’re pink for sure.
MH: A little roasted, but not awful.
T: I wanted to talk about your new sound on the Cheers, but first going back to your folk-rock sound. Your harmonies have always been amazing. What are some famous harmonies that inspired your sound.
SS: I can answer that first, I would say The Roaches. I Didn’t get into them until after we made The World We Built. And I have a friend who sent me the “Hammond Song.” I said this is amazing and kind of feels like us. Even though they’re all related.
MH: It’s interesting you mentioned Brian Wilson, because when you first asked this I thought of The Beach Boys. Granted our harmonies are not as intricate, but I think we try to think outside the box and for sure are influenced by them.
T: On the new album instead of writing together you wrote individually?
T: So what was like to write individually and then come together to show each other songs? Did it feel almost like a meeting, or did it come more naturally than that?
MH: I would say that we’ve always mostly written separately, but we generally come together snd they we end up arranging the song together. And if somebody needs a little help with help each other. This is the first time we allowed each other to take reigns creatively in the studio. So not only did we write separately, but once we got together it was like “Alright you wrote this song, you really want this direction I’ll back you up.” So that was the difference with this album versus pervious Albums
SS: Being able to produce on each-other songs, but the main writer ultimately had the last call.
T: The first two albums felt like there was a lot of influence from your contemporaries, but on this new album more influence from acts like Roy Orbison?
SS: Totally! We made a big playlist of people we were influenced by but I don’t think we ever posted it. Roy Orbison’s has a song called Running Scared and I remember showing our producer and asking if we can get closer to this? I don’t think anything directly reflects that, but Im happy you heard that.
T: Was the new sound natural? Did it come up as “We want to do something different this time” or “We need to do something different this time?
MH: I think it was a choice.
KL: Yeah it was a choice. I think it was kind of natural, we wrote the songs differently like shorter. Our label was pushing us to make a radio hit. So we did and it did affect some of the length of our songs. But it felt natural and we kinda of just let go s bit. Drifted from being a strictly folk rock and let ourselves play with different elements.
SS: I don’t think there is a lot differently sonically and arrangement wise from the past album to the most recent one but obviously we’re so close to it its hard to tell. You as a listener can tell a little bit more. With regards to shorter songs though, I know my approach wasn’t necessarily shorter songs it was more like “have I said all I have to say/did I communicate well?”
T: Making ideas more compactly?
SS: I guess so yeah, I feel like I’ve always been really gratuitous with our arrangements in the past. And it feels nice but after touring so much we wanted shorten the songs in our live set. We were kinda getting bored.
T: We are in Nashville, so I’d like to get more into what are your songwriting processes? Is it long and drawn out, or does it switch on like a lightbulb?
MH: Ive had some songs come out in their entirety sitting down with a guitar or even on the freeway with voice memo and maybe you have to tweak a couple things , But I’ve also had songs where I’ve struggled with chorus for year or even two years. Trying to figure out “what am I trying to say here?” Swapped out other choruses, and there are some songs where there is just a phrase you heard somewhere or you came up with in a dream. And you end up holding onto that phrase for a really long time, trying to figure out where to place it. Like “Play It Safe” which is a song on ”Cheers” that came all at once. That doesn’t happen all the time. You know where…oh gosh…
MH: Yeah “Giving Up on You” is another example of that, but there are other songs on the album like “Moving Target” worked and changed it so many times. I couldn’t figure out what I was trying to say. I rewrote lyrics again and again, the girls can answer for themselves its different for everyone. But I prefer it come all at once.
T: Do you like starting with a formula and then going off the path or do you enjoy starting off the path?
SS: I think the formula helps me, but I find the more I try to stick to it the more I’ll go off the path.
T: When you build the structure of a song, do you know how its going to come out sonically? Like do the influences like Orbison and Lesley Gore come later? Or do you know going in you want the song to have a 50s-60s vibe?
MH: When it comes to sonics thats something that comes later in the studio. But none of us want to prescribe to somebody else’s style. Even though we have influences, we write from our hearts. From what we sound to ourselves stripped down and in the studio we talk about how we love the guitar work in all these 50s albums and I love the vocals on all these 60s albums. It’s almost like dress up, but you’re still presenting as yourself.
T: You guys have a great handle of showing your influences and not wearing them on your sleeves. How do you make sure you don’t end up sounding like a tribute band?
SS: I think that just comes natural, our voices sound very individual and you can’t really pin them down. We try to keep people guessing on our records and live performances, you’re never going to hear the same thing twice.
T: Was structuring the song order on this album different from previous releases?
SS: Yeah it was really hard. We all came up with our own track listing and just beat it to death. We were on a fall tour and the record had been done for like a month. We recorded like twenty songs and we finally chose them. It was so frustrating but we got there.
