Reed, Eggers & Viola

Melody, Harmony & The Spaces In-between

Posted In: Arts & Entertainment, Local Music, National Music, Artist Feature,   From Issue 764   By: Robert E Martin

07th February, 2013     0

Andy Reed never ceases to amaze. It started in 2000 with The Haskels, a great new-millennium power pop band that slugged it out in the trenches, gigging' for a few bucks and drinks. They never gave up and by 2001 they recorded Rewind for Chad Cunningham's alter ego Bullfrog Records. It was a great disc from the opener Have You Heard This Song Before to Song of Hope, Tomorrow Knows and Comic Book Hero.
It was an incredible first effort that gave us all a glimpse of Reed's talent. The Haskels released a power pop masterpiece entitled Let Down before cashing in their chips. Reed took a gig in Detroit to further develop his craft and he learned a thing or two about the music business - you've got to take the bull by the horns, nobody else is going to do it for you. 
He came back to mid-Michigan ready to advance his craft as a songwriter. Reed released the textured and beautiful LP Songs from the North in 2005 followed by the Great Compression EP (2006) and Fast Forward (2008) with each disc representing Reed's unstoppable growth as an artist.
In 2009 Reed Recording Studios opened. He started getting business by word of mouth. He may not have been an immediate success, but the word was passed around like boys on a playground. Soon enough bands from across mid-Michigan were knocking on his door, including The Verve Pipe, Brett Mitchell, Mandi Layne, the Tosspints, Big Brother Smokes, Laurie Middlebrook and dozens of others. 
Reed has the capacity to provide warm analog sounds as well as powerful digital recordings with his use of vintage and modern gear. Before long, Reed made a name for himself as the premier producer in Mid-Michigan. He was our Todd Rundgren - A Wizard & True Star.
As Reed's notoriety as a singer/songwriter grew past the boundaries of Michigan, he released his penultimate masterpiece, the exquisite Always on the Run by American Underdog (Andy's alter ego) in 2011. Reed's CD/LP was getting serious interest across the power pop charts and the internet reaching all parts of the states and overseas.
Andy was gaining accolades like lovers kissing and then kissing again and again. It was in this backdrop of ascending fame when Reed formed friendships with Steve Eggers of the Toronto-based power pop trio The Nines; and with Mike Viola (That Thing You Do, Jellyfish, XTC).
This unique trio has converged together for an upcoming show at The State Theatre in Bay City that is billed as Mike Viola, Steve Eggers, and Andy Reed Together - Alone “One Night Only.”  This is a triple threat of musical might, beautiful sounds and good vibrations. Love is in the Air!  The concert is happening on Friday February 15th, 7:30 pm. General Admission is $10.
The following interviews of Mike Viola and Steve Eggers reveal their like-minded pursuit of sound and substance and keeping music alive.
Steve Eggers: Climbing Mt Everest
What led to this collaboration with Andy and Mike?
I actually got onboard toward the end of the planning, and I thought it was a great opportunity. I knew Mike but I hadn't really worked with him outside of a show we did together. Mike actually reached out to me and said he was doing the show with Andy in Michigan and asked if I'd be interested in doing it as well. I said, “Yeah, absolutely,” because I knew a little bit about Andy's stuff and I knew Mike, so I thought it was a great opportunity to kind of hitch onto their gig.
While doing research for the interview I heard an organic link between the three of you. I think you match up really well as singer/songwriters. You have a catalog of music that has a power pop feel.
Yeah, I think most people kind of get tagged with any label, you know. I think most musicians are always going to be saying, “Well, we're more than that. We're not just kind of tied into just a label.” It's a bit defining, but at the same time, the luxury with that is if you like these particular bands, it's a good way of identifying what kind of music you play, right? So if you're looking to find that type of music, like Eric Carmen or Big Star in any of these kind of bands. It helps if you're eclectic. It's hard starting out to get a fan base so at the very least what that label does is pinpoints or gives people an indication of the kind of music you play, so it helps to promote you in that way. Actually I don't mind it that much.
How do you get that big warm sound? I think it's a spectacular sound.
