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At its most basic structure, music is an observation of human nature. It’s a dive into the innermost workings of its creator and their interpretation of the world around them. When you find an artist whose lyrics capture what’s happening in your life—whether instilling a sense of nostalgia or allowing a comparison to the present—it’s magic. That harmonious intertwining of both lives is unlike anything else. It’s as close of a connection with the artist as you can get without a real-life, face-to-face interaction. And when that artist’s sound is anything but normal, as is the case with Mikey Hart’s newest project, Ex Reyes, it’s something that’s hard to ignore.
Even though I did a thorough listen-through of the band’s songs before the interview, did my research, and got the necessary background, I didn’t hear what Hart was trying to get across with his lyrics. It was really in the days following my interview with him when I truly understood what he was expressing in his music. In the single, ‘Bad Timing,’ Hart sings, “I think of what we lost / and I think about the cause / bad timing.” In those days after the interview, it clicked, the words intertwining with my life and finding a home in my own experiences. And that’s what Hart is ultimately hoping his music does. He says music is a place where you can experience the world that’s outside of the one you’re in, but at the same time hopes his art allows others to identify with it—which seems contradictory, but in reality that duality is what music should aim to achieve.
The entire process, from the interview to photographing the show, was definitely bad timing. Suffering from a bad cold and subsequently sounding like I smoked three packs of cigs a day, Hart and I chuckled our way through the interview as I croaked out my questions. It was equal parts hilarious and painful (for my throat). Not to mention his soundcheck ran over and he was a half-hour late for the interview, but hey, that’s life and things don’t always go as planned. But this bad timing went beyond the present—his lyrics brought me back to prior life experiences that could absolutely be chalked up to poor timing. Is this ‘bad timing’ the universe working against us? Is “bad timing” merely a way to dismiss intuition telling us something isn’t right, or are we fabricating excuses to explain away our own accountability? Ex Reyes’ music allows room for reflection and interpretation, for all these competing possibilities to to coexist, which makes his music easily relatable, if not easily defined. It’s candid and raw, but not harsh. It’s not sugar-coated with feeling- obfuscating metaphors, but delivers its message with candor cushioned by sweet melodies.
Hart did not get here overnight. He’s worked the music business tirelessly, acting as a bit of a journeyman through the years, a sort of musical midwife. He’s sat in for studio and tour work, successfully helping other bands realize their vision for years, perhaps waiting for the some good timing before launching out on his own. Now finally painting with his own brush, Ex Reyes is still solidifying his sound. Don’t get me wrong, it’s excellent music. But I don’t think Hart is going to leave it here. These early releases are technically freshman efforts put forward by a music industry super senior. This guy has WAY more in the well. But despite how new this all is, on stage Hart was still charming- he cracked a few jokes and connected with the audience, an essential part of establishing a fan base and breathing life into the live experience.
‘Bad Timing’ is a solid piece of work that transcends both psychedelic and pop genres with hints of soul, stemming from Hart’s New Orleans roots. ‘Only You’s’ playful tune provides an innocent backdrop for wistful lyrics that acknowledge the feeling of wanting something you shouldn’t. I have high hopes for Ex Reyes and I’m interested in seeing here this sound goes over the next couple years.
I sat down with Hart to discuss where he sees all this going, where it all came from, and unpack a little of what we’re hearing:
Tell me a bit about how you got started in music and where you’re originally from.
Born in a town called Lake Charles, La. My family is from New Orleans. I did classical piano growing up and when I got around my teen years I started playing guitar, played in cover bands, in church too. From there, I tried to get into composition and ended up playing music on streets and started doing the indie-rock, touring musician beat and it opened up from there.
I saw you’ve worked with some other bands like The Cranberries.
Yeah, that was just last summer, I was playing a bunch of shows with The Cranberries. It was remarkable. They’re a hilarious bunch. It was really fun, the first show we did ever with me playing with them was at a stadium in Poland with 20,000 people. I was like playing songs and we hadn’t really done a rehearsal – they were so relaxed about it. They were a band when they were teenagers.
How did that opportunity come about?
I do a lot of that sort of thing – if you need a guy that plays a handful of instruments, etc. I guess my name comes up. I’ve done it a bunch with other artists before that and The Cranberries needed someone to perform that duty, a I guess my name came up along the line. It just comes from years of playing random gigs. It’s like any job, tour is as much of doing the job of the music as much as it is like being fun in the in-between times because there’s so much of that.
Do you find it hard to balance business side of touring with the musical aspect?
I don’t think there’s any sort of balance in my life. Before now, it was never really any kind of business, I just kind of played it real and that worked fine. Now I’m kind of running my own project, that’s a new thing for me and I’m trying to figure out how to do it. There’s a pretty steep learning curve. I guess the answer is, I’d much rather be in the studio or on the road playing, where I’m certain of what to do, whereas for the more business side I’m like ‘Eh, this seems like something I can do’. Hopefully that will change soon.
I feel like it’s one of those things where you learn as you go and it’s the best way to learn how to do it.
Yeah, I mean I’ve seen it done for years and it’s kind of funny to be steering the crane now, it’s like oh, I never thought about it like that or what went into that part of it.
So what was the impetus behind starting this project?
