Ezra Reich talks music and his pioneering dad, Steve Reich
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One of the most enjoyable things I learned about Steve Reich, while writing this Arts and Books profile of the composer, hooked to his new work, ‘WTC 9/11,’ being performed Wednesday by the Kronos Quartet in Costa Mesa, was that the father of minimalism has a son who fronts a rock band in Los Angeles. And not your standard-issue strum-and-glum guitar rock. The music of the Ezra Reich Band is an unabashed throwback to 1980s synth-pop with big and marvelous hooks that say Berlin, I love you.
It’s true, said the engaging Ezra, 32, who was delighted to talk about his music and famous dad. ‘When I hear ‘Take My Breath Away’ or some of those huge ‘80s hits, they sound avant-garde to me, compared to digital recordings now, which sound hard and computer-y. People might be jaded and say those things are cheesy. But I love Roxy Music and the New Romantic new wave bands. You’ve got great emotional songwriting, simplicity and a really great sound design.’ You can hear the shimmering pop of the Ezra Reich Band on its independent albums ‘Freeze the Night’ and ‘Milkshake Arcade,’ available on iTunes, and on its newest songs, available on its website.
So what inspired Ezra to launch a career in music? The avant-garde sounds of his father? The recordings always playing in the New York apartment where he grew up? Bach? Stravinsky? Berio?
‘Ritchie Valens,’ Ezra said. When he first heard ‘La Bamba’ and ‘Donna’ on a 1980s public-radio show called ‘Kids America,’ his musical path was sown. No John Cage studies at Juilliard for him. No concerts of electronic blips in Soho art galleries. ‘I remember getting in arguments with my dad that I’d wanted to be in a rock band,’ Ezra said. ‘He was like, ‘I don’t know about that.’ He had been friends with Phil Lesh and the Grateful Dead coming up, and had been around drugs and all that. But definitely from an early age I was hooked on rock and pop.’
Which isn’t to say Ezra wasn’t moved by his father’s music. ‘I was definitely moved by the sounds of my dad, the syncopation of the mallets and the strings. The little rhythms and the interplay of sounds and textures really got to me. I’m a big fan of his early pieces, like ‘Music for 18 Musicians,’ that have these beautiful harmonies and melodies.’ Ezra added: ‘In his heart, my dad’s really into harmony and melody and rhythm. So he appreciates great pop songs when they incorporate those things. We’ve definitely been able to connect on music through the years. And when there’s one of my songs that he likes, he really likes it. He’ll say ‘it made me cry.’ He gets so emotional.’
Later this year, Ezra and his father will be featured together in a charity project launched by director David Lynch. Currently the David Lynch Foundation offers previously unreleased tracks by an array of artists, including Peter Gabriel, Ben Folds and Maroon 5. Download a compilation album or songs from its website with a pledge. All the money goes to the foundation’s program of teaching transcendental meditation to at-risk kids, the homeless and soldiers with PTSD. Ezra and his father will each donate tracks to the foundation’s upcoming ‘The Family Tree’ program, a collection of songs from parents, including Donovan and Arlo Guthrie, and their musical offspring.
Ezra said when he was younger he used to worry his father’s renown might overshadow his own music. But he added he’s long grown out of that fear. ‘I’m really proud of my dad,’ he said. ‘He was such a pioneer. At the same time, I just love making the music that feels right to me.’
-- Kevin Berger