Eric Frederic has problems. At least, I think he does, and he won't admit it.
For one, I don't believe some crazy guy named Ricky Reed, who is Frederic says is supposedly in his band, is real - but Frederic isn't willing to divulge anything else at first regarding his group composition. The recent UC-Berkeley graduate sits in front of me in a sunny cafÃ© in the East Bay as we talk about his involvement in synth love-and-lust outfit Wallpaper, a dance party project carbonated with some of the best electro hooks I've heard in a long time.
But Frederic insists that Reed is indeed real and separate from him, someone that exists and breathes life into this fabulous clusterfuck group getting known for having a mouth permanently suctioned on an autotune. Frederic says he takes a backseat for more "behind the scenes" work.
"He's everything I'm not, essentially. He's nothing I really stand for," he says of his other (fictional?) band member, who rounds out the lineup alongside drummer Arjun Singh. Frederic taps his fingers on the marble table before continuing.
"Let me say, I totally would not want to hang out with Ricky Reed if he was a real person," he says. "If people could relate to this person this character...that makes me feel kinda weird." He cites obsessions with AIM and text messaging as activities of abundance, pitfalls for a lot of his peers and Reed as a character, and a little of Frederic himself too.
So why use Reed? Wallpaper comes from the cusp of Frederic's mental genius and insanity levels. Originally created to shoot the shit in between shows from his other gig, alternative band Facing New York, Frederic conceived Reed, dreamed to embody a side of Frederic that needed escape with a good dose of humor. Reed, the ambassador Frederic appointed to seduce women, wear tight jeans, and talk shit through, ends up being a very precarious and yet loveable figure with an upshot. While it's not a secret that Reed acts like an asshole on stage, there is still something weirdly endearing and heartfelt about his attempts to win the crowd over. When I ask how seriously Frederic takes the project and all its egos, which all only started to gain momentum in the past year, he stops to look me straight in the eye.
"Very seriously." Frederic pauses to adjust himself while maintaining our eye contact. "I do think Wallpaper is dealing with some serious subject matter in a way. There's excitement and fun, but there is a composition process that is very serious to me. You never get any filler, and that is important."
Frederic once released a record six songs long, each clocking in at two and half minutes; even if a single track seemed like it would go longer, it would stop in lieu of the rule. "It turned out to be 15 minutes total, like 15 minutes of fame," he says with a hint of amusement. "That was totally unplanned." The songs Frederic is talking now about being no filler and all killer are sparkling ones off new EP T-Rex released a few weeks ago, in addition to some older floater material. These babies have the air of being both carefully crafted masterpieces, polished for maximal dance and groping, but also feel rushed. There seems to be an exact science to the way the songs play out and at the same time carry a weird sense of disregard. Both weeklies in the Bay Area have branded Wallpaper to be a party band, but for a duo (trio?) being solely about getting funky, there sure is a lot of work that goes into the act. Frederic describes how he and Home Depot became friends after he built a portable kit from the store's materials that he, Reed and Singh used to crash this year's Coachella and play in the festival parking lots, risking arrest. He also describes how heat exhaustion almost consumed him in filming the video for "T-Rex," the single his label Eenie Meenie put out off the EP, nearly melting off his face while he wore a rubber dinosaur mask in 85-plus degree heat on the streets of downtown L.A.
Wallpaper spectacles that occur mid-show don't come on a silver platter, either. Specialty videos are created that correspond in time to verses in each song, and include random splices of footage like Lindsay Lohan's DUI picture and YouTube videos of black women on a digicam in their lingerie to pique the audience's attention. Reed recounts stories built on outrageous multipart elements and wild anecdotes each show, the crowd hearing a new tale nearly every night. But the superstar of the whole she-bang is in the wardrobe Reed has taken as his own and that comes in its own duffel bag: the apparel fit only for an R&B singer stuck in 1994. The culprits in the fashion entourage include a white sequined Chanel blazer, short silky gloves, a Price-Is-Right satin bomber jacket, a Justin Timberlake fedora, a gold chain that has been spray-painted with its signature hue for longevity - Frederic even has his own sort of jeweler, a guy who pops into shows every so often to upkeep the goods. Ask him what his favorite part of the get-up is, though, and Frederic will pin it up to the sunglasses with the neon arms that he got in a gas station in Texas.
