EX REYES: GREAT TIMING

You’re probably familiar with Ex Reyes and don’t even realize it. Known to friends as Mikey Hart, the accomplished musician has worked with artists including Mitchell Yoshida of Edward Sharpe & The Magnetic Zeros and Albert Hammond Jr., and has just began a tour with How To Dress Well where he will be producing 18 shows of the tour as well as performing with his own band. Jeez, Mikey. You’re making the rest of us look bad.

ATYPICAL SOUNDS caught Mikey just before he left on tour and had a nice chat about his debut album as Ex Reyes, Mardi Gras, and the practice of “Mitchelling”.

You’re getting ready to put out your first solo release. Was there anything you learned during its production?
I think my favorite records are just a reflection of a moment, like a photograph, so I tend to kind of fall in love with recordings all along the way. Some of the songs on the upcoming EP have parts that were recorded like 5 years ago, forgotten, and then rediscovered.

So producing, playing, writing music, is just a constantly moving process and I like just being along for the ride and trying to be available whenever something inspiring happens, cause you definitely can’t force that…you can count on it happening, but you have to catch it. I’ve been producing music with and for friends’ projects before this so from like, a technical perspective, I know how to operate the machinery.

You also collaborated on a number of songs with Mitchell Yoshida of Edward Sharpe & The Magnetic Zeros. What would you say he brought to those songs and the overall creative process?
Mitchell is an incredible musician and a wildly creative person—when he lived in NYC and was playing around on the scene, we’d use a term called “Mitchelling” which was basically accepting that he’s going to come in and completely improvise over the music, no fixed parts, but it’s gonna be amazing.

We started some of this music years ago with some other friends, with the idea to form a band. But everyone was too good at what they do and got busy so it turned from a band to like, recording session collaborations when we could get that to happen. Usually, Mitchell would roll through and I’d open up a session and we’d just identify one thing to work on and carve out, and then set to it…so like, I spent a while with Mitchell playing with sounds and tracks and ideas before I ever really figured out how I wanted to sing over it or write over it.

How much input did you have in the creation of your video for “Bad Timing”?
Haha, damn—I pretty much did that from top to bottom, with the help of friends in Nola who are super sick at what they do. I treat Mardi Gras as my one like “holy holiday” that I ask off for, but last year I waited too long to get the tickets so I had to stay for a pretty long time on either side of Mardi Gras day to not spend a fortune.

So I was like, I really want to make a video with that extra time. The initial idea was to go out to a place called the Almonaster dump, which is a massive dump area in New Orleans East that we used to pass going to our grandma’s house, and just blow up a trashed car to kind of exhibit like, you can still do something crazy like that in New Orleans. And then I wanted to mix that idea with an impression of detachment, which is where the parade stuff came in. Like what if you present Mardi Gras festivities as sort of an inevitable background to whatever foreground experience is much bigger? I was thinking of a way to kind of express my bewilderment or exasperation with social inequality, inevitable racism, sexism, homophobia…I can’t tell if the past couple years have been particularly insane, or if me/society is just becoming more aware of the insanity in marginalized communities, the under-publicized social strata.

But anyway, I drove around for a couple of weeks trying to find a car to blow up and the marching band you see in the video is the incredible Edna Karr Marching Band. My friend Akasha Rabut, a brilliant photographer from New Orleans, has been doing a photo project with Edna Karr so they were kind enough to invite us to shoot at their school and on their buses as they prepared for the NOMTOC parade (which is the one you see in the video).

Is your upcoming tour with How To Dress Well your most extensive tour yet?
Without a doubt. It’s also particularly nuts for me cause I’m leading my band and I’m also leading How to Dress Well. So there’s just a massive to do list and I try and chip away at the old ice sculpture a little bit every day until I get a beautiful, life size, frozen sculpture of a successful tour!

Real talk, I’m super excited. Ex Reyes has only played small shows in New York in kind of DIY spaces so it will be an insane and lovely experience to play these rooms and play for Tom’s incredible audience.

Is this arrangement allowing you to do anything you’ve wanted to do, but haven’t had the resources to do until this point?
Maybe this is the same answer as above…I think the main thing is it’s allowing Ex Reyes to get in front of people in all these cities and show them what we’re about, which is such a fucking cool opportunity for a new band.

Also everyone in Ex Reyes live band is like next level talented so I can’t wait to take that level of musicianship to these stages and show off how awesome the band is!

What have you learned from performing with more established musicians like Albert Hammond Jr. and The Cranberries?
There’s literally so much I’ve learned from them, and more yet to learn. I always joke with Albert that he taught me to rock again cause I spent so many years kind of playing background music or indie rock, you get into this performance style of like “oh, sorry we’re here playing live music”. Maybe part of me still feels that way, but Albert showed me the value of a good fucking guitar stance and how to own a guitar solo like it’ll never go out of style.

Playing with bands, I feel like musicians playing instruments may go in and out of style or feasibility based on demand, but it will always communicate to people in a space when there’s risk involved. Like, you’re up there performing because there’s a risk that it could all go to complete shit and you’re supposed to be good at keeping it from going to shit. I learn something from the people I’m on tour with whatever size, really. Cause you become sort of a momentary family unit, and it doesn’t take long before you’re really just willing to talk about whatever.

Your Facebook page lists your location as “New York City/New Orleans/there too”. Have you lived many places?
It’s more like, I’ve spent long stretches of time not really living in a place. I’ve been touring for so many years now, I never really get used to staying put. Kinda makes me nervous after 2-3 days of being back. Before touring I was traveling around playing music on the street. But my stuff and my psyche always orbit around New Orleans or New York. I’ve only really taken up residence in those two places, and Accra, Ghana.

New York has so many great venues. Do you have a favorite?
I think my favorite venue will always be Zebulon, RIP, because of the fearless booking and laid back vibe. That vibe is hard to find nowadays.

Also Bowery/Music Hall cause the sound is always so incredible and the staff is rad. Shout out to Winston, the security guard who works the backstage stairwell! Dude is rad. We talked about Isaac Hayes for a while once and now it’s just what we talk about when I see him. Just like “Hey! Hot buttered soul! Alright man, peace!”

Do you have any fond memories of Webster Hall, where you’ll be playing with How To Dress Well?
I think this is a funny question because I remember the days of “amateur strip night” at Webster Hall. I lived in the neighborhood then—I never went—but the scene outside on the street was always pretty unhinged.

But, yes. I’ve played Webster a few times and it’s always felt like a milestone—I’ve been playing music in NYC a little while now so each time you go a rung up on the venue capacity, it feels exciting…I remember playing a sold out show with Bleachers at Webster just months after playing to 10 people there with my friend’s band, I remember playing there with Albert in the Marlin Room cause it was our first show as a band and it was insane to book a New York show as your first.

But more than those I think I really have a fond memory of riding my bike back from the beach in 2005 and going straight to a Lightning Bolt/Boredoms with 3 drummers show and just being super sun burned, sandy, and stoned and wiling out so very hard. Stuff like that used to happen more often, damn.

What’s your favorite place in New York to get pizza?
The nearest place. Unless I’m trying to show off, then it’s DiFara’s forever always.

Check out tour dates here, and there are a lot of stops! Find one near you and see what makes them so amazing.