ENTERTAINMENT | FASHION | ART | LIFESTYLE
AUGUST 2013 | WWW.JSQUAREDNYC.COM
DIGITAL EXCLUSIVE: STEFF REED www.jsquarednyc.com | 1
A DIGITAL EXCLUSIVE:
THE CEREBRAL ROCKSTAR PHOTOGRAPHY AND INTERVIEW BY TRÉVON JAMES
There are some things in life that we would never face. Some would even say they would take it to their grave. But then there’s others that puts it into a song. After a decade of songwriting and producing for some of the music industry’s finest stars (Trey Songz, Kenny Lattimore, Lil’ Mo), New York City-based singer/songwriter Steff Reed is on the rhythmic road to reinvention. He has been compare to Ryan Leslie and Pharrell Williams and is gaining incredible buzz on his soon to be released EP The Intervention. The songs are inspired by his failures and rock bottom moments in life. We had the humbling experience of sitting down with the soon to be rockstar as he opened up and shared the dark side of his emo-soul. He shares his life with us in depth from his personal struggles,losing his family, his excessive drinking, trying to commit suicide, to looking in the mirror, facing his demons and rising above. 2 | www.jsquarednyc.com
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JS- How Are you? SR - I’m good. Honestly, I’m grateful to be sitting here sharing this moment. This is big for my career and really powerful. The fact that someone values my artistic contribution to the world enough, to want to listen to what I have to say means so much. So many people doubted that I could even get this far. Beyond making music, to be able to make fans, to create a genuine interest to what I have to say as a person, makes me emotional because of how much my music is touching them. JS- So, let’s get right into it. Tell us, Who is Steff Reed? SR- Steff Reed is a powerful and vulnerable leader. A creative visionary with a big heart; who wants to share his passion, love for humanity and music with the world. 4 | www.jsquarednyc.com
JS- You’ve actually been in the industry for a while. How did you get started and who did you worked with? SR- I’ve been in the business for a long time. I got my start working with a production company called The Burn Unit it was ran by Jojo Brim and his brother Jimmy Maynes. Jojo was one of the more important A&Rs at Def Soul he was working with Case, Montel Jordan, and Dru Hill. Jimmy was working with Nivea and this group called Sol. I got my start working with them. I dropped out of college because I had a baby on the way. My first semester in college I met this A&R and played him my demo tape of stuff I made. I couldn’t afford equipment, so I would go to Sam Ash and sneak during store hours making beats. I would bring a floppy disk and save my beats and always work on them every time I’d go to a Sam Ash. My dad finally bought me a Yamaha, but you couldn’t loop or make beats. So if the song
Digital Exclusive you did with Sol, its bananas, its crazy”. And I’m young, and starting to get some buzz. Kind of like how it is now, everyone was hearing about me through word of mouth. Unfortunately, the songs never made it to the album. JS- What was your music background like and musical influences growing up? SR- I didn’t come from a musical family, I came from an educated family. There was always a stress on going to school and working hard. They valued the arts, but it’s not like I grew up in a family of musicians. Music just hit me at a young age. I was in the second grade and I wanted to do a talent show. I remember singing “Getting To Know You” and every year after that I would sing. I would do plays, I played the Beast, in Beauty and The Beast sixth grade year. I also grew up in special education and was taking medication for ADHD. I was always weird and different. It wasn’t until I was thirteen years old in middle school, I remember day dreaming sitting in class saying “ I want to be an artist...I want to do music forever”. JS- So when did playing the piano come into the picture?
was 4 minutes, I had to play, lets say the high hat for the whole 4 minutes. So if you f**ked up on the thirty second bar, back to zero [laughs]. So I made all my tracks on that and different Tritons I would see in Sam Ash. I’d stay for hours upon hours making my demo. I then was in a singing group with my brother. We accomplished a lot of things together while in Yonkers, NY. We were called “Reality”. I took the demos I had worked on with them, and the beats I was working on, and met this A&R. I played the tracks for him and he liked it. He thought I had talent and from then he mentored me. I ended up with my first professional project with Nivea as producer. She was signed to Jive Records at the time and I was working on her first album and with the group Sol. That was like the beginning of my success. The song I did with them was everybody’s favorite in the industry. Every time I’d see someone they would say “heard that record you did with Nivea, heard that record
SR- I sang for so long, then my voiced changed around fourteen years old. It didn’t sound that good anymore and I had a hard time adjusting. While singing in groups with my brother, who I taught to sing, we’d go to record label meetings. And they’d always ask us to sing individually, thats when I would feel exposed. I was never as good as the other people in the group, I was always the weakest one. So my first year in high school, I saw the piano and I said “that looks really cool, I want to learn that”and I taught myself. I felt it would overcompensate for the fact that I wasn’t that strong of a singer. And from learning piano, I taught myself how to write songs and make tracks. At one time I couldn’t hear harmonies. Now, arranging is one of my strengths. There was actually a point in time where I was tone deaf. I remember in the eleventh grade thinking “I’m not a beast yet”. And people in my school [Repertory Company High school For Theater Arts] already had record deals and were on TV. So I figured I would write and produce. People like DeVante from Jodeci, Teddy Riley from Guy and from Dru Hill; those were guys who weren’t necessarily the strongest singer, but still work in the business and look like artists. I said I wanted to be like them. I co wrote my school’s song in the twelfth grade and won a scholarship for the song writing contest. I did so much in just the two years of playing the piano and one year of making beats. I was only in the school for the three years and got into the business right after that. I put singing to the side because I progressed faster as a musician, writer and producer. JS- How is now being artist different from being behind the scenes? SR- It has its moments when it’s fun. It’s something that I need to do. Being an artist is who I am, it’s something I’m www.jsquarednyc.com | 5
â€œI learned that I mattered and anything that I wanted for myself was up to me to make that happen.â€?