"It's a great personal disconnect when they are worn...you're pretty much blind on stage," he says, describing an incident at a T-Rex release show in Sacramento where a girl in the front of the audience pulled off the shades while Reed was performing.
"I was like, 'Fuuuuuck,'" Frederic recalls, lingering on drawing out the curse word; his eyes grow huge with both fear and distraught, like a little kid gravely concerned about missing Saturday morning cartoons.
"Were you afraid you would be exposed, or that your cover was blown?" I ask.
"A little bit of both," he admits, demonstrating the way he awkwardly froze - eyes darting and all - after the girl snatched the shades before returning them shortly after trying them on. Crisis adverted, but he looks pretty anxious still even after explaining the story.
Frederic grew up in Pinole, a suburb tucked up in the northeast part of California's Bay Area. The 25 year-old credits his mom with first exposures to funk and soul, and being around the hyphy and new jack era of music in the Bay of the late 80s, "That one [Keith Sweat song] 'I Want Her,' it's such a terrible song if you actually listen to it but the aesthetic is so there!" he says. "Right now I'm listening to early 80s, actually, DeBarge, the Thriller album once a day. Sometimes twice."
Although the idea of Reed is only in stages of infancy, he was assigned a name and a personality face only at the beginning of this year, Frederic shields him much like a mentor does for his disciple. But the question gets begged on where Frederic ends and Reed begins. A comparison of videos of the Wallpaper frontman stemming from June and December last year show a decidedly different man in each. The June recording presents what feels like a fresh-faced kid covering tracks like BelBivDevoe's "Poison," it's pretty "aw"-worthy. None of the wardrobe specifics has even come into play. But fast forward to a Rickshaw Stop headlining gig six months later, and the guy on stage now belting out a song called "Every Time We Do It" has no qualms about using sex and swank as tools on stage, an air of confidence and debonair surrounding a now self-assured Reed that yes; the appeal is there.
This evolution from nerd to suave is also evident in the direction the band is currently facing. Early tracks like "Rich Bachelor" carry a strategically placed throwback to dance music, boiled down with simple hooks and the distortion mic. "T-Rex" is the crossover tune, Reed murmuring "While I'm waiting for this alcohol to settle into my veiny veiny veins, get off your seat while we flip it for you" before diving into how big he goes on weekends. It's newer gems like "So Wasted" and "The Remix" that carry and ultimately shine the light on what Frederic and co. are doing properly: crafting catchy-ass beats, coupling them with lyrics of subject matter Frederic both hates and loves but pens, and sautÃ©ing them to electronic perfection. Lyric "This cell phone is lifetime/This cell phone is free" from "The Remix" sounds like a clause in my Verizon contract, and I think that's what Frederic intends. It's so funny, it's not. And then is. And I'm dancing the whole time.
The deal breaker, though, is the stage persona that cultivated and is now peeking out. Reed now has been perfected and has teamed up with hysteria to deliver comical storylines that gives both The Young And The Restless and Monday Night RAW a run for its money. Wallpaper shows are full of amusing and exaggerated fibs that permeate the room. At the San Francisco EP release show in May, Reed talks about he dated Jessica Simpson (not true), her dumping him, and asking someone in the room who had her phone number to have Simpson "text him her love." At the Sacramento show the following week, he debuts a story about cannibalism at the end of "Rich Bachelor" since the song ends with "I'll eat you alive," recalling how he couldn't eat this one girl that was on the island with him because he was in love with her.
The antics don't stop once the live set wraps up anymore; the band has now taken to YouTube to construct blog entries that brink on the crest of hilarity and lunacy. In the first blog Reed announces a world tour only to retire the music business the following week in blog two upon discovering Grand Theft Auto IV sold more than the T-Rex EP. He then takes off to the Amazon and sends another blog to say he's OK. Singh, however, being the victim of public Reed terrorizations, decides to move forward with the band without Ricky Reed and brings on a Reed cousin who happens to look suspiciously and exactly like Ricky, but is named Robbie, who works at the Bayfair Mall in San Leandro. Robbie played with the band two weekends ago at a show in L.A. and comes off as being a small-town kid in a big pond when interviewed on camera, in comparison to Ricky's cocky manners. Singh says in the same vlog that Wallpaper may more on without Ricky, if need be.
