Pop

20 Questions With Ricky Reed: The Star Producer on Why 'Creative Freedom Is the Greatest Success'

Ricky Reed
Chantal Anderson

Ricky Reed

Superproducer Ricky Reed, who has worked with everyone from Jason Derulo to Halsey, once felt discouraged from trying to make it an an artist himself, and decided -- thanks to the reassurance of his manager, Larry Wade -- to just keep raking in high-profile producer credits for the time being. But last year, once his first signee, Lizzo, started to take off thanks to a resurgence of her hit “Truth Hurts,” Reed's career experienced a jolt of its own.

The track shot to the top of the Billboard Hot 100, and scored Reed four Grammy nominations. Since then, he's landed production credits on albums by Camilla Cabello (Romance) and The Weekend (After Hours), among others, all while gaining confidence to refocus on his solo work.

Today (Aug. 28), Reed released his anticipated debut album, The Room, featuring Leon Bridges, Jim James, Alessia Cara and more, on his own Nice Life Recording Company. Below, he talks about how the Bay Area has influenced his musical style, binge-watching The Office (UK) and finally enjoying creative freedom.

1. What’s the first piece of music that you bought for yourself, and what was the medium?

The first piece of music I bought for myself was a cassette tape single of Domino's “Sweet Potato Pie,” a Bay Area artist. But my prized possessions that I had been given by friends and parents were Eric B. & Rakim's Don’t Sweat the Technique, The Police's Greatest Hits, Digable Planets' Reachin' and [The Beatles'] Abbey Road on cassette.

2. What was the first concert you saw?

It was either a Christian hardcore band called Project 86 playing to an empty field in Vacaville, CA or the Tibetan Freedom Concert with Beastie Boys, Smashing Pumpkins, Foo Fighters and more. My mom took us.

3. What did your parents do for a living when you were a kid?

My mom was an accountant and my dad is in grocery wholesale. He would joke that he “sells dented cans.” But the truth is they were both independently employed for the majority of my life, and that had a huge impact on me. I would watch them take on the projects they wanted, work for themselves. It made me who I am today.

4. Who made you realize you could be an artist full-time?

MTV.

5. What’s at the top of your professional bucket list?

Trying to not have a bucket list is at the top of my bucket list. Instead of reaching for some idea of what I thought success was when I was younger, I just want to be open to the truly new and unpredictable.

6. How did your hometown/city shape who you are?

The Bay Area is a beautiful place. Our musical history is rich and diverse. We also do things a little different.

7. What’s the last song you listened to?

An acoustic version of “Better” featuring Leon Bridges and Kiana Lede from my new album. Checking the mix.

8. If you could see any artist in concert, dead or alive, who would it be?

D’Angelo on the Voodoo tour, or Beethoven conducting his own symphony.

9. What’s the craziest thing you’ve seen happen in the crowd of one of your sets?

People not paying attention to the show they came to see.

10. What’s your karaoke go-to?

SWV, “Weak.”

11. What movie, or song, always makes you cry?

Since becoming a dad, any movie about anything. Song would be "Real Magic," on my album. Personal.

12. What TV series have you watched all the way through multiple times?

The Office (the U.K. Version).

13. What’s one thing that even your most devoted fans don’t know about you?

My phone number.

14. If you were not a musician, what would you be?

Chef. That doesn’t mean I’m good at cooking, I just like it.

15. What’s one piece of advice you would give to your younger self?

It won’t be this hard forever. It will be hard, but in different ways. Relax.

16. How has working with wide-ranging artists like Lizzo, Maggie Rogers and Twenty One Pilots informed your own debut?

All the great artists lead with feeling. Feeling first over everything. My debut puts the feeling first. It's honest.

17. Following so much success with Lizzo in particular, what pressure did that introduce while working on your own project?

It released pressure, almost entirely. Creative freedom is the greatest success of all, and that’s what I’ve been trying to get to my whole life!

18. How do you decide who to collaborate with through your NICE LIVE! sessions, and how did you select which ones would make it on the album?

I would just text my friends. Whoever was available or excited would pop on and make something. It was random and honestly now feels pretty serendipitous.

19. Outside of your own full-length, what have you been working on remotely over the past few months that you can share? 

Leon.

20. How do you think the ongoing pandemic might have changed songwriting and producing forever?

It’s shown us how much is possible remotely. It’s also shown us that it is impossible to replace the feeling of being physically close with the ones you love. I can’t wait to see my people again.