Pierre de Reeder is best known for his role as a multi-instrumentalist in the band Rilo Kiley, but like the other members of the band, de Reeder occupies his down time with his own songwriting and recording.
Technical Editor Nick caught up with Pierre on the phone to discuss his new album, The Way That it Was. They talked about the album, songwriting, influences, and Pierre’s support for Barack Obama.
Nick, PopWreckoning: How are you doing?
Pierre de Reeder: Doing good, I’m good. How are you?
PW: Great, it’s starting to be fall here in Kansas City so it’s a good time here.
PdR: Oh yeah, what’s the weather like?
PW: It’s cloudy today and maybe about 70, but the leaves are starting to fall and change colors and there’s a lot of energy this time of year.
PdR: Great, great.
PW: So, do you live in Southern California?
PdR: Yeah, I live in LA.
PW: In LA, so you get to travel a lot so do you enjoy the seasons or do you enjoy keeping it the same all year?
PdR: Well yeah, I like the seasons. We do get some semblance of the seasons here. It’s not like anywhere else but, it gets cold and it gets fuggin’ hot. But, yeah we don’t get any good snow but it’s awesome when we get rain which is so infrequent.
PW: But, you get the best of both worlds because you’re only a couple hours from good snow.
PdR: True, true. I’ve been guilty of skiing during the day and going to the beach in the evening.
PW: Yeah that’s not fair. We can do neither.
PW: I’m really interested in knowing what your song writing process is. Do you start with lyrics or melody or chords or does it just vary with the song?
PdR: It’s very song dependent. It does vary, but I don’t know if its any one strategy I have. The songs come to me in different ways. Sometimes they come as just a melody popping into my head and I’ll start there and I’ll write some music around it. But I think more often it will start either with me practicing on the guitar or piano and something musical first happens, and then a melody comes along. But sometimes it all comes at once, you know? I’ll just pick up a guitar and something pops out twenty minutes later. It just depends on the song, but that’s more rare. But yeah, it’s everything. It’s all of the above. There is no one formula for me.
PW: How many times do you come up with something great and then someone else tells you it’s something else you’ve already heard?
PdR: I think I’m more guilty of saying that to other people. It’s always described to me as my job in Rilo Kiley to point out how similar some riff or something was from some other song. I try to avoid that. I’m pretty keenly aware of that. Though I’m guilty of it, I’m sure. There’s nothing new under the sun, as they say. So, yeah. I don’t know. It doesn’t really happen to me that often though maybe I’m littered with it. I don’t know.
PW: This album, your first solo release, is very polished and mature and has some great song writing in there without being overly layered and overly complex. Who has been your greatest song writing mentor?
PdR: Certainly some of the greats for me are the some of the greats for so many people. Like the Beatles, Neil Young and definitely my peers are mentors to me, just the people I’m surrounded with. Great musicians and song writers I’m associated with. So yeah, it’s a lot of outward kind of associated things and the things that I love through out my life and people I’m surrounded with, I guess.
That wasn’t a really specific answer, very broad I know but I think it’s true because everything I think we all are influenced by all of those things. I mean there is no way to pick. I guess you could say you’re totally into one band and you love the sound and you really try to emulate them, but we’re so influenced by so many things over such a long time span, you know, that it all kind of filters into the music you make.
PW: If those are your kind of long term influences, who do you like right now? Who are you listening to now that you think is great?
PdR: Right now, I’m actually back on a lot of the classics. I’ve been spinning a lot of vinyl around the house. I found this old Wings record. There’s certainly some contemporary things that are awesome like Benji Hughes who just went out with us- he’s awesome.
I get flustered being on point with these questions, about what record I’m buying or what I’m listening to. But again, peers. I’m a sucker for my friends’ bands. I’m a sucker for the stuff my friend Michael Runion does, or Whisper Town, or Jonathan Rice. Nik Freitas, another rad dude who we were touring with and he has a lot of records out.
PW: It’s nice to hear PopWreckoning favorite Morgan Nagler (of Whispertown2000) on your album as well.
PdR: Yeah, I got her and some friends together and sang up a chorus or two.