Thinking "what the fuck" right about now might be a suitable reaction to the soap opera dramz. So what of it all? Are we onto the next saga of larger-than-life chronicles, R. Kelly caliber? Does it even matter, if it provokes a good laugh of appreciation?
"In an interview, you mentioned that Wallpaper was created during a time of hyphy and a re-emergence of 'musicians representing that Bay Area sound,' which made you want to pay tribute," I ask back at the coffee shop. I'm about to meet Ricky Reed after I finish with Frederic, and I want to know what I am getting into. "Do you think you are successfully doing that instead of being a cover band?"
"Oh, wow...that's a really good question," says Frederic. He looks thoughtfully out the window at the joggers and cars that pass by before delivering an answer.
"I really think the answer is in the eyes of the beholder. And, it comes down to authenticity, which is a dangerous term. For a long time, people thought things like jazz and white rappers were cheap shots at people's nostalgia, but both of those things proved longevity. When people see the passion for a project [such as Wallpaper], I think that is proof. I think there is a big difference between irony and satire - 'Oh yeah, here's this white guy singing,' but it is serious. I think developing something like this is incredible and super funny, and honestly, I wouldn't be surprised if this record gets canned."
"But what happens when people don't get what you're doing?" I press. "Are you a joke band? Are you making fun of yourselves, others?"
"Either you get it, or you don't. I think that's what it comes down to," says Frederic with a grin.
Now it's time to meet Reed.
I'm guided to a small, undisclosed location far from the place I originally met Frederic. I mean, really, really, far. The Amazon, to be specific. When I approach closer, I signal my presence to the man, and Ricky Reed casually glances towards me as I sit down next to him and flip out my notebook.
"People can't do without my wisdom for too long," says Reed as he reclines in his seat. He speaks with a slow cadence, half lazily, half sexily. It carries a tinge of "Oh, you like this?" attitude. I smirk. There is no undeniable joke in Reed's attire; the man really does look like if Run DMC had sex with a New Kid in person. I was warned by Frederic that interviews with Reed are notoriously hard to score and survive. A video diary with Filter the previous month had caused the interviewer to nearly break into tears at the end. I braced myself and politely asked what it has been like retreating into the depths of the Amazon.
"I got my WiFi, so it's okay," Reed says. "I got my own personal satellite up in space. But I mean, I'm kind of roughing it. I only got 25 of my closest entourage with me. I can't ride with my fleet of jets too much. I'm only importing fresh sushi from Shibuoa only every five days." I stifle giggles, but continue.
"I'm safe, you can still make funky music in the jungle...but I don't have plans to come back right now. There's not a lot for me in the U.S.," he admits in a moment of rare honesty.
Wait...did I just say Ricky Reed had a moment of rare honesty? Really?
After a few more small chat questions (the Pope was disappointed Wallpaper canceled the Vatican show, a secret love of Nelly's Apple Bottom jeans is discussed) it's photo shoot time. I was under the impression Frederic would be my subject, but scoring Reed is like Christmas in July. I watch him adjust his specs before I settle him into greenery as a lush backdrop. He even lets me accidentally graze his face with my fingers as I try to frame shots tightly around his bomber jacket; he acknowledges he is particularly nice to me since he likes me.
"Wait, before you start, can you grab my gloves?" he asks before I commence shooting. I lean over to pick them out of his bag, and joke that he should stitch up one of the hands that were fraying at the fingertip seams.
"Uh, no, they're supposed to be like that," Reed deadpans. "It's so I can snap along to my own music."
I turn my back to laugh and laud the dude in secret without him noticing before we begin the shoot.
"We're going to announce tour dates when Ricky gets back," Frederic informs me before we part ways. I'm back from my Reed session, and I smile. Yeah? Would Ricky be back by the end of summer? Did Robbie replace him for good? Would GTA IV ever be stopped? Will there be more pool parties? What if Ricky's Santa Monica house has foreclosure; would he still be a rich bachelor and have a million dollars?
"Awesome," I say. "I'll fucking be there."
Photos and words by Jenz