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The Stories Behind The Songs: Betty Reed

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Billboard charting artist and Berklee College of Music graduate Betty Reed is shaking up Nashville with her edgy sound and contemporary take on indie-pop music. Her expressive vocals and clever lyrics resonate in every song. Drawing on life experiences, Reed relates stories of everyday life through her music. Struggles. Triumphs. Journeys.

Drunk On You,” written and performed by Reed, is a pop song with clever alcohol-infused lyrics about a girl crushing on a guy — that feeling you get when you absolutely have to have something. “Drunk On You: The Remixes,” released worldwide in April 2020, charted on the Billboard Dance Chart. The 12-track album features six of the hottest EDM remixers, including Dave Audé, StoneBridge, Scotty Boy, Jadion, David Lei Brandt, and Silvio Carrano. Each remix version offers a unique beat and vibe, spanning the EDM music spectrum.

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“Stay Fierce in the Face of Fear — I’m Ready To Spread My Wings.” What role does music play in helping people through all the uncertainty caused by the pandemic?

One of my guiding principles is to “stay fierce in the face of fear” and I think that’s especially true during the pandemic. There has certainly been a lot of fear around contracting this virus or spreading it to those you love. I haven’t seen my parents since last Thanksgiving! And for an indie artist like me, just getting started, I feel like I’ve lost momentum. I released four singles earlier this year and was planning to perform live, and then COVID-19 hit and I lost the ability to build a fanbase that way.

But I know it’s important to stay strong and not freak out over the things I can’t control. That’s what being fierce is about — finding a way to overcome adversity. And so I turned my attention to songwriting and planning for next year. I’m sure this is happening throughout the songwriting and recording community so I have a feeling we’re probably going to hear some really great music next year based on artists’ personal experience with how they coped.

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As for listeners, I would have to believe that music has been a godsend — one of the few bright spots this year in such a dreadful year. Sure, it sucks not to be able to go to concerts and festivals, but at least music fans have access to tons of music through streaming services and can build community around shared tastes.

My favorite music story this year is what happened with Fleetwood Mac’s “Dreams.” Would “Dreams” have made such a big comeback if it wasn’t for the pandemic?

That TikTok clip was so perfect for this time. It encapsulated this sense of freedom and hope and optimism. So, perhaps the glass-half-full perspective is that although everyone was pretty much stuck at home, they had the means to discover new music, whether it came out this year or decades ago.

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“Depression has a lock on me, but music is my key.” You write songs and learn covers to stay positive. What else helps you stay on track?

I had written that quote — “depression has a lock on me, but music is my key” — on my Instagram page. Dealing with depression during a pandemic is like being behind one of those doors with multiple locks on it. Unlock one and there are still three or four to go. A few months ago I met a songwriter and we started working together. That was very motivating — getting out of my head, having a sounding board, collaborating on lyrics and music. It definitely helped in this time of isolation.

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I’ve also taken up a hobby that has nothing to do with music — painting on soundproofing foam. It’s incredibly relaxing and gives me a chance to be creative in a different way. I’ve also been on TikTok these days doing make-up transformations (lip-syncing) and performing live jams with my originals and covers.

If you were to create a Favorite Songs To Keep Me Sane and Smiling playlist during the pandemic — which songs/artists would you add?

Some of my favorite artists have released really great music this year — Taylor Swift, Selena Gomez, Demi Lovato, Zedd and Jasmine Thompson. Taylor Swift’s Folklore album is a testament to her incredible craftsmanship as a songwriter and her ability to tap into the emotion and experiences of so many people. I love how Demi Lovato is putting more of her personal experience into her new songs, such as “Anyone” and “It’s Okay Not To Be Okay,” and being vocal about current events, such as in her song “Commander In Chief.

We also lost a lot of great legends this year — John Prine, Bill Withers, Justin Townes Earl, so I’ve been listening to a lot of their songs lately.

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You chose “Plans” by Death Cab for Cutie as one your favorite albums and Bob Marley’s “Redemption Song” as your number one song. What makes these so special for you?

Plans” came out when I was 11 and I played that CD constantly. I truly think it inspired the way I approach songwriting. I was just blown away by how the lyrics of every song on that album told a story. “I Will Follow You into the Dark” was one of the first songs I learned to play on the guitar (the first was Neil Young’s Rockin’ In The Free World). A few years later, after a breakup with a college boyfriend, I played “Someday You Will Be Loved” over and over again and cried for hours in my dark bedroom. Probably not the best thing to do, but it was cathartic.

Redemption Song” is just one of those powerful songs that stays with you. It encourages you to break free of the boxes people put you in. But I think it’s especially meaningful this year with a spotlight on racial disparities. We’ve come to see how institutionalized racism and its oppressive legacy hurt people of color, and this is our moment to break the cycle, to repudiate racial injustice, and embrace what freedom is really about — being treated with respect and dignity. We all have the power to change things. We can leave this world a better place if we live up to the ideals that all people are created equal.

In your song, “I’ll Get By,” you say “The path in my life is a foggy labyrinth. Each step I take is my new challenge.” What has been the most challenging obstacle you have faced, but overcame, during the quarantine?

Disappointment. I released a few songs earlier in the year but made a few missteps in promoting them and then never got the chance to perform them live.

One of the songs, “Drunk On You,” attracted some well-known mix masters, like Dave Aude and StoneBridge, who produced fabulous EDM remixes, but just as we released the album, COVID hit and the places where the song would get played — festivals and dance clubs — never happened. The song was even climbing up the Dance Billboard chart and got stuck there when Billboard halted the chart. But again, I can’t dwell on things I can’t control and knew I just had to move on. I recorded four new songs over the summer and I’ve released one this fall (“Fall Apart”), and have another slated for release in early January (“Never Enough”). I’m still working out the timing on the other two. I’ve been songwriting quite a bit these past few months and hope to put out a 6-song EP by mid-2021. I’ve got four solid songs so far and a few more I’m tweaking.

From “Fall Apart” (when all appears well but your gut tells you otherwise) to “Never Enough.” Can you describe what inspired the songwriting session for your latest, about substance abuse?

“Fall Apart” is definitely autobiographical. Picture yourself at the beach on a sunny day and everything is beautiful… but you can see a fog bank in the distance. That’s how I feel whenever I’m in a good mood, or in a good situation, or things are going well. I just know it’s not going to last — and that fog is going to roll in and ruin a perfectly lovely day. Just like this year — everything was going great and then the pandemic rolled in and, well, things fell apart.

“Never Enough,” which will be released in early January, is not really about me, but I drew on my experiences of dealing with depression. I drink and smoke weed. Once in a while I overdo it, but luckily I’ve never dug a hole too deep to get out of. But I can see how easy it is to get there. One drink. One toke. One pill. When you are depressed it just feels like you need more of those things to numb the pain. I’m lucky to have a support group around me — my parents, my boyfriend, my friends, my therapist, the music community — they are essential in getting me through the low times.

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Bonus Video Question: “Missing Traveling — To Far Away Places.” Which places top your vacation bucket list and why?

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