How do I do it? I don't know. I think its trial and error, to be brutally honest. Like when we first started the technology was pretty limited. You either paid a lot of money to go into a big studio - most of us didn't have the money - or you had to do your own thing. When I started out with four-track cassette decks and things like that. I actually kind of fiddled around with a four-track. They were literally like a cassette that would allow you to record multi-track four times over. That's where I started to learn to do my own stuff. So a lot of the early songs we did were pretty low-fi, but I think as you get older, you just get a little more used to fiddling around in the studio plus the technology's better now.
I just think flat-out you're a great singer.
You sound like Eric Carmen or Steve Martin from the Left Banke. You have a great falsetto.
A lot of those guys I like. It's funny. Eric Carmen. I kind of went through a phase. I even went through a phase that people might think would be kind of cheesy. Like I really enjoy the Eric Carmen solo album, some of the stuff on that was great. He's just a super strong songwriter. So yeah, that's a compliment, so thank you. 
The Nines were described as a band that picked up where the Beatles left off. What do you think of that? What does that mean to you?
That's a little far-fetched, but I'll use it as a quote. (Laughter) Yeah, that's super-complimentary. I mean the Beatles! You know you're talking about this power pop thing. I think most musicians in general aspire to find the Mt. Everest of music and that would be the Beatles. There are so many people who have been influenced by them. It'd be a complete lie, of course, if I said they didn't influence me. It's a promotional thing.  You know the reason I think why there are so many people who still really like the Beatles and still follow the Beatles is because of their ability to evolve and to kind of embrace all these  different influences and to digest that and create something brand new. So I think if you went from aspiring to be like them, to creating something else, to fiddle with them and make them your own - that's the critical component.
Now you've collaborated with some pretty big hitters like Andy Partridge from XTC, Jason Falkner, Bleu and played with Roger Hodgson from Supertramp. Were these times of growth?
Oh yeah, for sure. I'm a fan of these guys, right? I'm a fan first and foremost. I remember with Roger Hodgson, it was… I felt like, you know, a little kid. Literally. I mean I grew up listening to Supertramp. They were just such monumental albums. Listening to these people is what inspired me to get into music. Yeah, I remember doing all the fan type of things where I brought my Supertramp record to the gig and got it signed (Laughter).
I was super-conscious of not looking like a super geek fan, right? I was just over the top. All these guys were great. Andy Partridge was incredible. I'll tell one thing, working with some of these guys…first of all, most of them were super humble people and super self-effacing, and so it was great to meet these heroes and to realize that they're cool too. You know, you can be totally disappointed with people that you  idolized when you're a little kid.
And from a growth perspective it was totally cool too. I think as a musician you get used to your own thing and then when you're up against these heavyweights, you're forced to look at it like work in a way, to kind of push yourself to do the best you can.
It seems to me that you really went deeper with your recent LP album, Gran Julke's Field.You're talking about a metaphor to escape and solace.
Um, well it's funny. Some of this stuff, I hate to say it. This will sound so superficial and laid back. When I was younger, the name came from like when I was a teenager…I don't know if it's a good thing to print, but we smoked a bit of weed.
I remember coming up with the name. We just had this whole storyline that we created as kids. As I got older, I did that album probably in my 30's. We kind of went back to it and just took the name and thought we had this funny storyline. We tried to give it a little bit more depth to it than just the rambling of a couple of high guys. So we took the idea of the whole record itself and linked it to the idea that music is therapeutic for people, at least for me. I've always been more of a musical person to some extent than a lyrical person. Music has always been a way of escaping into this altered reality. So that was the premise of the record and how we approached it.
It seems that your daughter Elizabeth was in there as an inspiration as well
Yeah, yeah. Chantel Elizabeth. She was only five at the time and when you have little kids, you know, it's actually pretty cool because you start to live through your kids. You relive your youth because you see a lot of the naiveté they have and the way they look at things. So I wrote this tune. It reminded me of that song in “It's a Wonderful Life,” “Buffalo Girls, Won't You Come Out Tonight,” and so that was the premise behind it. Yeah, you write about what's around you.
Are the Nines still together?
Yeah, we're kind of funny. Since when we started, we were always kind of a quirky band. We got songs on a major label in Canada when we were really pretty young. It was funny. We didn't play a lot of live shows. We did a lot of recordings and stuff so we got signed off demo tapes and things like that back in the day when you could kind of submit demo tapes. We always had a core of musicians that I've always played with over the years when we do album. The Nines to some degree are a studio project and has been going on for several years, so we're kind of together. I don't look at us in the same way as I would a typical band that's touring and playing a lot of live shows and stuff like that. We're more of a studio project.