I think my original goal was wanting to release music of my own. I started touring with a lot of bands and learning a lot from those people who were doing it, but I didn’t have the time to devote to doing the work you need to these projects. I started learning how to produce and passed ideas back and forth with friends. The songs are kind of a record of learning the process and it unfolding. So the impetus was working on the music and getting excited about it, and wanting to figure out a way to release it. And I was like ‘Oh i don’t really have the time to finish this,’ and I was touring with Bleachers and we stopped touring and I was at a break, and rather than go back on tour with someone else I was going through all of these changes in my life and I felt like it was this time to really take a lot of those music ideas and fill them with sentiment and emotion. I get really attached to the continuous idea of what these particular set of songs became.
You mentioned you toured with Bleachers. How was that?
Yeah! It was so much fun. Jack [Antonoff] and I are good friends and we clicked immediately. I love Jack and the whole touring crew is really fun. Doing shows of that size with a band that you were involved in from the jump is really nice because I feel very close to the shows and music. It kind of evolved with us. Jack is such a supportive friend for me, especially when I’m writing/creating music and vice versa, we share a lot of ideas. Through that whole process of Bleachers there’s a lot of humor in it but it’s also super earnest, so it’s something I really gravitated towards. Basically just the honesty that that music is about is something I really clicked with, like you can just be completely honest and you can present things the way you present them in conversation, the way they are in reality, and that to me is super inspiring. It’s definitely the goal. That you can say something sad with humor. If you’re feeling good that day you can sing something sad in front of a big audience with some joy in it, and I feel like I really connected with that. And there’s gonna be more Bleachers touring coming up.
So you just started touring with How to Dress Well, what are you looking forward to the most being on tour with him? Did you say you’re also playing with him too?
Yeah so, the way it kind of came about is Tom had this new record and he wanted to find someone to help him translate it to a live performance in terms of band and musical direction, and he asked me to do it and I was super excited about it. So I was like ‘Why don’t you let us open?’ and that was super great for us because this band of mine has only played a handful of New York shows. And I’m just so excited about the idea of playing that many shows in a row and the level of musicianship is just going to get so tight. The songs are going to have this whole new life. That’s the part I like – taking the record on the road, because performing songs over and over you give them like a whole new life. It becomes a completely separate identity than the record in a way for everyone. So I’m really excited about that process. How to Dress Well shows are super fun, it’s kind of a crazy thing playing my sets and doing my weird thing, then going to take a little break and change my shirt and then go back on the stage. This just the second night of tour, so it’s going to be so cool. The pre-order for my EP just went up today so I’ll have an actual, real life incentive to try and succeed at these shows.
So a new EP?
Yeah, pre-order. I have two songs out now, and as a writer-producer it’s sort of interesting to get involved in this thing of releasing music because it’s like ‘Wait! Wait!’ and then you release it and make a video and I’m trying to wrap my head around it because in my world I’m just like ‘Yeah, you put it up and you make some more and you put that up.’ So it’s kind of interesting. Like this [EP] is done and I’ve got to trickle it out in some way. I’m learning to be patient.
So you put out a video for your song, ‘Bad Timing,’ and at the end you set a police car on fire. Would you say you like to use music as a sort of platform to talk about what’s going on in the world or even just start a conversation about things?
I feel that any artists who have an honest conviction shouldn’t be afraid to allow that into their work. My platform is so small for this project, but I’ve also been involved with people who have an actual audience. And I’m really inspired, you know it just comes back to the honest thing. I don’t want to preach because I don’t feel like a preacher, and I feel like someone who preaches should come from a position where they feel like they’ve got it figured out. And I more have my impressions for my own reality and my experience which emerges from my circumstance. Whatever political message is in there is just sort of an honest impression of how I feel about the regard that not just the city of New Orleans, but a lof ot America, has toward marginalized groups of people, while also valuing them for their cultural input. So I feel like that’s kind of what I was trying to play with there. In my reality what I wanted to put across was more of an impression, or statement about people like me and people who share my situation as opposed to a very pointed, politically aligned message. I don’t really think that it has a political alignment—there’s no party platform. But the short answer is that if you feel conviction about something you should put it out there, because music is just another form of communication that’s as old as the hills, and it’s valuable to reach out to people who feel the same way as you. If your music reaches some kid who’s getting beat up at school everyday and they identify with part of your reality, then your music could provide some level of support. That’s like a dream to me. That’s what music was like for me growing up. It’s this place where you learn about the world that’s outside of the one you’re in. I think it’s really cool if you just talk about it because sadly so many people who listen to music and have the internet don’t share that reality, where they’re coming up.
Yeah, I feel like especially with social media and the internet and everything, music is so much more accessible now and you’re able to connect with a lot more people.
Right, like this rate of connection has increased, whereas the structure of society or culture that we have is much more slow to catch up. So if you could provide support or be an ally in some sort of way then what I can do in my day-to-day, then that would be ideal for me. I can’t say that it’s the only driving purpose, but it’s a huge part of what got me into music. We’re weirder than the people around us and we find support in what we’re listening to and the culture of these artists/bands we’re being exposed to. That’s why I kind of wanted to do something bold there where we really show, to me what was a very local, amazing part of New Orleans that i have this connection to, and just to celebrate it.
BONUS: Check OutEx Reyes Last Release – “Only You”