Since the explosion of John Mayer and, a bit closer to home, Jack Johnson, it seems like every other Joe Schmo with an acoustic has tried his hand at becoming the next big thing. But while contemporary radio seems to have reached critical mass when it comes to twentysomethings singing catchy tunes with a decent hook, it’s comforting to know the singer/songwriter shtick is more alive than ever in our own backyard.
Set to hit the State Street Borders Books’ courtyard as part of July’s 1st Thursday festivities is Reid Spencer, an artist who is single-handedly redefining what it means to play as a soloist. A Westmont grad who was born and raised in Dallas, Texas, Spencer’s story reads a lot like the bios of some of his more notable contemporaries: Boy raised on church hymns and Billy Joel picks up guitar and, without any formal training, starts a band at age 13. By 14, he’s got a six-song demo and seems poised for prepubescent greatness. As a teen, boy moves across the country-toying with different instruments and lending his talents to a handful of other projects-before setting off for sunny California. It is there he settles, begins recording as a soloist, and makes a fairly notable splash with his short-but-sweet debut, Fragments of Myself.
Now, five years after the release of Fragments, Spencer is in the midst of recording a follow-up album and seems more enthusiastic than ever to perform. With a bevy of instruments before him, Spencer is a far cry from the average sing-and-strum musician. Working his two-foot pedal “loop samplers”-a trick he picked up about three years ago after seeing Howie Day in concert-Spencer plays and records before his audience to create what is, for all intents and purposes, a fully realized band. “[Day] was using [loop samplers] for vocal harmonies only, but I took it a step further and decided to use mine for not only harmonies, but also beatboxing and other forms of percussion. I’ve even looped a kazoo before,” Spencer recalled.
“I can record a drum beat with my guitar, then put in a bass line, add a chord progression, and play a lead part. The other pedal does the same thing, but runs through my vocal mike. So you hear and see the sound of a full band created before your eyes. Kind of the ‘look Mom, no hands’ thing,” Spencer said. “Also, there is no ‘undo’ feature. So if I am in the process of looping something and mess up, you won’t just hear the mistake one time, but every time the loop repeats. It’s definitely gotten me into some trouble :”
Harmonizing and jamming with live recordings of himself, his shows change with every audience he encounters. Similarly, the steps he takes to accomplish this feat tend to engage the crowd far more than most straightforward rock concerts
When talking about his performances, Spencer expresses an eagerness that is both genuine and contagious. “Whenever I play live I always ask myself, ‘If I were in the crowd, what would I want to hear? What would keep me entertained? And what have other people done in the past that I have enjoyed?’ Then I combine that with the vibe of the evening and go for it.”
And since his songs are catchy without being cheesy and the kid’s got boyish charm to boot, it seems only fair to say that mainstreamer skit-scatters like Jason Mraz better watch their back.
Reid Spencer entertains for this month’s 1st Thursday at 5:30 p.m. in the courtyard of Borders Books (900 State St.). For info on Reid, visit reidicus.com. For 1st Thursday info, visit santabarbaradowntown.com/go.asp.