Interview: Eli ‘Paperboy’ Reed on fiery new record ‘Nights Like This,’ soul music’s migration to the mainstream, and making pizza at home
Does the success of a John Newman or an Adele impact you in any way? Are they good for your career or a hindrance?
I think they’re great for my career and I actually think pop music as a whole is in a great place right now. You’ve got Bruno Mars with a full horn section at the Superbowl, Lorde with her big, choir-esque backing vocals, Adele singing her ass off, Daft Punk bringing back Nile Rodgers and even Macklemore doing stuff that I feel is really musical and very soulful. I think it’s a great time to be making pop music.
Is there a specific approach in modernizing your sound? Your background will probably come to the forefront when publicizing this record, but a song like “Lonely World” feels as modern and “now” (for lack of a better term) than anything you’ve done in the past. It probably wouldn’t sound out of place on a Top 40 station (and we mean that as a compliment).
I appreciate it! I think really the approach was in the writing and the creation of the songs. In the past I’ve been a vocals and acoustic guitar guy when it comes to writing, but this time around we started songs from a drum sample, or a synth line, or a bass line; basically anything that grabbed our attention and we built from there. I think actually the focus on big vocal melodies is also what makes this a very modern sounding album.
In a way, soul music is not actually very melodic when it comes to the singing, it’s more about virtuosity and intensity. So when we started writing songs that had no words to begin with, just a melody, it was a big shift for me, but it also allowed us to really focus on making melodies that grabbed your ear from the outset. My voice singing those melodies, adding the raspy quality that I’ve come to be known for is a combination that you don’t hear in Pop music right now. Imagine Wilson Pickett singing “Just The Way You Are” by Bruno Mars.
There’s a real upbeat nature to Nights Like This, especially tracks like “Shoes” and Well Alright Now.” It sounds like you’re making music from a really confident, positive place.
Absolutely. I think this record might be my first that doesn’t quite have an overarching lyrical theme other than just enjoying yourself. I’m happy to be making music that people want to dance and have fun and party to. It can still be well-crafted, exciting and soulful without being overly serious.
One of the record’s standout tracks is “Grown Up,” which is about exactly what it suggests. Do you feel grown up? You’re still pretty young but have been at this for a while, now.
My favorite song on the record and my alternate title for it. I don’t really feel like a grown up yet but I’m getting there, I suppose. It’s coming up on 10 years that I’ve been making music professionally (seven years that it’s been my only job!), but I still love it and I still love getting on stage and singing no matter if there’s five people or 5,000 people out there.
The second verse of that song starts with the line “How you even know, when’s it even start?” That’s sort of how I feel about the whole thing, you never really know when you’ve made the switch into adulthood, I think it’s pretty gradual. I mean, I still call my mom when I feel sick.
This Friday you’re at the Sinclair with Ruby Rose Fox — that’s a pretty good Valentine’s Day bill. How’d this show come together?
This is the third show in my “Nights Like This” series and it’s the first time I’ve played in Boston in close to three years! I’ve known Ruby since high school and she actually called me about doing a Valentine’s Day event with her supporting and I thought it was an awesome idea. The “Nights Like This” concept ties in perfectly because it’s about creating an atmosphere, not just having it be another show so we’ve got Ruby doing her thing, we’ve got the Soulelujah DJs playing all 45s, we’ve got some cool vendors setting up to sell all kinds of stuff and to top it off the Sinclair is doing a Valentine’s Day prix-fixe dinner so it’s really going to be a special night.
The first two “Nights Like This” shows we did were both at Union Pool in Brooklyn and we sold out both nights in a row so hopefully that’s a harbinger of things to come. Additionally, we’re going to be performing the entire new album from start to finish and it’s not out until April 29 so this will be your only chance to hear the songs until then!
Lastly, and perhaps most importantly, we also heard you’re starting to become quite the pizza creator. What’s this all about?
Hah! Since I’ve been off the road I’ve been doing a lot of cooking (my wife is very happy about that because she works full time) and I definitely try to do some experimenting when I can. I attempted a pizza with a crust made out cauliflower! It did not work out very well unfortunately.
ELI “PAPERBOY” REED + RUBY ROSE FOX + SOUL-LE-LU-JAH :: Friday, February 14 @ the Sinclair, 52 Church St., Cambridge :: 8 p.m., 18-plus, $13.50 advance / $15.00 doors, 617.547.5200 :: advance tickets :: facebook event page