Bio Ex Reyes
Ex Reyes is the psych-soul brainchild of prolific Louisiana native performer/producer, Mikey Freedom Hart. Do Something is his debut EP and is out via Memphis Industries on 4 November.
The EP was produced by Hart and Mitchell Yoshida (Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros) and includes contributions from Natalie Bergman (Wild Belle), Ian Chang, (Son Lux), West African guitar revivalist Kyekyeku, Ghanaian percussion group Hewale Sounds and Doe Paoro.
Over the course of his career, Hart has worked closely with a multitude of influential artists including Albert Hammond Jr, Bleachers, Sia, Mike D, Santigold, Sinkane, Adam Green and more. “Along the path, I was always chipping away at the sound of Ex Reyes,” says Hart, “I set out to make a record as varied, weird, joyful, and honest as the experiences and people who inspired it. I tried to allow any influence in if it wanted in.”
The Ex Reyes sound comes from the subtle sophistication of the Beach Boys, the weirdness of psychedelic era Temptations, the sonic experimentation of Phil Spector and Delia Derbyshire, the free freneticism of dancehall, and the superb oddity of synthesizer soaked dollar records, distilled into songs about real stuff.
Ex Reyes’ Do Something —mixed by Daniel Schlett (DIIV, Modest Mouse, Ghostface Killah)—was recorded and produced in a variety of locations around the globe. Based on musical community and the spark of collaboration, it’s the result of many hours spent both with talented friends in unlikely places and alone in even less likely places.
Vocals were tracked in countless hotel rooms, green rooms, tour buses, vans, and a 30hour ferry ride from the UK to Spain (when avoiding a French transit strike mid tour with Bleachers). Elsewhere, percussion and guitars were recorded in a shed in Ghana and backup strings were laid down at NYC’s famed Magic Shop studio—just days after David Bowie finished Blackstar there. Samples from a Greenpoint basement jam session—tracked by Jake Aron (Chairlift, Grizzly Bear, tUnEyArDs)—are outlined by pianos captured with iPhone voice memo at LA’s Record Plant. Then a horn section recorded in a woodshop at the Brooklyn Navy Yard and a Hammond B3, belonging to Yoshida’s grandmother, that was taped in her garage in LA. “Everything was put on the same palette, then warped, chopped, reorganized and sculpted by wherever I happened to be; with whatever band I happened to be with,” explains Hart.
Classically trained in piano since age three, Hart picked up his sense for music and harmony in church. By the age of 14, he was playing his first paid gigs at roadside juke joints in his native Louisiana. Two years later he moved to NYC in pursuit of an energetic musical community and began busking in parks and subways across the city, eventually joining forces with a ninepiece swing band giving daily performances at Washington Square Park. After several years playing on the streets of New York, New Orleans and around Europe, Hart relocated to West Africa to help a friend build a music archiving studio. Once there he immersed himself in the local music scene.
“I’ve always been in love with the highlife guitar style, and, after proving that I meant it, had the opportunity to live at the house of 80-going-on-immortal Palm-wine guitar master, Koo Nimo—he’s a legend in Ghana,” explains Hart. “He made me learn to sing the songs in Twi and know what they meant. We woke up at 4:00 a.m. everyday and he’d show me something new; every evening he had me perform the songs for the women of his house.”
In addition to nightly serenades at Nimo’s compound, Hart also became a novelty performer of sorts in a Ghanaian wedding band—playing alongside Afrobeat virtuoso, Ebo Taylor. “They’d call for ‘Obruni Abrantie,’ (the ‘white gentleman’) and I’d appear in the cloth and shred guitar.”
Hart tried to settle back into daily life in New Orleans after leaving Africa, but before long he was back in NYC and working as a pianist for Brooklyn mainstay, Manhattan Inn. “Those were the early days of the Inn,” says Hart, “when Brooke and Rolyn (founders of Glasslands) ran the place. It was filled to the brim with the ‘Brooklyn Music Scene’ of the time. I found myself playing New Orleans piano as a background to the dinner conversations of TV on the Radio, Dirty Projectors, Grizzly Bear, Yeasayer—many of whom are musicians I’ve come to meet and be friends with over the past few years. I remember Tunde one day tipping me $15.00 and saying, ‘I don’t know how you can just sit there and play,’ and I felt like, I’m hungover, but I guess I’m glad there’s always this…”