After a few setbacks in the ruthless business of music, Eli « Paperboy » Reed is back with a new record titled, « My way home », which lies closer to his musical roots. Eli told us about his path so far to his « home ». Eli told us about the long path he had to take to get back to his « home ».
RG: The first thing I'd like to say is: « It's good to have you back »!
Do you like being on the road?
Eli Reed: Thanks (smile). Sometimes, it's (being on the road) not the easiest thing to do. But when you have a great show and so on, it's fun.
RG: After having been dropped by one of the major record labels, did you ever consider giving up music and getting a regular job - 9 to 5, 5 days a week?
Eli: It was more of a mutual departure but that's ok. It's a hard question. I don't know who hasn't considered that sometime in their career. Music is hard, man. Making music for a living is really hard. I like to be doing something every day. And when you're not touring or making or promoting a new record, sometimes you're just doing nothing. And that's not fun. And also you have setbacks and you're at the whims of fans and things that you can't control. It's not an easy way to make a living. Sometimes you wish you had a steady paycheck for sure.
RG: Why are you standing in a boxing ring on the album cover?
Eli: The exact same reason. It's a fight, man. It's always a fight. And especially when you're trying to get to where you want to be. When you're trying to achieve something musically. There are a lot of factors. It's always a battle. And I don't mean to be dramatic or anything. I also just like the idea of being in a boxing ring on the cover of my record. I think that's awesome.
RG: It's pretty cool indeed…
Eli: Yeah, we did it in that old boxing gym in Brooklyn. Everything about doing this is a fight, a battle. Always.
RG: The new album is called « My way home », how would you describe your “home” from a musical standpoint?
Eli: There is more than one way for different artists to be successful and make a living even if there aren’t that many people every night. But it's still hard. It's hard to find a home, I don't know I wish I had an answer for that.
RG: Your lyrics are so serious sometimes, I'm thinking about a song like « What have we done »...
Eli: I don't like to be making political music but I think that people should take responsibility for the way we're treating our planet. I wanted to write a hymn. It's a hymn for today, I think we should all get behind. I don't have the answers to all the questions that I pose in the song. That's the point of it - that we don't know.
RG: Listening to the new album I thought you were coming to terms with your music. No offense, but I didn't really like the previous record… I didn't really recognize you on the record « Nights like these »…
Eli: Sure, no problem. It's a shame but I understand. I made the record myself, I wrote all the songs. There was a lot of me in there. I wanted to make a record that was different and push the boundaries and that wasn't the same old record. I'm happy I did it, no matter what happened. I wish I’d got more of an opportunity to promote it because I would have. Honestly, it's not necessarily what comes naturally to me but it doesn't mean it was a bad idea. Sometimes you have to push yourself to get out of your comfort zone. This new album is definitely what comes naturally to me. It's more of what just comes out of me when I start to play and sing. Which is great. There is a place for all things and if you’re not challenging yourself as an artist or musician you're gonna stagnate and not make good records. At this point in my career I had to go back and do something that was just what I know how to do.
RG: Have you been, in some ways, influenced by rock n' roll? I feel a real sense of urgency on this new record on songs like « The Strangest Thing » and « A few more days »...
Eli: « The Strangest thing » is a gospel number, a church song (laughs). I love The Sonics and stuff like that. It's a trashy record but I wouldn't say it's my main influence; I don't listen to rock n' roll music too much.
RG: Can you tell us about your involvement with the gospel for teens program?
Eli: It's a program that I work with in Harlem, New York. I’ve been working with them for the last three years. I teach a group of young men about gospel quartet music. It's a rotating class, some of the kids have been there the whole time and some are new. I get new kids every class. It's incredibly humbling and exciting to work with these kids, they're super talented and so much fun. I love it. It’s taught me a lot about music too. It has made me spend more time thinking about how it all comes together, the harmony and everything. It's been a very positive experience for me on every level.
RG: Did you think you needed something like that after what happened with the record label?
Eli: I was already doing it. But it sure saved me after that. I wasn't doing anything else after Warner Bros.
RG: Working with kids, was it a way to give back to music?
Eli: Sure, of course. Nobody was teaching any of these kids about quartet music, that particular kind of gospel. So I thought it was important that that music have a voice. Not just the big choirs. Because that is the stuff that I like, the small groups.
RG: I have seen you many times in concert with your band The True Loves and I remember that show with the Right Ons at Le Trabendo. It was the last show of the tour, you were fooling around on stage, it was funny. Was it hard to break up your band The True Loves, you seemed to be really good friends with them…
Eli (smiling): The band never broke up. It's the same band, same guys. It's not the True Loves anymore. It's just something we came up with. It wasn't really a band. Mike and JB who are playing with me tonight were in the True Loves. All those guys are my friends.
RG: Do you still feel close to the city of Boston?
Eli: Yes, I'm back all the time. I don't have family there anymore but my wife's family, they're all living there. I collect soul and gospel music 45 from Boston. I have a specific collection of that. There's a lot of them. Well, not that many actually but enough to keep me busy. I love living in New York, it's my home now, but I also love Boston. I've been living in New York for ten years, most of my grown up life. Boston is a special place for me.
RG: Just being curious, a few years back you were singing « I'm gonna break every heart I can », how did that work out for you?
Eli: That was a cover.
RG: Yes I know, it's a country song…
Eli: That's Merle Haggard.
RG: He passed away not too long ago…
Eli: I was such a huge Merle fan. I want to do a whole album of Merle's songs actually. One day I think I'll do it…
RG: So back to my question, did it work out for you, breaking every heart you can?
Eli: I was already married at that point anyway (laughs)…
Interview 3 JUNE 2016
Many thanks to Angela Randall !!!!!