When he's not writing Top 40 hits, Ricky Reed records weirder songs as Wallpaper.
If you don't know the name Ricky Reed, you certainly already know his sound. Ricky is responsible for co-creating some of the most infectious tracks this year, including Jason Derulo's "Talk Dirty", "Wiggle", and Fifth Harmony's "Bo$$", all of which have taken over radio across the country. Through Sony/ATV, he's working on changing the sound of pop, and then some.
When not crafting platinum-selling singles for the big names of pop, he's working on his own group, Wallpaper, who released their debut full-length last summer. The album, Ricky Reed Is Real, was a collection of so-bad-they're-great electro-pop party tracks, building on what the public already knew about Ricky and his crew. Songs like "Fucking Best Song Ever", "Stupiddfacedd", and "Hesher" showed just how creative Ricky was, and helped identify the style that he'd pass on to those dominating the charts (he's responsible for all those dirty saxophones you've been hearing lately). For now, he's shifting focus, working with plenty of other big names and looking forward to a different kind of Wallpaper album, which people really might not be expecting.
How does it feel now being known as both Wallpaper and Ricky Reed, the producer?
This year has been incredible for me. Meteoric really. I'm borrowing less money from my mom, which is good. Something I never realized is that with some degree of success, it really emboldens the artist try stranger things, to see what they'll let me get away with.
Is the new Jason Derulo music in the same vein as what you have already done?
No. We're trying to elevate both him and the whole project. The stuff we're doing now is as avant-garde as pop gets. The process is being started in 2 AM to 6 AM smoke-filled bus lounges, Denny's strewn all over the place, alcohol everywhere. We're sort of out here in the trenches, and I think it's going to show up in the music that we really pushed ourselves in the process.
Now that you're Wallpaper and Ricky Reed, are you having an identity crisis when you make something, wondering who it will be for?
It's always going to be confusing for people. Jason still calls me Wall. Branding has always been a tricky thing for us. I'm Ricky Reed, the band is Wallpaper.
When it comes to what's Top 40 and what's not, to make hit songs you can never worry about that. You can only think about what feels great in the room when you're making it. What makes you want to sing, dance, or shout, right then and there. That's what's crazy about songwriting: You're trying to find a magic moment everyday. That also makes it tremendously difficult. How do you create those amazing situations every time you write? You have to reach your deepest emotional self everyday. It's exhausting and it can be frustrating.
Have you ever had an instance where you were writing something for an artist, and someone along the line said "No we can't send this to radio. It's too out there"?
I had something kind of like that after the fact. I made a song for Fifth Harmony called "Bo$$." The chorus of that is "Boss, Michelle Obama, purse all heavy gettin' Oprah dollars". It's a total anthem. Not long after the song was out we started hearing from radio stations, and they were asking if we could make a version without Michelle Obama in the chorus. Some of the stations in certain regions of the country, which will remain nameless, won't play a song with Michelle Obama's name in it. Not only did I say no, but I tweeted about it. I probably got somebody in trouble for that one, but it's not my job to be politically correct.
What do you have coming up?
I have one song on Tim McGraw's new album already, which is awesome. I have a New Politics song that's on the radio right now, and a Smallpools song that's about to go. I've had a few sessions with Twenty One Pilots that have gone pretty well, and I'm going to be doing more with them. I did a session with Fergie, she's really cool. Went down to Colombia to produce for a great cumbia/electro mix group. Anything I can do to keep myself stimulated and to keep challenging myself.
What's going on with Wallpaper? Any new material?
Just started working on it. I think it's going to be a paradigm shift from my previous work. When I was making the album last year I was going through a terrible time in my life. It was the hardest year. There's a lot of venting, frustration, and sadness on that album. People are always surprised and they think "But dude, it's a party album!" Read between the lines man. This last year has been incredible. I've been given a new start. Potentially some real hippy shit on my new album.
Now that you've proven yourself in the Top 40 world, is anyone expecting you to come out with your own big radio hit?
Oh yeah, the pressure for a radio hit is coming from all sides...all sides but me. The benefit of writing hits for other people is that it takes some of the pressure off of Wallpaper to have one. I can go into the studio and say "I know you guys want me to write a 'Talk Dirty' for myself, but this is what I have to do. This is what I have to say." What's most valuable is that I now have a podium to speak from, and I have a lot of things I need to say.
When Wallpaper was first coming out with songs like "Fucking Best Song Ever" and "Stupidfacedd," were you worried that would be your thing forever, and that nobody would take you seriously after such crazy party anthems?
Very much so, I still am to a degree today. With the prospect of new Wallpaper material looming, people are ready for another "Hesher," and I may just have to shatter expectations. If I don't feel like doing one of those, I'm not going to. I don't need to anymore. I feel comfortable in my skin and very happy.
Hugh McIntyre is a writer living in NYC. He's on Twitter.