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“My material is very cerebral ... You’re going to hear my mind more than my heart.” allowing myself to be now. I’ve always been that, but for whatever the reason, I would keep that away.I think it’s a suppressed reality. I’m not having as much fun as I’d like to. Because I’m feel like I’m spending so much time having to prove myself. Trying to be heard or understood is different from just being an artist and grateful to play an instrument with my band. I’m always thinking about things like; Are people gonna like me? Is this going to work? Will people care? I think about everyone else so much that I don’t get a chance to enjoy it. However, the audience when they come to a show, they really do enjoy it. JS- Do you consider yourself to be a perfectionist? SR- Yea, this is going to come across so weird. I care so much what people think to a flaw. I want people to like and understand me. Growing up I always had a hard time fitting in and having friends. I’m a perfectionist because I want people to love me. JS- Describe your music. SR- I call my genre emo-soul. Because its like dark, alternative rock mixed with RnB. Three words to describe it would be: Vulnerable,Honest and Introspective. I allow myself to really open up and talk about things that I’m not comfortable with. I talked about wanting to commit suicide, my family leaving and being taken advantage of by women. Losing my prodigé, being at rock bottom and feeling like my life didn’t matter. That’s a lot to say in a song for people that don’t know me. I only sing about things that I feel and have experienced. So when you hear my song it’s very literal. I don’t see myself writing for millions of people [maybe I am that guy]. I work with great writers who can write for anybody and any style. My material is very cerebral. If you listen to my song “Sadistic” the opening line is “I’m fighting what I wanna do, but I got admit I like it...She’s forbidden fruit, I’m Samson and she’s Delilah”. I know she’s my weakness, and I know that I shouldn’t touch. But she gets off on my suffering its like im in a cult”.
So if you think about that, I’m in a situation sexually. Most artist if they were in the same situation would just indulge. They would brag and say “I got her doing this, she’s doing this like that, it feels like this”. With me there’s conflict, there’s tension, mentally there’s a lot going on for someone who’s telling that story. Everything that I sing about it comes from a place of reflecting and me thinking about life. How is it going to affect me later? What are the repercussions? It’s me internalizing the experience and not completely in the moment. You’re going to hear my mind more than my heart. JS- Let’s get into the EP, The Intervention. how did you come up with the title? SR- I felt like I wanted to face something. With alcohol, depression, despair and failure, I had to face those demons. Whenever someone has a problem, you intervene because you want them look into the mirror to save their life. This album did that, on a personal level and a musical level. I finally looked in the mirror and I had to actually begin working on myself. And then musically I pushed myself all the way to my limits. I stopped holding back, being limited and closed minded. I have orchestras on this album, horns, multiple organs, electric guitars, bass, all types of singing. JS- So this album is basically therapeutic for you? SR- Yes! Because I’m finally letting everything out. Rather than avoiding or shielding it, I’m taking it head on. JS- Thinking about the creative process. What was the first day like when you finally decided to put everything on paper? SR- I was convinced the album was going to be done by March 2012. It sucked at first [laughs]. My brother [Jeremy Reed] and I wrote the a song called “Intoxicated”; it sounded good at the time. I started from scratch, no industry connections, I had nothing, just me and him. It was about a girl being related to a drink; I thought I was being deep [laughs]. We built other songs like “Can’t Fight It” that dealt with temptation, and basically it all started as these cliché ass RnB things. My process was I’d make a skeleton for the track, some drums and a synth or piano, and freestyle a bunch of melodies of like 5 different takes. I’d switch up phrases and out of those takes I may have a good hook,intro, and verse. But then I’d do it again and say what else did I not think of melodically. I’d call my brother or Jaron Hitz and then say help me fill in the blanks. Sometimes I’ll have a verse and it’ll be whack and they’d have to rewrite some things and other times my lines would be good. JS-What influences did you pull from to develop the sound for this EP? SR- This album was totally inspired by “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band “by The Beatles, “Songs in the Key of www.jsquarednyc.com | 9
Life” by Stevie Wonder, Depeche Mode, Marilyn Manson, Tom Petty, Cocaine 80s, Drake, Frank Ocean, Kanye West, Dirty Money and just bunch of everything for different reasons. Those were things I listened to the entire time. JS- “Out On The Ledge” is your current single. How did you come up with the concept musically and visually? SR- It was probably the fourth song I recorded but the first legitimate record that sounded more like The Intervention. Everything else was urban RnB, it was the 10 | www.jsquarednyc.com
first time I took a risk. It was my sound and I didn’t know it was at the time. I was just trying something different. But it came across because I was writing these generic songs and I decided I wanted to dig a little deeper. Jaron Hitz who’s one of the co producers on the album, said “you should do something like Dirty Money”. He felt the sound would be cool on me. I got inspired by this one song from Dirty Money called “Shades”, such a dope song and Nine Inch nails “Closer”. After dealing with my daughter’s mother, I was broken because my family moved away. I got into a relationship with
Digital Exclusive another woman, who I found out she was still married. Only to find out she had a third person; someone that I actually knew. Now, I could handle being number two, but I’m nobodies number three [laughs]. The second verse was about that situation. I was already depressed from drinking a lot. I drank about 6 times a day.
