Published on September 4th, 2012 | by TLV News0
Silas Reed ‘N’ Da Books Schoolin’ Oxford on Good Sound – Interview with Silas Reed IV
by Rebecca Long
Silas Reed IV is one of my favorite Mississippi musicians to watch perform. He and his big band are impressive on stage. They’re all excited and moved by the music they play, and that’s due in no small part to Silas’ personality and contagious exuberance. Originally from Knoxville, Tennessee, Silas has been an Oxford resident since May 1998. And at 23 years old, he’s making waves with his music. I recently caught up with him at Proud Larrys,’ and he was happy to answer questions about his ever-evolving project, Silas Reed ‘N’ Da Books.
Are you considered the bandleader? You’ve gone from keys, guitar, and vocals in 2009 to leading this ragtag group of awesome dudes.
Well shoot, the band’s gone through a bunch of lineup changes. Really, I should mention that core lineup: Payton Steward on guitar, Casey Kidd on keyboards, Joseph Anthony Reed on drums, Brian Hatch on bass, myself on guitar and keys and vocals. Then T.C. Mazingo came in to replace Casey when he went to Boston. And that was a beautiful shift because it made us a guitar-centered group. There are three guitars now. But, more or less, at the beginning, it was more of a democratic kind of thing, cause I didn’t want to be seen as a dictator, but [eventually] the core lineup had to go and do their own things. People move, and I was like, “Well, I’m gonna keep it goin, ya know?” I took the reins even tighter, and now it’s turning into something reminiscent of an Ellington kind of situation, or a Count Basie. And I love those guys.
Do you write, arrange, and then hand it out, or do you let band mates have free reign?
A lot of times, it’s this beautiful balance between the two. I’ll give them a skeleton that’s already written out, so as far as the horn parts go, most of that will be birthed out of my keyboard parts or guitar lines. I write them out so they’ll have some idea of what I’m thinking, and then we’ll put different grooves on it. We’ll double-time it, or put it in a reggae groove, or swing it, or put a break beat on it, something dance-y and moving. Really just trying to get a spirit to come through, you know what I mean? Because one thing I’ve found—there’ll be one song that everybody in the band would agree is good, you know what I mean, whether I wrote it or it was a combined effort—and we’ll play it one rehearsal and we’ll get goosebumps, and the next rehearsal, maybe, “Nyeh,” you know?
If folks don’t show up to practice, they don’t just jump onstage with you. You don’t like mediocrity, it would seem?
It’s a case-by-case thing. It is getting to where it’s that strict, but people like Mr. Mc, who’s been a regular, just sitting in on shows…I know that his skill level and his ability to speak to his instrument are very high. So I’ll let him just show up. But the thing is, you don’t get paid if you don’t come to rehearsal. So that’s where the Catch-22 is. I let, like, a talented musician get on stage with me and get down if he can speak, but he’s not gonna get any money if he doesn’t show up to rehearsal. And I’ll try to work with musicians that have, complex schedules, or schedules that don’t line up with everybody else’s. I make house calls, you know what I mean? If they want to be a part of it, if they want to work.
Do you feel like you’ve had a solid lineup for a while now? It seems like that is an ever-evolving thing.
To be honest, at the end of high school [May 2007], I was already having the bug of putting something together. That Spring semester, [I got] that senioritis and was like, “Well, I can shred, and it’s time for me to put something together with some homeboys that can shred, too. And there’s some places around town we can play, and let’s do this. Why not?” From that moment up until now has been growth in maturity, figuring out what music appeals to me, how to interact with the crowd here, and how to get down—you know—just finding myself.
Do you ask your horn players to dance, or what?
(laughing) What? No, I don’t ask them to dance. That’s a good indication that the spirit is there, though, if they’re dancing around. I ain’t ask them to do that. We try to keep it a very fluid thing on stage, because we used to have our shows very structured. And then, we’d rehearse a structured show—setlist, exact songs, and then we’d get up on stage and we’d hear the crowd, and I’d start calling audibles. You know, like a quarterback or something, I’d change the play. Like, “This song, because they’re up, they’re moving, let’s do this, we’ve got ‘em!” And so, that turned into a phase of us being very loose, just no set list, liquid, a let’s-experiment-on-them sort of thing. And now I think we figured out something. So, the horn parts and the rhythm section are like the backbone. We’ll lay that down as the background, but we’ll leave holes for people to improv and get down. “Leave some room for God to come in,” you know? That’s really what it is. I heard Maxwell say that in an interview. And I thought that was brilliant cause that really makes a lot of sense. Shoot.
Do you play out of town often?
Yeah, we’ve done some Hattiesburg, Starkville, Nashville—we did a radio spot at Vanderbilt. We’ve done a good bit of Memphis. Most of the time it’s been multiple stints at the New Daisy and private parties. I like the people in Tupelo, they respond to us nicely. It’s a lot of fun. Cause there’s a big metal scene there. And early on, we would do a lot of these Battle of the Bands competitions. That was just a way to get in front of other people’s fans. It’s like, they see us getting down and they’re gonna like what they like, so it works out.
And a lot of it’s getting it out there. You’ve just got to be able to expose them to your music and they’ll realize that they really like it.
I feel like that’s the way it is with anything. There are metal bands on tour that are doing some of the hardest screaming and riffs, and they are finding their fan base. We do that at some venues in town, you’ll clean a room out, you know, there won’t be anybody in there. You go to some other parts of the town or the country or the state or wherever it may be, and you’ll have the crowd like, “That’s what we wanted! Jump in our hands! Crowd surf!” And I’ve only crowd surfed one time. It was in Tupelo at Good Time Charlie’s. At this Battle, we wanted to get into MinervaFest. It was at the end of the set, the cymbals were still rumbling, the bass was still going. The crowd was like, “Yeah, yeah, yeah, come on, jump on us!” And I was like, “Nah…what?”
What would you like to see change about the Oxford music scene?
I think the scene’s doing good. It’s gotta stay open. It’s gonna be tougher for local musicians. But the thing is, it’s going to be this tough anywhere. That’s how hard it is to make it happen. Not just “make it,” but to be a blip on the screen. Some people selling millions of albums, they don’t know who I am. And it doesn’t bother me any. I’m going to get there eventually. That’s what I want all the other local musicians in town to have that mindset because if you maintain it, it’s only a manner of time before it manifests. There are venues around here to play, there are people here, freshmen coming into town, all you’ve got to do is rock their effing world, you know? Brainwash them, drop some knowledge on them, and they’re gonna love you. Be true with it.
This article originally appeared in TLV #163 – August, 2012.