On Sheridan Reed’s left arm there’s a swirling sleeve tattoo that floats on his skin in tones of turquoise, green, yellow, and orange. It’s the Austin-based singer-songwriter’s “humanities sleeve,” as he calls it, a fusion of the melody from Bon Iver’s song “Re: Stacks,” a quote from Kurt Vonnegut, and a drawing of a woman with a whirl of hair inspired by Czech Art Nouveau illustrator Alphonse Mucha.
“All of these people didn’t really receive recognition until a bit later in life,” Reed says of the tattoo he got in college. “It was a reminder to myself that I have to keep my head focused on the long game and that things aren’t going to happen overnight. There’s going to be a lot of hard work that goes in first before I really see any return.” And while Reed is still at the start of his career, he’s already done a lot of work.
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It’s easy for me to get caught up over thinking. Over analyzing every little thing I do, whether I’ve made the right or wrong step in an unintended direction, or whether I’ve got a handle on my shit. I’m sure I’m not alone here either. Life’s full of uncertainties, and I’m learning to be okay that. All I can do is stay busy trying to aim for where I want to be, and I guess we’ll find out down the road if I get there. In the mean time though, I am happy with where I’m at, and I’ve got a lot of stuff in the works coming your way. Thanks for coming along for the ride🙏 📸: @sterlingreed.us
Born in San Francisco, California, Reed was a self-described “jazz band nerd” growing up—he started playing classical music on the clarinet, moving over later to upright bass, saxophone, guitar, and, later, vocals. While he was in high school, a stint with now-defunct third wave, ska-influenced alternative rock band Into The Open led to local radio airplay, a few EPs, and even a performance at Sacramento’s historic Crest Theatre. A few years later, Reed went to college to study sociology and philosophy but music also stayed at the forefront of his interests. He began playing jazz again and experimented with being in a pop-rock band, but wouldn’t find the sound he truly wanted for himself until he left California.
In 2016, Reed moved to Austin, Texas despite having never even visited the city. He had just his guitar, two bags, and a serving job promised to him at a restaurant. He planned on becoming a certified sommelier. He grew a circle quickly, embracing both the restaurant community and the music community, and began playing in a soul band, something he had never done before. Through that, he gained live experience performing all over the city, expanding his own repertoire and sonic possibilities. “I realized with that kind of style it allowed a lot more freedom and emotion,” he says, embracing the way the sound played to his strengths as a musician on his own. Last summer, gigs grew so frequent Reed was being offered more than he could take and was only scheduled for one shift a week at the restaurant. “I was either going to be diving more heavily into wine or more into music. Music started taking off a bit and this was the chance I was really looking for, so I decided to pick that over wine,” he laughs. He has been a full-time musician ever since.
Much of Reed’s work as a musician to this point has been positively affected by his residence in Austin. He had never played live as much as he did once he moved to the city, sometimes three hours every night, six nights in a row, for several weeks at a time. “Austin, because it’s a music capital, is just saturated with incredibly, incredibly talented people on every instrument or vocals. Getting to play or perform with…people I looked up to musically only drove me to be better and to practice more,” he says. “If I was going to be where I wanted to be I would have to get to their level at least.”
Reed sees his work now as cathartic, introspective, and personal, raw and honest work derived from his own life that he hopes to make universally accessible. Passion, heartbreak, and unrequited love or lust populate his recent releases, like “We Should Both Be Here” and “Twisted Up.” “I’m writing about very specific people, I’m writing about very specific instances,” he says. “Regardless of if people know who I’m talking about or the specific instance…people can relate or understand and see what I see through their own eyes.”
As Reed continues to grow as a musician, he sees his work influenced by the likes of Motown legends like Stevie Wonder and The Jackson 5, as well as acclaimed modern-day artists like Billie Eilish. Combining inspiration from the elegant simplicity of Motown and Eilish’s thoughtful, experimental, conceptual production, Reed hopes to create work that challenges himself. For a lot of his work, he says, he uses non-traditional chord progressions under approachable and catchy melodies, hoping to make each song better than the last. The goal right now is to regularly release singles and eventually an eight to ten song EP, including his next song (and video for) “Money Maker” in January 2019. Reed describes his work as tonally dark, a description he finds also matches his personal style. Preferring neutrals to bright colors—in part because he doesn’t want to clash his ensembles with his tattoo—Reed is also a self-described sucker for a wingtip boot and a double monk-strap shoe, an unusual hat, his fingers, wrists, ears, and neck dotted in jewelry. His look, complete with shoulder-length, stylishly unkempt hair and a scruffy beard, is one that’s garnered him ambassadorship and collaboration from brands like GANT, JC Penney, San Diego-based watch company Original Grain, and ethically sourced casual wear company BLD & KIN (pronounced Blood and Kin). And while Reed, who has an Instagram following of over 40K, has received positive attention for his style and loves fashion as a way to express himself, he hopes to be known for his work more as a musician and shies away from the role of fashion influencer.
“Music is the main thing I’m trying to promote,” he says, noting he doesn’t want to water down the musical content he shares on social media. A recent Instagram video, for example, shows the singer-songwriter playing a soulful riff on a guitar as blue as the sounds emanating from it, with a promise of similar content to come. And while there was never a question for Reed about being vulnerable in his music, social media is another story. “I want to be totally honest with how I feel and what I’m going through, but at the same time, I don’t. Not necessarily because I’m not sure about how it would be received, although that is an aspect of it, but because I don’t know how much i should share and how much I should not,” he says. “It’s learning how to walk the line and figure out how much of myself I should be revealing.”