“The best example I can give [to describe this EP] is that I’m drinking a kombucha, and it says ‘fall edition,’ and it’s completely different from all the other labeled kombuchas,” The Wilds Reeds’ Mackenzie Howe says over the phone.
It’s an accurate metaphor. The Wild Reeds changed up their recording process for their new EP, New Ways To Die, which you can hear exclusively on Billboard ahead of its wide release Friday (Sept. 28) via Dualtone. While their previous two LPs are full of harmonies and power chords, New Ways To Die is an experimental project that reveals a more raw and acoustic side of the group.
“I would say that this is just not us putting our best or worst foot forward, this is just like a little different sort of B-side of extras,” she adds.
Though the indie folk-rock group originally began as a trio in 2010, The Wild Reeds have been recording as a quintet since 2014. They self-released their debut LP, Blind and Brave, in 2014, and then followed that up with 2017’s The World We Built — their first release on a major label, which earned them their first entry on a Billboard chart, reaching No. 22 on Americana/Folk Albums and No. 25 on Heatseekers Albums. Their 2015 Tiny Desk Concert for NPR has also garnered more than a million views.
The Wild Reeds’ third full-length set, due sometime next year, promises to build on that momentum. The group teamed up with Lucius drummer and producer Dan Molad on both the EP and the new album at Panoramic House in Stinson Beach, California earlier in the summer. The group is currently on tour with Shakey Graves, and they’ll hit the road with Gregory Alan Isokov starting Oct. 9.
Ahead of their new EP, Billboard caught up with The Wild Reeds’ Kinsey Lee, Mackenzie Howe and Sharon Silva to discuss New Ways To Die, its mysterious cover art, touring with Shakey Graves and more.
On how they pieced together the three tracks:
Kinsey: We went in the studio to record 24 songs and scaled it down to 21. The songs are a little more intimate and really special to us, so we wanted to put them together and release them on an EP.
Mackenzie: The thing that’s so interesting about these songs is that we are putting out a record next year, and we’re trying not to announce it at all. Basically, these were like the “non-pressure, if-we-get-to-it” songs. We were gonna put “New Ways to Die” on the [full-length] record, but I had a dream that there was this other song that was supposed to go on the record instead of “New Ways to Die,” and I immediately texted the band and was like, “Hey guys, I really think this other song should be on the record and we should take ‘New Ways to Die’ off and keep it with the other two 4-track songs — they’re triplets and belong together.” You’ll see when you hear the record in the spring.
It’s a very produced and punchy and fun and poppy record, and so these songs that are completely stripped down and intimate live alone with a very specific mood, and it felt weird to separate one from the other two. So once we decided to put them together, we felt really good about packaging it as an EP. We’re not trying to introduce this as a new sound or type of recording — these are sort of our B-sides, and we’re releasing them first because we just wanted something fun to release.
On recording with Lucius collaborator Dan Molad:
Mackenzie: We sought him out specifically for this recording process. He’s the kind of guy that’s willing to get really really hi-fi and go crazy with production and do really fun, modern stuff, and then also sit around a 4-track tape recorder with three microphones and just hope that we get something really raw.
Kinsey: We made a list of producers we’d like to work with, and he was No. 1on mine, because we had never worked with a producer that was interested in challenging us vocally. Everybody [in the past] was just like, “Yeah, you know what you’re doing.” But knowing that Danny comes from a group that is very vocally driven, we knew that he would be challenging us in that way, and he really did.
Sharon: He made room for us all to be really creative but also challenge us instrumentally and vocally. It was really cool. He was like, “You can still have fun while making something great.” I haven’t really had an experience like that before this.
On the cover art for New Ways To Die, which features a Polaroid picture of a toilet:
Sharon: We were up at Stinson Beach — it’s such a beautiful place where you could look out into the ocean while you were recording. It was perfect. On day two, one of the toilets clogged — like, real bad — to the point where it was leaking into the control room, and the smell was just permeating the space.
So how it’s set up is there aren’t really recording booths, it’s just one big living room area where they have everything set up. So we were sitting on the ground recording “New Way to Die,” and the owner of the house is just walking back and forth trying to plunge this toilet and trying to seal the leak, because we couldn’t be in the control room — we were getting lightheaded! And it just permeated the space, and in between takes we were like, “Oh my God, I don’t know how much longer I can do this.”
Mackenzie: We were burning so much Palo Santo.
Kinsey: We considered going home because we couldn’t actually breathe. The control room was beneath the restroom.
Sharon: So I just went in one day and took that Polaroid of the toilet and had [producer Dan Molad] just write “New Ways To Die” on it and we were like, “That’s it! We’re done with the record — tight.”
Kinsey: It’s funny to be in such a gorgeous place and then have something like that happen where it’s like, “Ahh, it’s so gorgeous and it smells so… oh.”
Mackenzie: We still don’t know who the culprit is, but we have ideas.
On touring with Shakey Graves:
Mackenzie: It’s been great. We’ve been friends with those guys for years now. We’re on the same label and have so many mutual friends. Our managers are buddies, and it was just sort of the perfect storm. We feel like the fans are incredibly receptive to us in a really cool way, because we’re equally as genre-confused as he is. It’s somewhere between folk and rock and singer-songwriter and heavy. It’s been great so far.
Sharon: They’re just really good hangs. They’re just easy-going, and it’s nice to tour with a band like that. They’re silly and just as weird as us.
Kinsey: I think this is one of the best-matched bills we’ve ever had. We’re always searching for what band we should open for that would complement our music and their music, and our music is different [from Shakey Graves’] but similar enough that we complement each other really well. We give each other a lot of energy — and that’s really important on the road.
This interview has been edited and condensed for length and clarity.