Ricky Reed
The Room 

by Eve Barlow

Ricky Reed doesn’t get a lot of sleep. The LA-based producer is one of the Grammy-winning minds behind Lizzo’s Cuz I Love You. He produced Blurryface for Twenty One Pilots and Bad At Love for Halsey. He’s worked with Leon Bridges, Maggie Rogers, The Weeknd, and Christina Aguilera. In the past five years, Ricky Reed has become one of the biggest go-to names in American pop music. But before any of this happened Reed—aka Eric Frederic from Berkeley, California–had made music under several of his own monikers. And when the world came to a grinding halt in March 2020 as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, he needed music in a way he hasn’t since he began making it. As the pandemic gave way to a necessary social uprising in America, that purpose became even more attuned.

The Room will be his first artist album since becoming a household-name producer, and launching his own label with Nice Life Recording Company. The project features Leon Bridges, Jim James of My Morning Jacket, Dirty Projectors, Terrace Martin, Duendita, Ayoni, Lido Pimienta, St. Panther & John-Robert and more. As the trend to document our lives moved to Instagram Live and YouTube, Reed—a self-confessed extrovert who missed being around people—began to live stream his sessions twice a week on the Nice Life YouTube channel and produced work in real time, much of which has created this collection. Although he’s wanted to put out an artist project for a while, he didn’t feel the compulsion until now. “I was seeking the comforts and connection of my community,” he says.

Life in quarantine forced Reed to take a long, hard look at his priorities. How we’ve experienced time has changed. Time has been stretched out and we’ve paid more attention to the ways in which we live. “I started to look at my identity,” says Reed. “I realized that most of my identity is built on the way I went about my day in the old world. When you strip that away and see what you’re left with it can be a beautiful thing, a scary thing.” In lockdown with no status quo to adhere to, Reed began to rediscover his purpose in music as a form of play, collaboration, and therapy.

The Room is a title that came to him in the wake of the death of George Floyd and the galvanizing of the Black Lives Matter movement across America and the world. He wanted to create a communal place where it’s as necessary to cry as it is to rejuvenate; where it’s as vital to be angry as it is to find joy. The music is an invitation to share experiences, commiserate, rejuvenate, and offer hope. It is upbeat in places, meditative always, and has real soul to it. “The essence of this project is trying to not conjure up further darkness and anxiety but to be the antidote,” says Reed.

Reed releases his own music when times are tough. He leans in on his own artistry when he needs that catharsis, or even just a mere vehicle to focus on process. So it’s only natural that in this extreme time of self-assessment he’d lean into it once more. It’s been seven years since he put out a full project, with a handful of one-off singles in 2016 after a personal tough time in his life. “There was always a purpose,” he says. “Things were largely good for a couple of years. But 2020 broke me down, creating a need to self medicate in a way that wasn’t self destructive.” The genesis of this wasn’t a conscious decision. “So I started making music that resonates with my body; music to pierce my own armor, crack my heart open and encourage potentially a good cry…I was doing that as therapy for myself.”

He recalls the tenth livestream he did on YouTube, another remote collaboration with Terrace Martin on keys and St. Panther on vocals. He couldn’t hold back his anguish any longer and burst into tears in front of the live audience. “It cracked me open,” he says. “I didn’t see it coming, I’d had a rough day and then that happened. It just felt like a lot. For somebody in my family dynamic where I put so much pressure on myself to create a stable, calm family dynamic, I didn’t realize how much I was needing to let my guard down.” He hadn’t even begun to produce the track. The reaction stemmed merely from listening to their ideas. That was the moment he knew the world needed this too. “I realized I needed to share this music and this feeling with people.”

The success of the past five years as a producer has absolutely changed the feeling of putting the artist hat back on, so to speak, for Reed. “I’m not the front man of a rock band, or a punk singer,” he says. “At this point I am just a member of a beautiful community of musicians and creatives.” He considers his role in this album as that of a gatherer of people, a glue if you will. Someone who’s introducing collaborators, while also catching up with old friends who he’s always wanted to work with. “It’s not as much a step back into the role as artist but rather a snapshot of where I am now,” he says. Reed is somebody who loves his community and is doing anything in his power to keep them all together. He also recognizes his responsibility to empower and amplify black voices. “I owe a great debt to black musicians.” Reed was a writer and producer on the new Leon Bridges’ song “Sweeter,” written last year, but unfortunately still relevant vis-a-vis its subject of oppression. “To have any small role in helping Leon and Terrace tell their story was humbling” he says.

The people he’s gravitated towards for collaboration here all have one thing in common: energy. He’s worked with long-term heroes such as Jim James, Dirty Projectors and more—Nice Life artists and unsigned talent he’s discovered through friends. The communication he had was truly keeping him motivated through the uncertainty of lockdown. “When I was really in the grind of working on a song with Jim [James], every time I’d get a text from him he’d feel like a guardian angel in the middle of a terrible day,” he recalls. “That just made my day. Oh my god. Chasing those moments of joy have been the driving force.”

Up until now the idea of doing something like this felt unnecessary—like a royalty grab or a cheap shot at promoting himself. In 2020, however, it saved him. “It’s something that I have to do for my mental health,” he says. “I have to be doing this. I need a reason to wake up every day and create.” The nature of the livestream too meant that became a shared inspiration, a collective call-to-arms. The process was vital. Sharing that space on a livestream kept Reed’s sanity intact. As both an eclectic listener and producer he believes he was looking to sounds that bring him peace, hope, even optimism. “It’s soulful at its core,” he says. “It has a new age-y meditative quality to it. It’s music that feels resonant in the body, and hopefully it doesn’t make you think too much or use your brain muscle.” With so much anxiety consuming our thoughts, the idea is to take in this album and be with your breath and physical self. To move a little slowly. To find serenity. Now that’s becoming a vital ingredient for the movement, too. “Protest requires action, and it also requires healing, rejuvenation of the spirit, rest to keep up a long fight,” he says. “We all know this is a marathon and I’m hoping that this record is not only a platform to speak about the ideas of change but also some place to gather, rest, and come back stronger.”

Ultimately, Reed feels fundamentally changed by quarantine, particularly with his process of creating. All the songs were written via text and voice memos. “ Lido Pimienta would sing a song concept into his phone,” he recalls. “We’d text lyrics back and forth.” The same principles still apply. “You’re looking for honesty, for great melodies. You’re still meeting people where they are, trying to be encouraging, to challenge them to do their best.” It’s given him a new perspective on what might be possible going forward.

Most importantly, in a full circle sort of way, it’s reconnected Ricky Reed to his past, to the reason he started all this. “When things are stable in my life, I don’t feel like I have a purpose,” he says. “The purpose to create a narrative and to tell people about my truth evaporates when my life is comfortable.” He laughs. “It took a pandemic for me to feel like I had a purpose to create again.” It led him back to his days in the Bay Area before he had success. “I felt fucked up then and I feel fucked up now. That’s pretty much it.” For that reason, The Room feels like an offering to the world at a time when Reed was back in the process again. Back at a new start. “When this comes out, whether it does well or not, the only thing that matters is that I made it.”■

For more information, please contact Carla Sacks 212.741.1000 at Sacks & Co.