Eli “Paperboy” Reed is a sight to behold.
Watching a preppy-looking white guy in a suit and tie singing soul with unshakable conviction isn’t something you witness every day. But as dumbfounding as it is to watch Reed, what comes out of the singer/guitarist’s mouth is the biggest surprise. Trying to imitate his back-of-the-throat howl is a good way to trigger your gag reflex, but somehow Reed can belt it out all night without losing his lunch.
Reed and his band, The True Loves, make brassy, old-fashioned soul and R&B music that’s unflinching and deeply honest. When pop-punk bands sing about girlfriends and breakups, it’s trite. When Reed yelps about lost love, you’d swear his heart’s been ripped from his chest.
Walking bass lines, sprinting drums and knock-
Reed’s chord changes and arrangements leave little doubt the son of a music critic has done his homework. Reed’s sonic authenticity was forged in part from his time in Clarksdale, Miss., arguably the birthplace of Delta blues. It was there that Reed gained his “Paperboy” nickname, thanks to his grandfather’s newsboy-style hat he wore while performing in the city’s clubs. He also spent time singing and playing organ in evangelical churches in Chicago, where he briefly attended college before settling in Boston.
Before his first show in Albuquerque, Reed spoke to the Alibi about choosing a life dedicated to soul.
What was the first album you heard that made you want to write the music you play now?
I guess when I was listening to the Ray Charles Atlantic box [set]. It’s super raw and emotional and soulful, but it’s also easy to understand and comes across well.
What attracts you to soul music?
Soul is the quintessence of pop music. You have amazing pop songs that also have such a strong range of emotional depth. That’s something you don’t find much today, unfortunately.
You spent a year in Clarksdale, Miss., which has deep blues roots. Why did you pick soul over blues?
I don't think I could write credibly in blues.
I’m not a blues singer and I don't have that outlook. I wanted to write something from a young person’s perspective, and I think writing love songs in my 20s or whatever makes perfect sense.
What do you think goes through people’s heads when they see your band setting up, if they’ve never heard you before?
I hope they have no idea what to expect. I don't want people to look on stage and say, This band is gonna sound like this. We don't cultivate a retro image. We just try to let the music speak for itself.
Has being a white guy from Massachusetts who plays soul and R&B ever presented any problems?
Yeah, we come across misperceptions; but the only way to get past it is to go out and play.
How do you make sure your music doesn’t come across as a gimmick?
I don't really know. I was raised on a lot of good music, and I think I understand what makes it good. That allows me to create music that speaks and sounds like me. That's all I can really do.