Musical producer

Lizzo Producer Ricky Reed Explains What Makes Her So “Special”

Featuring hits from a wide range of artists including Halsey, The Weeknd, Camila Cabello, Jon Batiste, Leon Bridges, Twenty One Pilots, SZA, Maren Morris, Maggie Rogers, Maroon 5, Bomba Estereo and many more, Ricky Reed is one of the most successful and ubiquitous songwriters of the past 15 years.

But it was his work with Lizzo, both as a musical collaborator and at the helm of Nice Life, the label he signed to Atlantic Records, that made him VarietyJuly hitmaker of the month. The singer’s “Special” album features five songs co-produced by Reed, including the single “About That Time” and the closest, “Coldplay.”

Reed (real name: Eric Frederic) began working with Lizzo (real name: Melissa Jefferson) in 2016. His touch was immediately evident on her debut EP “Coconut Oil,” several songs from which were featured on her Grammy-winning “Cuz I Love.” . You” 3 years later – it brought an effervescent pop edge that wasn’t prominent on her previous releases, and helped turn her into a superstar.

We are far from his beginnings in the Bay Area, where he says he was also influenced by the punk and hip-hop scenes of the region. While he was originally signed to Epic Records as an artist, his breakthrough came in 2013 for his work on Jason Derulo’s hit “Talk Dirty,” which he says “completely changed everything.” A flood of success with the above artists and many more followed.

Reed still releases records under his own name when the spirit pushes him – “I almost need to be surprised by it, like suddenly, ‘I need to make an album right now!'” says -he – but his goal is to make records for other artists, many through his label. Los Angeles-based Nice Life closed its office during the pandemic but its 12-person staff is moving to a new one in Echo Park in the fall. The company is also unusual in that it does not have a set distribution deal and instead licenses whatever label it feels is best suited for the artist, who in some cases is independent. Artists on the list include the Marias, St. Panther, Junior Mesa, John Robert and hit songwriter-producer Nate Mercereau, along with other songwriters.

Reed has won two Grammys, for his work on Lizzo’s 2020 “Cuz I Love You” (Best Urban Contemporary Album) and this year for Jon Batiste’s “We Are” (Album of the Year).

Your fingerprints are all over the place “Special”, were you basically an executive producer on the album?

No, Lizzo was the executive producer. I’ve produced five songs and mixed one, and obviously also running Nice Life, which is half of the label she’s signed to, I’m around a lot, hearing things and giving friendly comments wherever I can. But Lizzo is really the one with the vision.

She was quoted as saying she wanted the drums to ‘lead the conversation’ on this album – what does that mean?

At the very beginning of the recording of this album, she said: “I don’t want the drums to sound like things that people have already heard. I literally want to define different rhythmic patterns and different actual drum sounds, so that when this album comes out “-several years after we debuted-” it will still be cutting edge drum-wise. That’s what we started with! So just cast the line as far as you can and spool it in as you go. In fact, the album opener, “The Sign”, was one of the first we did. I worked on the drums for this for about four days.

Lizzo also said that you went through 100 or 120 songs for the album before narrowing it down to the ones you have. Were they really that many?

Yes, that’s really a lot. She is so easily creative and prolific. She comes into the studio every day feeling any number of ways someone might be feeling – happy, sad, angry, betrayed, joyful, partying, whatever – and she can give you a song to identify that specific mood. We were just getting into the flow of, you know, “What are we talking about today?” The next day: “What are we talking about today? »

So are there dozens and dozens of finished snippets, or are they more songs in various stages of completion?

If you’re getting into triple digits, there are different stages of completion. But we definitely finished and even mixed some crazy records that didn’t make it. I think there are songs in there that still have a story to tell that are still part of that moment and part of its history. She worked harder than I’ve ever seen anyone work on this album. She sits on an insane collection of music – I don’t think that’s the last we’ll hear of the sessions that have gone into this album.

Each song seems to have a message and a point and a problem – self-confidence, body positive, bad relationship, “Everybody Is Gay”. It seems very intentional.

Lizzo is probably the most intentional person I’ve ever met, and also one of the smartest. She appeals to so many different types of people who are in different seasons of their lives or dealing with different things, so she’s going to do her best to try to reach each of those people wherever they are. I consider Lizzo’s music almost as a kind of service art. Often her main job, aside from being able to express herself, is to be able to help people who need healing through music. And when his album clocks in at just over half an hour, you know there’s not a second wasted.

