Frank Reed finds a nice in Columbia

Reed's music takes on an absurdist twist to address real issues

By Connor Elfrink | Feb. 13, 2010

Tags: Music Profiles


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As snow smatters downtown streets Monday night, Frank Reed slowly sips a waxed paper cup with Coke on the rocks as he and his friend Kathryn anticipate the arrival of Booches' famed tiny treat. Since earning his journalism degree with an emphasis in strategic communications from MU in 2005, Reed has made Columbia the birthing ground for his crazed outputs.

After college, Reed initially pursued a career in the advertising industry. But he decided there was not enough room to breath.

"The advertising industry is different from what I wanted, there is no creativity," he said.

Now a manager at ACME Hot & Fresh T-Shirts, Reed recently released his fifth album, I Regret Everything, on his label, FrankReedRecords. The 19-track satiric compilation touches on everything from real-world worries and religion to crawling back into his mother's womb. Reed's lyrics feature the zany yet at times philosophical zing of his favorite musician, Frank Zappa, injected with occasional Bowie-like cackling. Reed's wide array of prowess in the musical field is clear. He utilizes fast-paced driving guitar forces on some tracks, but on the song, "Columbia, MO," Reed channels Scott Joplin in a bouncing sing-a-long.

To the musician, the alias adopted for his first name is an allusion to being honest and pays homage to his inspirations, Zappa, and the Tom Waits album Franks Wild Years. The pseudonym also protects Reed's identity from his family.

"My work is not conducive to getting a job, and my parents don't know about my music," he said.

Growing up in Memphis under the pressures of a strict Southern Baptist family, musical theater was Reed's way to appease his parents and remain loyal to his creativity.

"Theater was OK because it was controlled," he said.

Reed first tested the waters of polarization in high school with a composition entitled "McHitler," in which neo-Nazi's clone the deceased mini-mustached ruler to remove the remaining Jews. This commentary on racism was oddly enough OK with his parents as it did not contain anything sexual nor raise questions about their faith.

But Frank described one occasion that led to a six-month falling out between he and his mother. Frank's mother Googled his name and came across a strongly sarcastic blog post in which he satirized a review of a sex doll.

"She is not a member of the 'Daily Show' generation," Reed said.

After this incident, the musician determined an alias behind his creative outputs would be in his best interest.

A self-proclaimed "reactionist," the musician uses his work in "absurdism," a genre relying upon all things wacky to address the mass media and perceived injustices in the human condition.

Reed's eyes narrow as he attempts to condense all the things he wants audiences to extract from his creations.

"You want them to laugh at the world with you," Kathryn said from across the table. Frank agreed.

"I want people to wake up and think about things, people digest everything that comes at them over a catchy beat," he said.

Reed has many reasons why he doesn't rely on a larger label.

"I have no desire to throw everything away to promote, or pursue a label," he said. "My only goal is to put it out there, whoever finds it, finds it."

Although Reed acknowledges this might not be the most fiscally responsible approach to making music, he remains loyal to his feeling that music should not be edited. The self-aware musician also realizes his work is too off-kilter for most labels.

Nurturing music from an independent label can lead to some difficulties. After spending countless hours on the production of his music, Reed admits promotion can be a struggle. This has led the musician to adopt a variety of quirky distribution methods. For his latest album, Reed stuffed a suitcase full of CDs and hit up campus, hurling the discs at unsuspecting students from his car window. Other methods include stuffing CDs in lockers and providing several discs to a homeless man downtown. "I figured if he had a product to provide, he might be able to make a few bucks," he said.

Reed outlines his philosophy on the new track "Mom, I'm Home," singing, "It's a mean world and I'm forced to participate." These sentiments reflect Reed's life experiences from the advertising industry to his observations of the 40 to 50 weekly hours people designate to work, a dedication he describes as "tragic."

In the seven years Reed has spent in Columbia, he has absorbed and regurgitated the small town Midwestern culture throughout his work. Not wanting the daily grind of a big city lifestyle, Reed has found appreciation for Columbia.

"I don't really like people, so Columbia is nice," he said. "I can hide out, but still exist. Maybe I'll spend a year in the backwoods."

This need to escape the gross realities of human greed, but still remain connected to his select audience, constructs the elusive mystique surrounding the man who despises the label artist.

"I don't want my work placed on this pedestal," he said.

Reed's Web site also features work he created during a yearlong anti-Pollock painting binge. "My group of friends had seen this movie about Jackson Pollock's art, and were all drooling over his work," he said. Reed's "repulsion" of modern art also included an experiment in which he placed nine of Pollock's pieces along with one of his own side by side on his Web site. Not one person was able to decipher the famed painter's work from that of the non-artist, Frank Reed.

"It's a cop-out for a dry well," Reed said of abstract art.

At the end, the name Frank Reed is fake. But the man behind the satiric magic is very real.

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