Reece Ratliff - 10 Questions Music Interview
17-year old Reece Ratliff picked up his first guitar at the age of two, took guitar lessons in grade school, and shined in his local chapter of School of Rock playing the classics from the Beatles to AC/ DC in the school’s prestigious house band, DE-Team. Drawing on his own musical influences, such as Christian French and Lauv, Ratliff began expressing himself through songwriting. After releasing his debut EP, I’ll Take The Fall, at 16, Ratliff set out on the road by himself for a 21-city tour, “hero’s journey,” a month-long acoustic set performed across the eastern half of the United States. Crashing on friends’ and strangers’ couches, much of his new material was inspired on the road. His latest
release is "Checkered Vans", a song about young
love and loss.
Was there something (an experience) or someone in your life that was the "catalyst" for you to start writing music? Tell us about it.
I never really had a single moment where I decided I want to pursue music, it's just always been such a big part of my life that I can't see myself doing anything else 15 years down the road. I got my first guitar as a present from my mom's college roommate when I turned two, and since then, I just haven't put it down. I took lessons for a few years and played in shows at School of Rock Wilmington until the program disbanded in 2015, which was really sad at the time, but turned out to be a massive blessing in disguise.
Without the structured nature of SOR, I was forced to embark on my own journey in the industry. I started writing songs and expressing myself through lyrics for the first time, and from there, it's been gradually transforming from a hobby to a career. That's one of the most special feelings as an artist, being able to take your passion and figure out a way to make a living doing what you love. I'm so grateful for the opportunity to pursue this dream and for everyone who's helped me get to this point. I can't wait to do this for the rest of my life.
Let's get this out of the way. What is the CRAZIEST thing that has ever happened to you in your music career?
One of my craziest stories came during my first tour last summer... I was 16, I had just gotten my license the week before, and I somehow convinced my parents to let me drive myself around to play 21 solo acoustic shows across the eastern half of the US and Canada. I had just finished up my show in Detroit and was heading to Toronto for another gig the next night. When I got to the US-Canada border, the guy behind the desk started grilling me - where are you going, what are you doing, do you have work papers - all the typical questions. I answered everything, and just as I thought I was free to go, he pulled out his radio and called the people at the desk inside to say they had an "inspection" to make.
Even though I knew I hadn't done anything wrong and didn't have anything dangerous or illegal in my car, I was 16, completely by myself, hundreds of miles from home, and I started thinking like, holy shit, I'm not going to be allowed to go through... So they pull me off to the side, ask for my passport and ID again, and had me step inside and wait inside while they search my car. The woman at the desk starts asking me why I'm coming to Canada, who I'm staying with, do I have any merchandise I'm selling, what's the venue called... and at the time, I didn't realize you had to declare customs on t shirts and stickers and stuff, but apparently I was in violation of international trade law by bringing in a few hundred bucks worth of my own merch.
Long story short, I filled out some paperwork, convinced the woman I would MAYBE sell one or two shirts max, and talked my way out of having to pay a crazy fine for smuggling goods across the border. I made it through to Canada safely, but the hour and a half I spent with border patrol was definitely one of the craziest experiences I've had as a touring musician.
What has been the high point of your music path? I'm hoping to change this answer soon with all the new music coming out and new opportunities for live shows and everything on the rise, but I think my biggest highlight thus far has been my first real headlining show. I hosted a holiday benefit concert that doubled as a single release party for "I'll Take The Fall", the first track I ever put out, and the show was just a huge all-around success. The opening acts killed it; I got to play with my live band for about 400 people at The Queen, a historic theater in my hometown of Wilmington, and we collected tons of gifts and donations for Adopt-a-Family Delaware, a nonprofit that helps give presents to underprivileged kids for the holidays. It was also the first time I ever heard people singing my lyrics back to me on stage which was so dope and still one of the craziest feelings in the world to me.
So, how do you approach songwriting or what is your creative process like?
I feel like every song is a little bit different. I have a running note on my phone with little song ideas - or "nuggets" as my producer and I call them - made up of quotes I like, questions I want to answer, things I see or experience in my daily life, you name it. From there, I'll usually take one of those ideas or come up with something new, sit down with my Moleskine journal, write a verse or chorus, and plunk a few chords out on a guitar or piano until I find what I'm looking for to match the lyrics and the vibe of the song.
