As Ricky Reed (real name Eric Frederic) leads Bay Area group Wallpaper. on stage at L.A.'s El Rey Theater, a crowd of several hundred fans prepare to dance and sing exubertantly to songs like "STUPiDFACEDD" and "FUCKING BEST SONG EVERRR." What's noticeable about the crowd is the astonishing range of the demographic, from teenagers and college kids to white-haired adults in their fifties, black and white, even one kid sporting an old-school Mohawk who looks like he should be fighting the crowd, not draping his arms around his friends, glow stick in hand, singing along.
The combination of the joy in the building,the cross-section of people and the absurdity of the songs makes it look like a scene from a David Lynch movie. To those not in the know about Wallpaper., it is that surreal. Yet Reed isn't surprised by the response.
"I believe that I am one of the greats of this generation," Reed tells Rolling Stone. Is that just idle boasting? With Reed, it's hard to know. A cartoon-esque cheerleader on stage who sings lyrics so inane they make LMFAO songs sound like Elvis Costello, Reed is smart enough to blur the line between his Wallpaper. alter ego and Eric Frederic. He is convincing as he proclaims Reed's authenticity.
"Ricky Reed is real," he says. "People have to understand who I am, and a lot of the goal of this record is going to be biographical. There's an element of Ricky in all of us. There's a part of us that wrestles with that sort of conflict, trying to balance what we do on an everyday basis – work, shitty nine-to-fives and everything – and also get out and have fun and not feel terrible about maybe your financial situation or your social situation, or whatever it is."
Despite his beer-commercial subject matter and lyrics, Reed has a real agenda in his music. "I'm trying to make pop records for the middle-class, lower-middle-class – pop for the 99 percent," he says. "[I'm] trying to make pop records that don't rely on fantasy, like weird, high-rollin' Beamer, Benz or Bentley-driving fantasy. It's not Pitchfork pop. It's real pop that deals with real shit."
Equally as important is the musicianship, infectious, engaging and relatable to all types. "Regardless of what amount of satire or sarcasm is heard in what I do, the reason it connects with people is because the fun and the wildness in it is sincere," he says. "In fact [it's] more sincere than the 'sincere' records that we hear on the radio today, these songs that don't have any of these Wallpaper. elements but are vapid, shallow garbage."
Having started Wallpaper. seven years ago, Reed's confidence has been unwavering by necessity. As he says, "I've always thought I haven't ever had much of a lucky break." Finally, his confidence paid off: late in 2011 Wallpaper. signed to Epic Records, and now things are rolling, with a series of shows coming up at SXSW and a spot on the Coachella lineup.
Reed is savvy enough to know that signing with a major label in 2012 doesn't mean the same as it once did, but there are still some big players behind Epic. "It's no secret that L.A. Reid and Tricky Stewart are major dudes, and that's what kind of brought me to that label," he says. "'These days you're not signing with a label, you're signing with a person."
Maybe, but there is one distinction Epic holds that blows him away. "As much as I am a Thriller enthusiast and know it like my mother's womb, I was not aware that it was actually released on Epic Records until after I signed the deal," he says. "I signed the deal, then I was browsing the website or something, and [I saw] Michael Jackson, and I was like 'Oh shit, wait a minute.' I Wikipedia'd [it] and just about lost it."
Reed expects Wallpaper. to make their Epic debut this fall. While he now has a lot more resources at his disposal with Reid and Stewart behind him, he isn't planning on going crazy with collaborations. "I actually haven't changed my creative process hardly at all. These guys wanted to sign me because of what I have done, what I am doing," he says. "I've done a little work with George Clinton, Andrew W.K. and Too $hort, the dudes that I was really inspired by that were down to get in with me before. Now that I'm signed to Epic I'm sure I could call up bigger people, but it's one of those 'if it ain't broke, don't fuck with it' kind of situations."
Besides, there's that Reed confidence at play. "I'm crafting some whole new shit on the low end, some new sort of bass tricks that even Skrillex doesn't know about," he says.