MUSIC PRODUCER RICKY REED ON CREATING HIT SONGS WITH JASON DERULO AND MEGHAN TRAINOR
LA music producer Ricky Reed tells us about that famed saxophone riff on “Talk Dirty” and how he got Meghan Trainor to go in a different direction with her new album.
Cleaning plates was not the career that Ricky Reed saw for himself. While working as a dishwasher at Gap’s corporate headquarters in San Francisco, the Bay Area native was simultaneously performing at local venues with his band, Wallpaper. “I was headlining some of the biggest venues and getting some of the biggest press that you can get regionally, and I was still literally washing dishes to make money,” says Reed. "I was like, ‘This feels wrong. I need to go where I can actually make music for a living.’”
After 18 years of working in the industry, Reed’s music career went full steam ahead in 2013 when he helped produce Jason Derulo’s hit song “Talk Dirty.” He subsequently played a pivotal role in producing popular tracks like “Headlights” by Robin Schulz featuring Ilsey, “Emergency” by Icona Pop, and “Ride” by Twenty One Pilots. Here we chat with Reed about starting his own record label in Elysian Heights and getting Meghan Trainor to open up on her forthcoming album Thank You, out on May 13.
How long have you been living in LA?
Ricky Reed: I’ve been down for about five years or so. I moved into sort of a big messy stoner house in Echo Park when I first came down. I couldn’t afford anything. My dad and I packed my bike in the Bay Area and shipped it down to LA. I had a camping backpack and I was sleeping on couches. I couldn’t enjoy the fineries, but I did start to find a community down here. That was something I didn’t necessarily expect coming from San Francisco.
What was the process like in terms of shifting from making your own music to producing music for other artists?
RR: It was pretty natural to be honest. Ever since I was really young in the Bay Area, I’ve been producing albums for local bands. I had always enjoyed the process of helping other people find their sound or pushing people creatively into new territories. So it was really just a matter of time before it started to occupy more of my schedule. I kind of felt like I was in the right place at the right time when “Talk Dirty” happened, and that sort of changed the whole landscape for me.
That song was such a huge success. How did you and Jason Derulo come to work on it together?
RR: I was actually working on my debut album for Epic Records, and A&R played me a sample and was like, “We’re working on this maybe for Missy Elliott. What do you think?” And I was like, “Oh my God, it’s amazing.” It was the saxophone part. I took the sample [of it from] a song called “Hermetico” by an Israeli group called Balkan Beat Box. I took the sample, amped up the base, and arranged it into more of a pop format. The song came back to me fully written. Jason and a couple of song writers got their hands on it and the first time I heard it I was like, “Oh my gosh, this might really be a thing.”
Then you two worked together on “Get Ugly?”
RR: Yes, we did. I actually went on tour with him. Wallpaper, my band, did a three-week tour with him and that was one of the songs we made on the bus late night. It was really fun. The best way to finish songs is in an actual party environment, instead of writing about a party environment when you’re not in one.
You also worked with Meghan Trainor on her upcoming album Thank You. How did you help bring that together?
RR: She’s incredible to work with. She is a bit of a genius and once we got in the room together, we clicked immediately. We sort of think the same way on a lot of musical stuff. I had no idea how funky she is—I didn’t know that she has a background in Caribbean music and Soca music. A lot of what I did was teasing out the elements that were already there—that somebody had to just look at her and say, “Hey, let’s amplify these parts of you that are waiting to be discovered.”
Recently, you launched a new label, Nice Life Recording. Why did you decide to branch out on your own and how did you come up with the name?
RR: Wallpaper’s first manager passed away a couple years ago. It was a phrase that he always used to say to people, almost mocking. Somebody would be talking about how great everything was and he’d be like, “Oh, nice life bro.” I wanted the label to be an homage to him. I never really had the goal of starting a label or running a label. Even now I try not to do it in a really traditional way. I think a lot of it actually came from the fact that I was out here in Los Angeles and a community was starting to form of friends and musicians. I was like, how do we glue all this together under some kind of namesake where we can put out sh-- that we think is cool, we don’t have to worry about any kinds of pressures or outside influence? We just started our monthly series of First Tuesdays at El Cóndor. For the first one last month, a ton of people came out and everybody was like, “Why are you doing this? What’s the occasion?” There is no occasion, we just wanted to get everybody together and get drunk, have a good time. I think that in some ways, what that night is about can be used to summarize what the label is about, which is just getting people together for no specific reason, mix personalities, and see what happens.
With summer around the corner, what songs are you putting on your playlist?
RR: This takes everything in me not to just shout out the sh-- I’ve been working on. Well, the new Meghan Trainor and the new Phantogram. If I had to pick three songs I would do “Dapper” by Domo Genesis, “Party” by Beyoncé, and probably “SpottieOttieDopaliscious” by Outkast. Those are three good summer tunes.
Where do you like to eat and drink in LA?
RR: El Cóndor in Silver Lake. My wife and I go there two nights a week, literally. It’s like Cheers when we go in. It’s our favorite. I would say Alfred Coffee shop in Silver Lake, Sage Vegan Bistro in Echo Park, the Fix in Elysian Heights in Echo Park. That’s our daily coffee spot for the studio.