You recorded a disco song that was a tribute to the Bee Gees and the era. Did your fans understand what you were trying to do in kind of resurrecting that era disco?
I really like the Bee Gees and I actually thought that they were such a cool band and that they kind of went through different phases, but the thing with the Bee Gees is their songs were always great, like it didn't matter what they were doing', whether it be the earlier British Invasion stuff they did all the way through to the soul stuff and what became more disco. I just thought they had such brilliant songs. The inspiration for that was so funny.
I rented a keyboard that was like this retro kind of keyboard that I thought had a lot of really cool sounds on it. The drummer that played on the record we did was a disco drummer. That's what he did. I almost forced him to do more kind of straight ahead rock beat but he was actually a disco drummer so I thought, “Let's do a disco tune.” It was hard not to go full-out Bee Gees. Like we did it first as a demo, as a full-out Bee Gees thing, and I thought, “Oh, I can wipe the vocals clean and then make it more my own thing.” I just couldn't do it because it sounded so good. The funniest thing is it almost brought back a bit of the disco sucks thing where some of the fans were like, “I don't get disco. I don't like it,” and yet other people really liked it. You know, the luxury of not being on a record label and not selling gazillion records is that you can do whatever you want, and I really love that kind of music so I really didn't care. I did it for myself.
How does it feel to play solo, to be outside of that cocoon that the Nines provided?
It's a little scary in a way. I have done shows like where it's just been me. We've done shows where I'm not on the bill. I've just come in and done guest spots on other people's shows. That's how I hooked up with Mike when he was playing New York and we connected, and he said, “Hey, do you want to come down and do a show?” I did it. It's good in a way. It's a little scary, but I've really had the luxury of working with really solid musicians that keep you protected in a way. I also feel that in light of whom I'm playing with in February we're our own band. We're essentially doing a show but it's still three of us playing together, so it's a nice little bridge to doing more potential solo stuff.
Do you look for hooks consciously?
I don't know. I think it's just natural. It's the way I do things. I tend do music first and then come up with the lyrics after. I suspect a lot of people create the kind of music that we do without putting the power pop thing around it. I just think that it tends to draw out a melody, and that's how I've always done it. I don't wake up and think, “Okay, I'm going to go downstairs and write a tune.” I've had to do that and it's been really challenging. I've done that when I've written with other people where you have to sit in a room and say, “Okay, now we're going to carve a tune together.” I found that super, super intimidating just because…I've often thought that, “Is that just because I'm just lazy and my normal thing would be when I feel the tune, I'll write it.  I just find that the act of doing it, sitting down and thinking, “Okay, between 9 and 5 or whatever time, I'm going to write a tune” would be really hard.
You really have facility for creating incredible melodies and lush harmony - a perfect prescription for beautiful music. You have been compared to Wings.
Yeah, that's right. I was a big Paul McCartney/Wings fan too because as a kid I grew up listening to a lot of AM radio, it was just around my house all the time. I listened to Paul McCartney, Eric Carmen, the Raspberries, all this kind of stuff, and actually really super AM stuff like David Gates and Bread. I just absorbed it all. I was doing one of our albums and working with Jason Falkner of Jellyfish. I was talking to him on the phone because he was doing some mixing for us and he was working with Paul McCartney at the same time. It was funny because I was a big Jason Falkner fan. I was talking to Jason, and he was on the phone with me. “I just spent the day recording with Paul McCartney.” He was excited because he was a huge fan too. So I'd be asking him all these questions about the recording process or what McCartney was like and everything else. I almost feel like I was one degree away from Paul McCartney, this icon of music. There are so few legends in music now, and it'd be pretty hard pressed to find somebody who is a bigger legend than Paul McCartney.
What's your most satisfying experience as a singer/songwriter/musician?
I don't know. I like just simple things. The greatest thing for me still is coming up with ideas and recording them. I think it's a naïve and simple answer but I still have the same inspiration as I did when I was a teenager. I really do believe, and again it sounds kind of cliché and cheesy, but it keeps you young. It keeps you creatively young and excited about things. I still have that real joy of working with people and doing music.
How has the music business changed?