it underground, killing it and NEVER looking back. It’s about rebirth and understanding in order to be great and to be the person you see, you’re going to have to kill these things. If you don’t and recognize they cannot be present, you’ll never win. I co wrote that with Jaron Hitz. He was instrumental in getting a lot of the songs done.
JS- What was the point that got you to the ledge?
JS- Who is “The Intervention” for?
SR-The way the song was written, it was pieced together. It’s not just one moment. I wanted to kill myself Summer of 2010. We had just given birth to our daughter. Things were hard financially, her mother took everyone to go “visit” her parents for the Summer. I said cool, while she was away she told me she wasn’t coming back. I always wanted a daughter for so long. I was only with her [my daughter] for a month and a half. So only spending that much time, to then tell me you’re not coming back? I flipped out. They went out to Arizona. I can go to somewhere like New Jersey, Connecticut even Massachusetts; I could figure it out. But I can’t just get up and go to the west coast. I remember calling my dad saying “I don’t want to live anymore”. He came over and I was watching “Pursuit To Happiness”, what a movie to watch [laughs]. I lost my family and felt like I failed. In the middle of that I was fighting for custody of my son at the time. I’m trying to do all these things at once, and everything was falling on top of me. I’m not getting places in the Industry and nothing was working.
SR- This EP is for anybody who’s struggling. Who feel like they have nothing, who are hurting and want to be healed and ones that don’t. Songs like “Out On The Ledge” is for someone who feels like not caring anymore. “Trials of Job” says I know things are hard, but I can overcome it. “Alright” says whatever’s going on it’s ok, because I’m going to be fine. So, people that are winning, underdogs, striving, someone who has nothing, can all relate to this project. Every song is about a core value of humanity. I made this album for everyone to understand. Whether they like it, thats a taste in music. But what it represents on a spiritual esoteric, it’s for everyone. That’s like asking who do you think the truth is good for? Everyone can benefit from it whether they want to hear it or not.
JS- What was the turning point for you? SR- Hitting rock bottom, losing everything and having to start from scratch. I was no longer business partners with my partner of The BeatBanggahz. I didn’t have any equipment, was living on the couch and had to start all over while being a full time dad. I wanted to quit music and a friend of mine suggested I become an artist; that was January 2012. I then took this personal growth workshop called “Momentum Education”. I learned that I mattered and anything that I wanted for myself was up to me to make that happen. I realized how powerful I was if I put my mind to it and just focused. I was put here for a reason and because of this passion and love in my heart I wasn’t meant to be average. Right after that workshop I wrote “Funeral”. I was holding on to a lot of things, being a victim from all my negative experiences. I never pointed the finger at myself and thats INTERVENTION. That was when everything started to kick into overdrive. I became a vegan, I lost 30 pounds in a month, I got back into school and I’m about to graduate soon. The very next year I got nominated for a Grammy for music education award. JS- I know you don’t want to give to much of the album away,but can you talk more about the song “Funeral”? SR- “Funeral” is really about letting go of things that aren’t working. I was jealous, envious, insecure, petty, angry, arrogant, entitled and lazy. Everything that was holding me back from success. So the song talks about letting those things go to the point where you’re burying
JS- So what’s next for you? SR- Continue raising awareness. I’ve been performing almost every week with my band [The Intervention Band]. They’re amazing, we have a great live show. I feel like Guns and Roses, Prince and The Revolution or like the RnB version of Slash. I’m a great front man but my band is just as dope; they contribute to the moment. JS- Ok let’s do a quick 4. Last song you listened to? SR- Beyoncé - Grown Woman. JS- Favorite Quote? SR. “Be. Do. Have.” JR- Finish this sentence. Without music I would be...? SR- NOTHING. JS- Favorite Artist of all time? SR- Stevie Wonder. JS- Final Thoughts? SR- Understand that this is what I love to do. I’ve been doing this my entire life. This is who I am. It’s something that God put inside of me to do. All the negative experiences I had led me to this moment. Without those things I would have no material. I’m here for a reason and because I was chosen to do this, I’m not going anywhere. I want to continue to share my life, passion, and vision with everyone. The Intervention is coming soon. www.jsquarednyc.com | 11