PW: How does that work, you just put out a phone call and tell a bunch of people to show up and they lay down some tracks?
PdR: I guess so, that just had happened to be one day where I had this vision for a whole bunch of people singing and different parts of a few different songs and so I asked my good friends and people that happened to be around.
Jake Bellows [of Neva Dinova] was in town so it was like, “That’s awesome!” So just some friends and I was like “Hey! What about Saturday?” and he was like “Yeah, alright!” So everyone came by. Not that I know it was a Saturday.
PW: It looks like you were able to bring your daughter into that process. Was that the first time she’s taken part in your music officially?
PdR: Yeah, yeah.
PW: Did she enjoy that process?
PdR: (laughing) Yeah, she really does.
PW: Are you trying to get her down the road? I have two girls so I have one about the same age as your daughter and I find it fun to get her involved. We did a little Garage Band project a few months ago. Do you try to encourage that with your daughter?
PdR: I definitely encourage it. She’s self-encouraged, though. She just loves “it,” whatever “it” is. She’s just like a little performer, you know?
PW: Yeah, I have one of those too.
PdR: She just loves doing that kind of stuff. I definitely don’t want to be a stage mom or dad pushing her to do anything but she does finds it on her own and things come up like this for her, like people ask her to be in a video or some song. She did a record for a kid’s band and all of this stuff just keeps coming to her and she just loves it.
PW: Well that’s great, my daughter, we did a Garage Band project and ended up shooting a video and she realized quickly that it’s not as fun as it all looks. There’s a lot of work involved.
PdR: A lot of it is just waiting, just waiting around.
PW: So I’ve read an essay you wrote about Obama and I see you’re a big Obama supporter. What are you doing over the next month to help out?
PdR: Well, coincidentally enough I get to participate in this really awesome commercial tomorrow that Shepard Fairy, the guy who did the Obama posters and also did obey Jock the Giant, is doing. It’s an official Obama campaign commercial that’s shooting tomorrow and I get to go in and do a sixty second speech on what I think and why, and blah blah blah. Tons of people are going to show up and do this tomorrow and just getting to be a part of that and who knows if a snippet of me will be in there or not, but just being able to get on the pulpit a little bit tomorrow for that experience is exciting.
PW: It seems like these days that artists are completely past the worry that they are going to offend any of the fans and they are wearing everything pretty blatantly on their sleeves.
PdR: Yeah, thankfully.
PW: I think maybe the Dixie Chicks led the way and took a little heat on it with their crowd but it seems like now it’s pretty acceptable. We were at ACL last week and it seemed pretty much every show made a mention of change and Obama.
PdR: The more the better, you know? It’s a crazy time everyone’s got to wear it on their sleeve. It’s the most patriotic thing they can do. It’s cliché to say but it is.
PW: Any back up plans if it doesn’t go our way?
PdR: I truly was one of those people when Bush got elected the very first time – before he got elected I didn’t know what I’d do. I thought there was something crazy about this dude and I didn’t know what was going to happen to us if he got elected. I heard some people like Alec Baldwin were going to leave the country, and I was the same way and this was all before Bush’s first term, so I had those similar pangs. But I’m not going to leave the country, I’m not going to do anything. What am I going to do? Just hang in there like everyone else and hope for the best.
PW: Yeah, I know. I read that you designed the Rilo Kiley t-shirt for the Yellow Bird Project. Is that true?
PW: So you paint or do other visual arts as well?
PdR: Yeah, I paint to some extent. A kind of amateur, for-love-of-painting kind of way. I have always dabbled in the arts. But, yeah I do a lot of design.
I have done most of the Rilo Kiley album covers, and I painted my record cover and all of the artwork, and Jenny Lewis’ record cover and yeah I do that. I do everyone’s record covers and photo retouching and all of that kind of junk. And artwork and advertising so yeah, I definitely do that.
It’s kind of been a sideline of mine forever. I used to teach graphic design. I just dabble in painting. I don’t really do it, but I did get to do it on my record cover which was fun.
PW: My wife has that Yellow Bird shirt, by the way, and just loves it. It’s a beautiful shirt.
PdR: It was great doing the Yellow Bird Project.
