The Wild Reeds' sound is highlighted by the interweaving vocal harmonies of three phenomenally talented front-women - Kinsey Lee, Sharon Silva and Mackenzie Howe - who swap lead vocal duties and shuffle between an array of acoustic and electric instruments throughout the set. They are backed by a rhythm section of Nick Jones (drums) and Nick Phakpiseth (bass). Each with their own style, The Wild Reeds' three songwriters make music that is dynamic and unpredictable. They write lyrics and melodies with the thoughtfulness of seasoned folk artists, and perform with the reckless enthusiasm of a young punk band in a garage. Warm acoustic songs and harmonium pump organ seamlessly give way to fuzzed-out shredding and guitar distortion.
With the release of The World We Built on April 7, the Los Angeles-based quintet continues a national breakthrough that has been rapidly growing since the release of their EP Best Wishes this summer. NPR Music critic Bob Boilen championed the band, saying "great singers aren't easy to come by, so finding three in one band is something special." The New York Times praised their live show, saying "the communal experience was amazing," while KCRW (Los Angeles) called them "top-notch vocalists." The first single from the new album, "Only Songs," is catching the attention of radio programmers around the country, like John Richards of KEXP (Seattle), who after listening to the track declared, "we just decided this is the best song ever."
"Only Songs" was written by Howe, and highlights her rock-centric approach, inspired by the '60s and '70s rock songs her mother raised her on. "It's about the feeling that music gives you," she told NPR in an interview. "There's a freedom in music found nowhere else and it doesn't discriminate, it's in the garage and the cathedral." Lee penned the second song on the album, "Fall To Sleep," a lament to her own mental health under the strains of both a nine-to-five job and the extremes of a touring musician's life. True to her roots in folk music, it begins on a soft note, as a dreamy acoustic ballad, before taking a slightly darker turn, breaking into distorted guitar parts and a Pixies-esque chorus.
Silva's contemplative, complex lyrical approach is best represented on the anthemic standout track "Capable." When asked to describe her songwriting style, she explains, "lately, my songs have been like stories with high highs and low lows - sort of like yelling at someone and then whispering an apology." Despite their distinct viewpoints, each songwriter complements the next, with each song building on the anticipation created by the last. "What brings us together is the three part vocal harmony," says Howe. "When we're all singing together, it really becomes one unique voice."
The band takes a humble approach to their recent success. "I think that when you write earnestly and honestly, people will relate," says Silva. "But there are lots of bands who do that and don't receive any attention, so I think any success we've had must just be pure luck." When watching them perform live, it quickly becomes obvious that luck has nothing to do with it. Each of The Wild Reeds is more than talented enough to front their own band, but when all three are singing at once in harmony, their music reaches its emotional apex.
"I don't think that we have figured out how to detach from our emotions yet. We take it all on stage. The voice is such a personal and vulnerable instrument," says Lee. "We aren't as concerned with sounding 'pretty' as we are with sounding real. Everything we do is very raw and I think that's why people tend to find camaraderie in our lyrics." Recreating that feeling in a studio environment is an ambitious task. Recorded by producer Peter Katis (The National, Interpol, Local Natives) at Tarquin Studios in Connecticut, The World We Built captures it perfectly, and elevates their sound to a whole new level.
"Our sound has evolved as we have evolved as people. We've grown to love a lot of records on the road, sharing music with each other during the hours we spend in the van, which has broadened and united our taste," says Howe. "We've also grown as musicians and it's allowed us to explore new instruments and sounds. This new record is a much more accurate depiction of what we sound like live. It's got more punch and depth."
Along with musical growth, the content of their songwriting has changed with the band's life experiences since they started out. "The songs on the album were written over the last three years, and it's apparent that we are more empowered now as women," says Howe. "The title The World We Built refers to the social constructs we've had to face during the last three years touring as a female fronted band. A lot of these songs illustrate our disillusionment with the myths we've been taught in a patriarchal society, and how we've experienced them in different aspects of our lives - love, success, self esteem, etc."
"As we got older and started to witness the world from a different perspective, we started to write about human issues in a different light," explains Lee. "It's so easy to write about love when you're young because that's the only thing you have to worry about.Â Now we have a lot of other things in life to occupy our thoughts and songwriting, like experiencing the struggle and exhaustion from following your dream, coming of age, and doubt."
"Releasing music and touring the country have been amazing and eye-opening experiences," says Silva. "I'm still majorly pumped and grateful that I get to play music for people every day." That optimism resonates with audiences. When they perform live, their passion is infectious. They look like artists living out their dream on stage - the kind of band you idolized as a kid, and as an adult, the kind of band that reminds you why you loved music in the first place.
"Our live show has been how we've gained most of our fans. We've learned that people are just looking for authenticity. If we're vulnerable, people feel it," says Howe. "We always want to put on a show that has energy and leaves peoples feeling more hopeful than when they arrived."