When I was younger you could send a demo in or be at a club and you'd have scouts come to check you out. Record labels would sign you up and do development deals. They just don't do that now. I came from that time when if you didn't have the machine behind you, you were really trying to sell your record at shows or to push them to the record store. The great thing about the internet is that it opens up the doors to expose your music and have a way to get it out there to a lot of people. The negative part of it is there's just so much stuff that it's hard to find interesting or cool bands. You really have to search it out. Music's a lot different now. I remember people like my dad saying, “Oh yeah, well I remember the days of rock and roll and the excitement of Elvis.” The bottom line is that it is kind of sad because there was a time when you could buy records and albums and kind of experience the whole album.  
The other side of it is that there's some creative control that you can have and also to your point, you can make money selling your records and playing shows and selling merchandise. I think the musicians that are truly successful are jacks-of-all-trades.
Mike Viola:
It's all just one glob of effort, inspiration, and luck.
How did you find out about Andy Reed?
I found out about Andy through the network of like-minded pop, I guess pop for the lack of a better description, but singer/ songwriters that play like in the Beatle vein. Unfortunately our little niche doesn't have a proper word to describe who we are, but pop music I guess. There's a little network of like modern musicians, and Andy came to my attention a guy who was doing it right up in the Detroit area. I was up there on tour, and I met him. He was a great guy, and we started sharing records with each other, and yeah, I just fell in love with his music. He's just a strong writer.
There's labels attached to your work - power pop, singer-songwriter that may fit imperfectly.
It's actually misleading, you know, because a lot of the stuff we do is nuanced. I feel like Steve Eggers is our modern-day Billy Joel and Elton John, like he's covering those bases - so for someone like Steve power pop doesn't make any sense at all but to call him a singer/songwriter would be doing his recording work injustice. Whenever I hear the term singer/songwriter I think of Gordon Lightfoot, who I love or James Taylor who I love, but that's not what Steve's doing and it's certainly not what Andy's doing.
I've watched you on YouTube and you do a lot of acoustic stuff. You seem to have a singer/songwriter vibe…and you wrote some cool songs like El Mundo De Perfecto
Yeah, but then it's like you do a record like Electro de Perfecto, and it's clearly a band record or like the record I did with the Candy Butchers called Hang on Mike. That one is definitely a singer/songwriter record but there's more to it because it's almost like in auteur, like being a filmmaker who just puts all his chips on the table to make this film that he hopes some people see. Even if no one sees it, it doesn't matter. He has to make the film. He's obsessed with it. He knows how it should look, what the music should be like, and he puts all his money into it.
That's what a guy like me does with all my records and that's what Andy  and Steve do. People like Bleu is another one that's in our camp or Jim Boja from Philadelphia. Like there's one of us in every state, that's what we do, we make these little art pieces. We're not trying to get on the radio. We're not trying to do anything except fulfill this vision. It's a little niche that has evolved out of the great records from the late '60s and the '70s and also into the '80s, but it pretty much ends there.
It's this walk of musicians/artists that just pour everything that they have into it - money, talent, no talent, over-reaching and expectations into these records. Lo and behold after all these years, I'm still doing it. It's what I do for a living and I think Andy and Steve are the same way.
We are able to make our little statements. So that's a long way around. That's a scenic route explanation for me to just say it's definitely more than a singer/songwriter because I have friends who are singer/songwriters like Dan Bern who is a folk artist. He is definitely a singer/songwriter. That guy can go on the road for six months with just his guitar in a van and get people to copy what he does. When I play live with an acoustic, it's just the tip of the iceberg, you know, and the same thing for Andy and for Steve because there's so much more there.
It's like going to watch Steven Spielberg talk about Jaws, you know. It's not going to enjoy the movie. It's just talking around it. That's a difficult thing. I wish that one of us could come up with a nice term, a neat little term for our niche, but so far we haven't.
Maybe it's just that you're really talented guys. It's like Here's the Rub. You're a great singer but you didn't have to sing pretty when you sing that one. Did you see that as a new direction, as a new sound for you?
It was for that particular record.  But whatever I do next, I'm not sure what it's going to sound like. I don't know until the songs come up. I don't really have an idea for what the next thing is. So that's another thing about guys like us, our sound changes depending on what records we'll do. I think the director analogy sums it up the best - just because you do Jaws doesn't mean you're going to do Jaws 2. Someone else is going to do Jaws 2.  So, yeah, that's kind of what it's about. It's the sound for that record.
