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Interview with Eli Paperboy Reed

Earlier this week, I had some time to chat with Eli Paperboy Reed, before he jets back over the pond for his tour in France. Working with a whole new album, Reed has been touring around Europe like crazy showcasing his soulful vocals and proving to the world that he is not just another R&B singer. Reed's new album "Nights Like This" has him entering a new realm of energetic pop infused soul, and even stars like Beyonce' are starting to take notice!

Eli Paperboy Reed
Photo courtesy of Ray Lego and Warner Brothers Records

What was your inspiration for "Nights Like This?"
Eli: Well, it was really finally have some time off to work on music in places other than a hotel room; having some time to actually work on writing songs in a different way than just with an acoustic guitar, trying to demo things on your phone, or whatever. So I was able to really expand up on the way that I had previously ... The way that I had been writing songs for my whole career was just banging them out with my guitar. Then doing it all a little bit and as a fly by night type of thing. I think this way, myself, and my writing partner, Ryan Spraker, we were able to actually get in the studio and work from different starting points, whether it was drum beat or a bass line or whatever, we could actually create, in the studio, which is not something we have ever had a chance to do before.
It allowed me and us, as a team, to expand our horizons, and try different things. All the while, knowing that my roots as a soul singer and as a gospel vocalist, all of those going to come to the fore, whether I like it or not. I sort of don’t have a choice in that because the music is really running through me at this point, which I think is a blessing, because it allows us to work with different contexts, but still bring it back home with the way that I sing, and the way I interpret a melody, or something like that. So it was really just like having that time, not having to tour and having a minute to really work on some music in different ways that led us to work on creating a different sound of a record.

It definitely is a departure from the traditional classic/soul style from your past records. What brought on the more poppy, energetic feel to the album?
Eli: I think a lot of that, like I said, really had to do with just having some time. Instead of, my great band that I tour with, in different incarnations, previously what we would just do is work on songs, and then get the band in the studio and record them, not as quick as possible, but with not a lot of time. Most of the time would be spent with the band, learning the songs, and then we would play them as we had played them live.
This was a different process. It was more like we had the ability to start with melody and stuff like that. Also, I think both of us had been listening to a lot of different stuff. We wanted to try to expand our potential listening audience. I wanted to make something that was more for my peers. I also felt if I made another record in the same mold that I would be stuck doing that for the rest of my career. But I didn't want that. I wanted to try to grow as an artist, and do something different, and, hopefully, gain more fans because of that.

What was the hardest part of about recording this album?
Eli: I think the hard part was knowing when we were finished. Because so much of it was done in the studio. It wasn't just, "Okay, that's a take. Let's keep that." It was more like it was put together, not in pieces exactly but it was like we had so many options of different things that we could add that it was hard to know when to say, "Okay, this is done. This is the record. This is the song." We also wrote, probably, three times as many songs for the album that are actually on it. So choosing which were the best was also pretty difficult. I'd say the toughest thing, definitely, was being able to wrap it up.

What kind of process do you have for vetting the songs in trying to identify which ones to put on the record?
Eli: It was a combination of myself and Ryan, just looking through stuff. I think it was actually a little bit simpler than you might think. I think that our top ten would change as the more and more that we wrote. I think by the end of it, we probably had fifteen that were in contention and then we narrowed that down to eleven. We recorded thirteen, like really recorded and finished thirteen. So the process was going through with people from the label, with Mike Elizondo, who is sort of the guiding hand over there, the executive producer, I would say. Getting people's opinions and, finally, through that process with different people's thoughts on it, we narrowed it down to the tracks that we liked.

When you were writing the record did you think to yourself, “this will be a good single”, or did you just write the record and then figure out everything afterwards?
Eli: When we finished "Shock to the System," which is actually the first song that we wrote for the record, we knew immediately that that was going to something that could potentially be a single. "Nights Like This" is the same thing. But, then again, it did change over time. The more songs we wrote, the different sections that we did, and things like that, our opinion about what were the top tracks and potential singles definitely changed. Also, sometimes when you actually finish a song, when the recording is done, then that's when it really starts opening up to you, and you say, "This is a song that I didn't think much about before but now that it's finished it really has some potential."

Tell us a little bit about the making of the video for “Shock to the System”.
Eli: Oh man. We kind of did a down and dirty music video. It wasn't something that was too crazy. We just wanted to have a visual to go with it. I think people, especially ... Making a little bit of a reintroduction, especially, here, in the US. So we just wanted to show people what I was all about and what the band was all about, and as a way to supplement the sounds and the song and all that stuff. So I think that was really the goal. We were trying to tell a particular story or anything.

You have been touring in Europe recently, How would you say the music scene differs over there as opposed to here?
Eli: It's just really different in every territory, and every territory is a little bit of a microcosm. The UK still has a very traditional record business in the way they take songs to radio and stuff like that. It's really different. You kind of have to approach it differently every where you go. Luckily, we've had a lot of success in a lot of different territories. I'm happy, I can go to Spain. I'm actually leaving for France, tomorrow, to go on a ten-day French tour. I can go England and have success. I think that, obviously, there's a recognition of some American music over there that, unfortunately, has gone by the wayside, here at home, which is really nice, but, also, I think that it's, in a way, tough for me, because I have to make a reintroduction over there as well because I made a different kind of record.

Have you been able to play any of the new songs live, yet?
Eli: Oh, yeah. This whole past tour. We were just on the road for 20 dates and pretty much played the whole record. Did some old stuff too, but for the most part, the set was about 2/3 new music which was exciting to do the first time, play a whole set of new stuff, and people really responded fantastically. We're really excited about.

What would you say your favorite new song off the record is to play live?
Eli: I love playing "Shock to the System." I think it's really fun, and it really get people going. "Well Alright Now" is a really fun one to play. "Grown Ups" is really fun. You know, they're all really fun to play. Yeah. It's fun to play new stuff. It's also fun to do it out over the course of a tour to see how you want to play stuff; how it grows as you really kind of wrap your mind around it, for live.

So what do you have planned for this summer and the fall?
Eli: We're going back to France, tomorrow, to do a French tour, which is exciting. Then the rest of the summer is being buildup to really get ... Unfortunately, the record came out to late for summer festivals. The plan is to really build the record at radio and at press to do a big fall headlining tour. That's the plan right now. So we'll see how that works out.

So just really quick, I want to get your take on some of the new artists that you're into.
Eli: Oh, man, I mean there's so many new and old. As far as favorite bands of mine, I'm a big fan of Dr. Dog. I love what they're doing. I like a lot of radio stuff these days. I think Bruno Mars is really great. I'm a huge Beyoncé fan. We do a Beyoncé cover in the set. There's always country stuff that I'm listening to. Ashley Monroe and Miranda Lambert, I'm a big fan of. I also like Blake Shelton, and stuff like that. Let me see. Then there's always tons of old stuff that I'm always going back to. Going through re-issues of a lot of gospel. The Violent Heirs are a big favorite of mine. I definitely go back to gospel music all the time. There's too many things to mention.

In your opinion, who's better the Stylistics or the Delfonics?
Eli: Actually, I'm not such a group guy but I do love the Delfonics. The Stylistics, it's a little too sweet for me. Delfonics are a little tougher and a little funkier.