T REX: The Bay Area-born Ricky Reed went from lampooning pop music to producing monster pop hits, including several of Twenty One Pilots’ biggest songs.
When Eric Frederic first formed the progressive alternative quartet Facing New York in 2004, he wasn’t looking to write chart-topping bangers. He and his band mates were more on that “prog-opus” tip.
Comprising members of two disbanded East Bay groups—his own Locale A.M. and Tragedy Andy—FNY’s 2005 self-titled LP is a dense and dynamic collection of tracks—full of surging guitar crescendos, propulsive post-hardcore drumming and cryptic, introspective lyrics. Only two tracks come in under the four-minute mark.
But hey. People change. These days, Frederic—who now goes by Ricky Reed—is spending less time hunched over a pedalboard, twisting knobs into crescendos of swooshing delay and more time hunched over the sound board in his L.A.-area home studio, moving the faders and futzing with vintage synths in the search of his next earworm.
It’s virtually inconceivable that you haven’t heard Reed’s work. Even if you slept on Wallpaper.—his only-half-satirical, party-monster-hip-pop project, which produced such uproarious, blackout-drunk anthems as “I Got Soul, I’m So Wasted,” “#STUPiDFACEDD” and “Puke My Brains Out”—there’s no way you’ve missed his production work with Meghan Trainor (“No”) or Phantogram (“You Don’t Get Me High Anymore”).
And then there’s Twenty One Pilots. Reed’s fingerprints are all over the Ohio alt-hip-hop duo’s wildly successful 2015 album, Blurryface. He is given production credit on four of the record’s singles—the RIAA certified gold hits “Fairly Local” and “Lane Boy,” the platinum “Tear In My Heart” and the three-times platinum “Ride.” The band are still riding the Blurryface wave, more than a year after the record’s debut. They come to the Shark Tank this week on their Emotional Roadshow tour. The concert is all but sold-out.
So, how did this former punk kid find his way to the top of the Billboard charts?
It wasn’t long ago that Reed—an ’80s baby who grew up in Berkeley listening to Rancid and Op Ivy—was just scraping by on the earnings he made playing mid-sized venues, like The Blank Club, where Wallpaper. made their San Jose debut in 2008. That night Reed was dressed in a bedazzled leisure suit, sipping Hennessy neat and slurring his way through a set of absolutely ridiculous PBR&B jams, backed only by a laptop and drummer Arjun Singh.
The “isn’t pop music preposterous?” thrust of Reed’s early music might seem a bit heavy-handed today—especially considering his newfound success as a mainstream producer. Then again, Reed was penning tunes in reaction to mid- to late-2000s Top 40 music. Remember, if you will, this was the era of T-Pain and ubiquitous autotuning, sans irony; Kendrick Lamar had yet to link with Dr. Dre; the FM dial was decidedly un-woke.
In early interviews with Wallpaper.-era Reed, the singer and producer is forthcoming about his earliest beat-making endeavors being “100 percent pop satire.” But somewhere along the way, Reed altered his course, finding a more nuanced path.
“It’s like, I used to think that the most successful way of changing mainstream music attitudes was to tap dance around on the outside of it and throw rocks at the castle walls,” Reed told me in a conversation we had in 2012. “I eventually realized that the only way to get inside was being the Trojan horse.”
Indeed, within just a few years of his first Blank Club appearance, Reed was still rocking his douchey fedora onstage and working the caricature-of-a-pop-star angle hard—but his music was becoming increasingly polished.
The success of “#STUPiDFACEDD”—propelled by its riotous, hallucinatory music video, which premiered on MTV.com in March of 2011—put him on the radar of many music fans. But even as Wallpaper. were touring the country on the 2013 Van’s Warped Tour, showing knowledge of Reed’s work in social settings was more a way of demonstrating one’s hipster cred than anything else.
That may change in 2017. Reed’s unquestionable Midas touch behind the boards has led to multiple profiles in Billboard, an expose in Spin and a Grammy nomination for Producer of the Year. He has been working with Kesha on her forthcoming rock album.
Twenty One Pilots
Feb 10, 7pm, Sold Out
SAP Center, San Jose
Listen for Reed’s husky “no” in the background of Meghan Trainor’s “No.”