It’s time to make this clear once and for all: Ricky Reed is not a joke. Ricky Reed is not a clown. Most importantly, Ricky Reed is not an act. “Ricky Reed is real.”
So Eric Frederic tells me in an interview last week, and he should know. He’s the one who created the Reed persona as frontman for Wallpaper, the East Bay musical duo he put together with Arjun Singh in 2005. They found success on the Bay Area scene, including many trips to the South Bay; they’ll return Saturday to the Blank Club.
To many listeners, Wallpaper came off like a spoof of hip-hop and R&B clichés, and Frederic as Reed seemed like a parody of the ultimate white wannabe-fly guy. When the video for “Gettin’ Drip,” from their 2009 debut album Doodoo Face, took off, it solidified the idea that these were two guys clowning on hip-hop.
And yet, Frederic never seemed comfortable with that image. Sometimes, he even seemed frustrated by it. Though he always acknowledged his songs could be funny, even “cold-blooded satire,” he resisted the idea that they were comedy. In some ways, this seemed mystifying, especially with Wallpaper’s ever-growing popularity—why exactly would he try to fix what wasn’t broke?
But with the release of last year’s Stupidfacedd EP, the answer finally became obvious. It’s not that Stupidfacedd isn’t funny. On the contrary, it contains the most hilarious lines he’s ever written, from “White girls/Buy produce/Take ’em home/Make ’em drink Grey Goose” in the title song to pretty much everything in “Fucking Best Song Everr.”
But with this record, everything that Frederic believed about his music is suddenly clear. They may be funny, but the songs themselves aren’t jokes. In fact, Stupidfacedd reveals that the real essence of Wallpaper isn’t comedy, it’s surrealism—the weird, often absurd way that Frederic views the world, and how Ricky Reed gives him an outlet to express it.
“That’s me,” Frederic says of Reed, “and the dream has always been for me to get to this level and get to this place where what I have to say people are actually going to hear. People who thought in the beginning that I was doing this to make joke party records were dead wrong.”
However, he admits that he never had a statement of purpose like this EP before to lay it out for those people. Wallpaper took a huge step musically—the beats hit harder, the sound has diversified, and the production has allowed for punchy, tightly organized arrangements, where before their music always seemed to be soaked in several layers of sound.
“With the old material—which I still stand behind and am proud of, but I feel like the real specific voice of Wallpaper was a little bit shrouded. What I was trying to do, what I was trying to say, was a little muffled,” he says. With this record, “I think I sort of pulled the wet towel off it and made it real clear for everybody to see what I’m about.”