Some days, the songs just fly out, almost like they're already written and I'm just downloading them and copying them onto the page, and some days, just getting a single verse or chorus can take an hour. That's one of the things I love most about it though, the process behind every song is a little bit different. Especially when writing with other people like most of the songs on my new album, it's so interesting to see different people's writing processes come together and create something truly special. For anyone who's interested in getting started but doesn't know how, just know there's no set process or right way to do it. Whatever works for you, whatever you vibe with, that's how you should write songs.
What do you see as the biggest challenge facing Indie Artists today? Or, if you could ask the music industry to change one thing, what would it be?
I think the biggest challenge for indie artists is always just cracking that thin layer of ice between undiscovered and mainstream. You know, you see guys like Chance the Rapper who have never had the help of a label, but still have these insanely successful careers. I think the struggle is always finding a balance between keeping the indie sound and work ethic that comes with doing everything yourself and getting the push from people or corporations that are already well-established in the industry.
Radio play, playlist placement, all that stuff is little bit more challenging without a huge label backing, but I think that's part of what makes being an indie artist even more special... the ones who are able to crack through are the ones who never stop working their asses off to get there. For that reason, I don't know if I would change anything about the industry. In my mind, the experience of grinding like crazy right now is going to prepare me for any challenge that comes along later, and I feel like that can't be said for everyone who immediately hops on a label and goes along for the ride.
Now, if I'm being completely honest, I definitely hope to see myself get signed in the future, but for now, I'm content to keep working and to try to make as much progress as I possibly can on my own. That way, when the time is right, the label can work as the vessel to take it all to that next level, but I'll still know that I was able to build the foundation for everything.
If you could share the stage with one other artist or band, who would it be and why?
This is such a tough question!!! My biggest influences are Lauv and Christian French, so I definitely want to get in the studio with them at some point, and I've always wanted to collab with Watsky on a cool indie-pop/rap track, but to share the stage with, I'm going to have to say Olivia O'Brien. Her voice is insane, she's a total badass in every sense of the word, and I feel like our sounds would work really well together.
What are your rehearsals generally like? Or, how do you prepare for a live show?
I always love rehearsals before a big show! It's always fun to get in the room with the band and just go through the set with no pressure, shake off all the nerves, and get ready to kill it on stage. For me, I'm always in favor of running everything straight through like a show setting and then going back to touch on anything that needs some extra work. I'm also always into finding new organic moments within the set where we can throw in a little ad lib or a drum line, just something to switch it up for a minute and get the fans involved. When I go to shows, I love those little moments between the band and the audience, so I'm always trying to work them into my own live show.
Pick one song that was your greatest challenge to write. Tell us about it!
I definitely had some sticking points with a few tracks on my first EP, but I would have to say the most challenging track I've written so far was a feature I did with Intrynzic, a really talented producer and close friend of mine, called "Know Me." As much as I love rolling the windows down and belting out the words to my favorite rap songs, I certainly don't consider myself a rapper... at all.
So we got in the studio, he started playing me the beat he had been working on, and we started throwing around some hooks until we settled on "She say she wanna know me." The chorus alone - four lines - probably took us about an hour, and then I had to sit on the rap verses for at least another week before I came back to track vocals.
As challenging as it was though, it was a great learning experience. Getting to work down in Nashville, I've been exposed to the business of sync placement, basically writing songs specifically for movies and TV shows, and having the versatility to be able to write in multiple genres is a huge skill in that part of the industry. While I don't see myself pursuing a career as a rapper, I'm really grateful for the chance to work on that feature and learn more about myself as a songwriter for future endeavors.
What's coming up in the future?
Ah, the future... After "Checkered Vans", I have two more singles coming out - one in August and one in September - and then I'll be releasing my debut full-length album in October. The album is a collection of songs inspired by my time on the road, quarantine, and my life as a teenager in today's crazy world. This record has allowed me to find my sound more than ever before, and I'm so proud of each and every one of the 12 tracks on it. I'm beyond excited for you all to hear it, and I can't wait to hear what you think.
After that, I have some video content in the pipeline that I'm super stoked about, and then I'm hoping - as long as everything's back to normal by then - to get out on the road again next summer. I really want to bring the full band this time, hit some festivals, make it out to the West Coast... just get out there and play live music again because it's been too damn long! I think these next couple months are going to be insane, and I'm so grateful to have you all on the ride with me.
You guys are the reason I do what I do, everyone who's ever streamed my music or interacted with me on social media, it means the world. I love you all, I can't wait for you to hear these new tracks, and I'm SO EXCITED to see you all in your own cities sometime soon. Thank you.
Tell us where fans can access your music?
For more information, please visit Reece Ratliff's website.
Connect on Instagram.
Stream on Spotify.