As “one of three million white singer songwriters who play acoustic guitar” (so says his MySpace page), Todd Reese doesn’t have singularity on his side. So he has to battle to rise above the maddening crowd. Not taking himself too seriously has worked out pretty well for Reese so far, and you can check out his low-key, acoustic meditations tonight at 10 p.m. on WEFT Sessions, which broadcasts on 90.1 FM and streams online at weft.org.
After the jump, Reese explains why his self-deprecating stage banter stems from trying to distract hipster smoothie drinkers, as well as why being a full-time musician isn’t always as glamorous as it sounds.
Smile Politely: How did the tour with Carl Hauck go? Had you traveled with him before?
Todd Reese: The tour with Carl Hauck was one for the books. Shows were played, drives were made, drinks were had. I met Carl Hauck playing a “coffeehouse” at a Christian sorority on campus (that shall remain nameless) about a year ago. Both of us had a hard time hearing ourselves over the noisy crowd, and kind of hit it off from there.
SP: Are you looking forward to playing some shows with So Long Forgotten? Have you played with them before? I saw that you played a transmission benefit for them a while ago. How did that go?
TR: I always look forward to playing shows with So Long Forgotten. I met all of those guys in the past year or so, and since then I’ve been at over a hundred shows with them. I’m in love with them, and I think I’ve nearly fist-fought all of them. A few months ago their tranny took a crap on them, and I helped put together a benefit show. For the record … my tranny is about to take a crap on me, so we’ll see who my real friends are in the next few weeks.
SP: How has the response to Not That Easy been? What’s the significance of the title?
TR: I put out Not That Easy in July of this year. It’s the first album that I’ve actually mastered and pressed. I’ve been selling them pretty steadily at shows, and iTunes sales have been decent. I wrote the title track about my brother who’s served in Iraq and is currently serving in Afghanistan. I guess the significance of the title comes from the debates surrounding the war. I couldn’t really figure out what to think of it all. I just figured it probably wasn’t as easy as either side was making it. That’s as somber — and political — as I care to be.
SP: Your self-deprecating sense of humor is a welcome change from self-important artistes. Have you always had that quality?
TR: I play acoustic music. It’s quiet. I play in coffee shops. They are loud. Every show I play there’s some hipster drinking a smoothie, and discussing T.S. Elliot like three feet from my face. I’ve found that you have to talk to grab people’s attention for any amount of time. Saying something that is funny is a quick way to grab attention. I can’t very well just start making fun of people in the crowd while maintaining a fanbase — I’m not Dane Cook (because I think I’m actually funny). So, I just make fun of myself. Honestly, I’m a pretty easy target. I typically play for kids who are working their way towards earning power and a successful future. Needless to say, I’m not. But it’s all in good fun. I’m just trying to grab some attention from a typically inattentive crowd.
SP: Will you be solo in the studio or with a backing band?
TR: I play music solo. I’ve had a few friends help out on recordings. Basically, I just can’t find musicians that can hang with me. (Seriously … )
SP: Have you played for a radio show before? Any complications or advantages that you expect?
TR: I’ve never played a radio show before. I’m pretty concerned because I can usually just make it through a set on my rugged good looks and boyish charm. Now, I’ll just be left with the boyish charm. Not sure that’s going to cut it.
SP: How does the songwriting process work for you?
TR: Typically, I write in blocks. I could go a few months without writing anything. To the point that I even forget I’m capable of writing anything. Then I’ll just crap out 4 or 5 songs in a week or so. I used to be really selfish and just write songs about myself (in place of keeping a journal). But, I’m kind of boring myself lately. I’m working on ten new songs based on the characters of The Grapes of Wrath. I guess when I think about the music I like it’s all just stories. So, I want to try and tell some stories.
SP: How would you describe your sound for someone who’s never heard your music before?
TR: I play the acoustic guitar. I don’t use a pick. I love folk music. I play the harmonica. I’m pretty much a newer, crappier, less talented version of early Dylan.
SP: Was there a moment when you realized that you wanted to be a musician? How did that come about?
TR: In fourth grade I heard the song “One Headlight” by the Wallflowers. It changed everything for me.
SP: What’s a singer or band that you’ve been compared to that you don’t think is representative at all, and why not?
TR: Anytime anyone tells me I sound like Jason Mraz I want to hit them with projectile diarrhea.
SP: What is the greatest album of all time? Why?
TR: Best album of all time is unequivocally The Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan. That album is everything that is good and timeless about music. It’s as raw and organic as songs can be.
SP: What was your favorite band when you were in junior high?
TR: The Newsboys. Best Christian band ever. Thanks Mom and Dad.
SP: Are you a full-time musician or do you have a side gig?
TR: I’m actually a full-time musician, which is not as cool as it sounds. It just means that I have no money, and I never get to be home. I’m taking some time off to write and record two new albums this winter, and I’ll be working a job then. But other than that, I just sing for my dinner.
SP: What do you like to do in your spare time?
TR: In my spare time I drink and watch my roommates play Halo. I know it’s because they don’t have a life. But, I don’t even play. I just watch them play. I’m not even sure what that says about me.
SP: Would you like to say anything else that wasn’t covered in these questions?
TR: I’m trying to play more shows on campus. I realized I’m either unknown, or known as a joke in my hometown. So, if anybody books in Champaign, hit me up.