KL: We had a lot of discussion about the order of the songs, because a lot of people don’t listen to full albums anymore. But with vinyl people are listening to the full album, nobody is skipping ahead. We were struggling back and forth about the flip on the vinyl. Sometimes we were overthinking it, but were happy about how it came out. ‘
SS: I like when the CD ends in my car though, because I still listen to CDs in my car, When it goes to “Cheers” to “Moving Target” I get to listen to it again!
T: When it comes lyricism on this album, I felt that was a little different as well. I’m from Jersey so I feel like I heard some Springsteen and also some Harry Nilsson.
SS: Is this our Person?
MH: I feel so understood. (laughs) Thank you.
SS: Talk about the Boss Mack.
MH: Im a huge Bruce Springsteen fan and I think “Giving Up on You” was somewhat inspired by time where I was listening to a lot of Springsteen. I wanted to write a chorus that was really hooky but sad. He’s really good at that (laughs) These really anthemic but then your like “oh that’s terribly Sad!”
SS: There is one song that is unheard that’s very Bruce Springsteen and Mackenzie plays Sax on it. Don’t you play Saxophone on “Spitfire?”
MH: Oh yeah, there is definitely some saxophone. Also I think in terms of lyrics were trying to be very honest in our personal lives, so we kind of get to tell each other’s stories. Even though there is a lot of lyrical style, a lot of it is mostly personal content. Honestly it’s just real life shit.
T: A bit off topic but Tegan and Sara put out an album this year that’s all these songs they wrote from high school.
KL: That’s so cool
T: Do you have any songs you’re hiding from the past?
KL: Hiding? (laughs)
T: (laughs) Or songs you’ve kept for this album or one in the future.
KL: Yeah, “Don’t Pretend” was supposed to be on the last album, but it’s a song that look a-lot of restructuring. I really wanna listen to that Tegan and Sara album now.
T: Have any new younger contemporaries been inspiring you, or just have been great new listening material?
KL: I’ve been listening to SASAMI a lot recently.
MH : I mean The Lemon Twigs are kids, and they’re so talented. Im actually reaching an age were a lot of artists coming out are younger than me and that’s a wild feeling, but I respect it. The younger generation has a lot to say about the political climate and about literal climate. Its exciting to see it.
T: One thing I saw a lot in your past interviews was a constant comparison to the Dixie Chicks and other trios of woman who also sing harmonies. Does that get frustrating?
SS: One time someone called us “three singing maidens:, they called us folk maids and thats so weird and kinda dark. (laughs )
MH: We’ve struggled being compared to artists because of our gender and not our genre many times. With all due respect to every band, and sister bands that are so amazing and having the advantage of sounding like each-other and that’s incredible. But we also have just never felt like one of those bands, just because we sing in harmony. We’ve never felt like we fit in with any genre. So just the fact that the first thing people notice is our gender and then compare us to any other trio of woman has gotten frustrating over the years. We’ve done all we can to set ourselves apart but at the same time we cant change peoples minds.
SS: Or we’ve gotten compliments, for me feeling like too high of praise. Like “You really sound like The Watsons Twins?” Like do we or is that most recent thing you’ve heard with harmony. Because we all like playing an instruments, and don’t structure ourselves around the mic.
KL: I thought the question of being in a “female fronted” band is dead and its not. People are always asking “now more than ever, how does it feel to be a woman?” I’ve always been a woman, I’ve alway played these songs, and I’ve always felt like this.
T: Lastly since we’re partly Nashville based, what is your songwriting advice? For people in their bedrooms uploading to bandcamp right now?
SS: Don’t get mad at yourself.
MH: Screw the formula and be as honest as you can be.
KL: And stop comparing yourself to everybody else and especially with others success.
About the music video: The mixed media, stop motion music video for ‘Telepathic Mail’ took three months to create and is a collaboration between Kinsey Lee and local Nashville artist Jake Johnston. Kinsey Lee says, “This song came out fast. When we were in the studio recording “World We Built” I had been dreaming a lot and trying to log every morning. Over the last couple of years I have tried to connect the dots between
coincidence and the divine connectedness that I have felt with certain people in my
life. As I get older I can’t help but see the magic starting to slip away in my waking
life however in my dreaming life the magic holds free reign. I think adult logic starts
to set in, I think technology and the ego start to take up residence and we become
isolated from our connection to the “Divine Web” while we become more connected
to the World Wide Web. This video plays on the battle between the third eye and the
all seeing eye that we hold in our hands on the daily trying desperately to connect
with each other.”
Friday the 13th of December at Masonic Lodge at the Hollywood Forever
Cemetery The Wild Reeds will be celebrating their 10th annual Holiday show with
Monica Martin and special guests. The Wild Reeds first formed in December 2009
after hosting a holiday fundraiser for Toys for Tots and have since hosted a charity
every year, this year being Border Angels. Five dollars of all tickets sold will be
donated to benefit humane immigration reform, human rights, and social justice
with a special focus on issues related to issues related to the US-Mexican border.
Check out their latest album “Cheers”