Parts as great as the sum

Three songwriters shine on new The Wild Reeds album

The Wild Reeds (from left): Nick Phapiseth, Sharon Silva, Kinsey Lee, Mackenzie Howe and Nick Jones.

The Wild Reeds (from left): Nick Phapiseth, Sharon Silva, Kinsey Lee, Mackenzie Howe and Nick Jones.

Photo courtesy of The Wild Reeds

The Wild Reeds perform Friday, May 10, 8 p.m.Jenny O opens.
Tickets: $15
Sierra NevadaBig Room1075 E. 20th St.

As much as individuality is a positive trait in artists, the business side of the music industry tends to favor sticking to labels over an eclectic approach to songwriting. This is a conundrum that has long resonated for the members of The Wild Reeds, an L.A.-based five-piece led by three singer/songwriters—Sharon Silva, Mackenzie Howe and Kinsey Lee.

“Over the years, we’ve created boundaries for [ourselves] that we thought were put in place by the industry, like we have to have a genre—and having three songwriters and singers is something you don’t see very often, so how do we become cohesive as a band and not three separate entities?” Lee said in a recent phone interview.

The band formed roughly a decade ago when Lee met Silva at a Lisa Hannigan concert. The two had their own solo projects and decided to fuse them together, eventually adding Howe and a rhythm section, drummer Nick Jones and bassist Nick Phapiseth.

The Wild Reeds’ 2014 self-released debut pegged the group as a harmony-driven Americana act. As the band gained some acclaim, releasing The World We Built in 2017, the members felt held down by the pressure to align their songwriting styles to fit into a clear-cut sonic package. So, for their new album, Cheers, they decided to let go of those expectations and their inhibitions, and leaned into their songwriting differences to create something textured and distinct.

“With this record, we stopped putting ourselves in a box and saying, ‘Well, this is a Wild Reeds record, so we have to put harmony on every inch of every song,’” Lee said. “People get it. We sing harmonies, we don’t have to use that as our front identity anymore. It was cool to take the shackles off ourselves and lean really hard into a pop realm, or the experimental or rock realm, and not just hold on to our roots as hard.”

Some of that sonic exploration came from working with producer Dan Molad (drummer/producer for Lucius), who brought a more polished pop approach and encouragement to home in on contrasting ideas.

“Working so many years with each other, we’ve had to compromise on a lot of sounds, and we [now] had a producer that was excited to chase down even strange, strange ideas till the end,” Lee said. “It was cool to give each other space enough to be like, ‘That’s a weird idea, but let’s not shoot it down until we try it.’ Usually, it turned out to be something really fresh to our sound.”

The result is a kaleidoscopic yet cohesive group of songs, ranging from the more familiar feel of rich Americana as on “Run & Hide,” to punchy, sing-along pop numbers like “Telepathic Mail.” While the thickly braided harmonies are still at the forefront, there’s more personality coming through, which the harmonies accent instead of hide.

The songwriters initially were drawn to each other because they were fans of of each other’s music, and Lee says that allowing for the individual voices to stand out has taken a lot of pressure off the group. “Instead of feeling like everyone had to have a fingerprint on every song, we allowed for there to be more space.

“Now that we’ve developed more as a band, we’ve realized we don’t have to anchor to one thing,” Lee added. “We’ve actually cultivated an audience that’s used to hearing different genres come from us—where people understand that ‘cohesive’ to The Wild Reeds is different from ‘cohesive’ to another band.”