Was the album deliberately short? It seems like it could easily have been a lot longer.

I can’t say exactly what the thought process was, but I know she really, really wanted every second to count. And as soon as an emotion is fully expressed or communicated, go ahead, it’s done. “Let me say what I’m going to say, then go on with your day. »

What is the story behind “Coldplay”?

First I’d like to say that so far this is my favorite song I’ve ever co-written and produced in my career.

The way it happened was really interesting. We were already at least a year and a half into the making of the album and we took a bit of downtime. I was listening to this song “Sudden Death” by artist Quelle Chris, and it was one of those songs that got me through the start of the pandemic, when everything was so terrifying and weird, and I thought that it could be something for Lizzo.

So I just brought it, I think it was June 2021, and that day she said, “I just want to pick up the mic and say some stuff.” We do that a lot: I loop a beat a few times and she freestyles a bunch of lyrics and melodies — that’s how a lot of “About Damn Time” was written. But on this one, she didn’t sing, she didn’t rap — she basically gave a speech, a continuous train of thought, an improvised performance for about 45 minutes. I kept looping and thought she was going to end but it wasn’t. She kept talking about her trip to Tulum [Mexico], her feelings with this guy and trying to figure it out, blah, blah, blah. I thought that was wonderful. She came out of the cabin, “OK, see you later.”

I knew there was something special there because it was the most vulnerable I’ve ever seen her in the studio. She said things I had never heard her say and was really honest about her feelings, so I stuck with it. We went back to the studio in September, I put it back together and it just blew my mind – “That’s definitely a thing!” I was there with co-producer Nate Mercereau and transcribed the entire 45 minutes on my phone, looking for naturally rhyming words and interesting phrases, literally copying and pasting things into the notes document, trying to get some kind of song structure that I could present to him. And just before she was about to come in, I remembered there was this cool thing about the Coldplay song “Yellow” in the verse, and I thought, “I wonder if it would work over that?” I started to sing it, with a slightly off tone, and I said to Patrick, the sound engineer, “Can you find me an a capella for Coldplay ‘Yellow’?” I loaded it up and literally 10 minutes later it arrived. I said, “Hey, you know that spoken word thing you did in June?” I played him the rhythm with the Coldplay and I kind of sang – sang badly! – a rough concept for her. She was like “Okay!” when she entered the booth and sang the entire last song in about three hours. It was crazy!

Tell us about your label’s acts and your goals for them.

When I signed Lizzo, I didn’t even really think running a record company was for me. But I’ve started to realize that I actually have the ability to choose different voices that I can highlight and amplify voices that may be left out in conversation, or something really culturally interesting that’s going on outside the mainstream. So the label is taking more and more of my time.

We have the Marias, who come from Puerto Rico and Los Angeles. We’re partnered with Atlantic Records on them, and they’re amazing. When I first saw them play they reminded me of Sade’s album “Lovers Rock” – it’s like an indie band with a Sade vibe, they were actually on Bad Bunny’s new album .

We also have John Robert, for whom we work in partnership with Warner Records. I met him when he was 16 or something, he sent me some songs and then he came and sang for me. I thought to myself, “Who introduced you to Jeff Buckley? because there’s clearly something with Jeff Buckley, and he said, “I don’t know who that is.” Oh my god, sign it! I’m working on an album with him, he’s an amazing, special kid.

On the indie side, we have Junior Mesa, from Bakersfield, who is this kind of kaleidoscope of psychedelia and R&B, he’s mind blowing. St. Panther, from Irvine, who is a producer, singer and rapper. She sort of started out in an R&B and soul space and moved on to everything from hip-hop to reggaetón. She is also very open politically. And Nate Mercereau, we’re friends from the Bay Area and someone I work with on the writing and producing side. He’s done everything from Lizzo to Shawn Mendes to Rustin Kelly, all those great people, but he’s also making those amazing experimental albums.

Are you still free to work with whoever you want?

Yes, I will continue to make albums with artists who are not on the label, whether it’s a beautiful musical chemistry or a beautiful friendship, and also because I love meeting people. Work on the Camila [Cabello album, “Familia”]I’ve met so many Latin music legends, so I’ll always go where that inspiration calls me.