PW: And the Elliot Smith Memorial Fund is another cool thing to see on the back of that shirt.
PdR: Yeah, for sure.
PW: Let’s go to the new album. What is your favorite track now that you have had some time to let it sit and roll around, what do you go back to as your favorite?
PdR: I don’t know, that’s such a hard thing to answer. I’m so close and personal to each one of them. Its really hard to pick a favorite. There are different ones that are with me for different reasons.
There’s a slower one on the record called “A Long Conversation”. I don’t know why, it just has a mood about it that I really enjoy playing live and how it came across on the record. “The Way That It Was”, the title track, is another favorite. They are all obviously incredibly personal and I have a different relationship with each one, it’s like different children. I don’t which one I love best.
PW: How many songs do you write that don’t make an album? Are you prolific and just take the best ones, or do you take one and work on it for a long time?
PdR: I mean it’s kind of a mixed bag there, too. There are certainly a number of songs that didn’t make it on this record so there are a lot of finished or unfinished or whatever songs floating around out there. So I don’t know how prolific I am. More than some, much less than others.
I definitely can whittle away at a song for a long time or I could finish it quickly. I guess I’m more of a whittler with songs, especially with recording so much of this record myself. It lent itself to whittling where I’d have to do the drums and the bass and the guitar, and then experiment, and do whatever. It’s a long whittling process, and through that sometimes a song comes out much different than I started or sort of intended.
PW: I really like “Not How I Believe” at the end of the album and I really like the message of it: have a little bit of modesty and honesty. Does that hurt in trying to do a lot of self promotion around your album? Is it difficult for you to go out and sell this thing?
PdR: It is. I’m terrible about wanting to do that stuff but I am pragmatic about having to do it. I started a record company to release this record and so at least I can hide behind that and kind of use any promotion through the record company doing it (even though it’s me). I have to do tons of other stuff: be kind of business savvy, and getting all the ducks in a row and that kind of stuff, but yeah I try to remain modest with it all, too. It’s a hard thing to do, but, yeah those are tenets of me in general, like being honest and modest, and humble and sincere and confident, all at the same time.
PW: I think it definitely comes through in your work and I see a lot of, even with these troubled times, some optimism in here, quite a bit of it actually.
PdR: Yeah, I am optimistic. I always have been optimistic. Realistic, but optimistic.
PW: Yeah I think that’s great, it does come through. I really enjoyed the album.
PW: It’s definitely grown on me. I have listened to it quite a bit in the last few weeks. Is there anyone you really want to collaborate with or maybe even, since you have a label now, get a project going with someone else in the future?
PdR: I guess there would be so many people I would love to, I don’t know. Again I mean I love working with all of my friends and I love doing that and I would love to continue to do that with just about every one but I’ve encountered musically and I would love to have them all play with me in some sense on some recording or whatever.
From [Michael] Runion to Benji [Hughes], to Conor [Oberst], and everyone who is associated with everyone, I would love to play with them all. With everyone I have played music with and I’d love to have them involved with my stuff. And then it expands out to the greater big world of I don’t know. Yeah, I would love to play with anybody and everybody.
PW: Those tracks that have the chorus on them, it just seems like your having a lot of fun in there, and that does come through. I think that’s all I have for you.
PdR: Cool, that’s awesome.
PW: Thank you very much! It was great talking to you I wish you the best of luck.
Oct 24 – Rio Theatre / Santa Cruz, CA (w/ Jenny Lewis)
Oct 28 – Herbst Theatre / San Francisco, CA (w/ Jenny Lewis)
Oct 29 – Herbst Theatre / San Francisco, CA (w/ Jenny Lewis)
Oct 30 – Orpheum Theatre / Los Angeles, CA (w/ Jenny Lewis)
Nov 01 – UCSD Price Center Ballroom / San Diego, CA (w/ Jenny Lewis)
Filed under: interview with Tagged: | benji hughes, conor oberst, featured, jake bellows, jenny lewis, jonathan rice, morgan nagler, neil young, nena dinova, nik freitas, obama, pierre de reeder, rilo kiley, the beatles, whisper town 2000