I like the quirkiness of Trippin' Over Nothing and Stumbling. It sounds like there's something much deeper going on in that song. What did it mean to you?
Well, it involved existential angst. It's groping for meaning. You know, where there is none.  This is our world today. This is a pointless little flame. You know we burn bright and then we go out. That's kind of how I look at it anyway. That sounds like a little bit of a looking around for answers kind of tune.
You've been on a lot of TV shows. I thought one in particular, Conan O'Brien, he seems to get it. Did he give you any feedback or praise?
Yeah, he was really into it then. I lived in New York at the time and they were filming in New York at the time, so we were the band he would call when, you know, when it was quiet over there. If there was a spot open, he'd call us 'cause he really loved us so we got to play that show a bunch.
You're Boston born and raised, and there are some bands from Boston like Orpheus, the Cars and Boston. Did any of those people inspire you?
Oh yeah, they all did… that was kind of my generation of bands like Dance like Dumptruck, Scruffy the Cat - all those local bands at the time totally inspired. I'm a huge Cars fan. I never really thought of them as a Boston band even though they came out of Boston. I don't think they ever really played the clubs, you know. There was also another band out of Boston called Tribe that was a big influence. They were friends. They were just a great band doing something that no one else was doing. That's the thing. I love local music, and I love going to clubs to see music. I love playing in clubs, even though that's getting harder to do these days. It's still something that I aspire to, and I try really hard to make happen.
This is how the whole gig up in Bay City transpired because of Andy. He came see me at the Shelter, which is a place underneath St. Andrews Music Hall in Detroit. Andy came to see me last year. I was playin' there, and he was like, “You know, we should do a gig together.” I said, “Yeah, any time.” And then we emailed back and forth and he was talked about a gig at the State Theatre.
What was your experience doing the movie That Thing You Do with Tom Hanks. Were you working closely with Hanks on the musical part of it? Did he understand and appreciate it? 
I really didn't work with Tom, but he had a lot to do with the music. He really dug deep to find that song, and once they did, they were really aggressive to get me to do it. I didn't really want to do it because I had just got signed and I had just moved to New York, and I just didn't feel like going to LA and singing on this song. Then, you know, it sounded like a really good gig because Don was working on the music too. “If you come to LA, we'll have fun. I'll make it a really cool thing.” It ended up being great. I got to meet Brian Wilson too, so it was totally worth it.
You've collaborated with a bunch of cool people. They Might Be Giants, Barenaked Ladies, Jellyfish, STC. Did these collaborations inspire you in any way or change you in any way?
It always does. It's like going over to a friend's house, you know, tasting their spaghetti sauce, like, “Hey, what'd you do to that?” “Oh, I added basil.” “Oh, no kiddin, but don't add it until the end.” “Oh, cool.”  Then you'd go home, and you'd make a sauce that way. Then you'd meet someone else and you'd change it again. By the end of a chunk of time, you've got your own identity. I like to use metaphors. I guess it's just the writer in me, I don't know, but it's easier to explain things that way. It's like you take a little bit from everybody and you give a little bit to everybody. I think that's what this whole thing is about.
Okay. This leads to a question about your creative process. Do you set time aside every day or wait for inspiration?
Hmm, it depends what it is. For instance I'm working with an artist now, his name Matt Nathanson. When I have to write for him, it's a certain amount of time at a specific time of day. If it's for my own thing, it depends. Sometimes I'll not even have a song but know that I have to come up with something and then on the way to the session I'll come up with something. Then at other times I just get tapped on the shoulder by it.
You've been on some different labels. Which treated you with the most respect?
Probably my own label. No label. I have my own label that I've had since 2005. What I do is I make my own records, and I license them to bigger labels so that I've got distribution through Sony but I'm the one in creative control of what I'm doing and I'm in control of how much money I spend and everything like that. This is definitely the new model for a guy like me.
What was your greatest achievement ? 
I think the biggest accomplishment for me is being independent, being an artist and being able to do whatever I want to do and not have to wait around to make records like I used to. I used to have to wait until my label told me to do it; now I can just go ahead and follow my muse.  It's all just one glob of effort, inspiration, and luck.


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