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Wallpaper.’s Eric Frederic is an unstoppable viral music producer. But can the incessant songwriting, video blogging, and booty tweeting make him a star?

Wednesday, Sep 23 2009

Page 2 of 5

The performance includes Ricky's awkward comedic banter between songs, which sometimes falls flat. In Sacramento, that means clichéd jokes about keeping your guy friends away from a party crowded with lovely ladies. As witnessed in a few Wallpaper. video blogs, some of these punchlines could use a good editor. But minor flops are secondary to the group's dazzle factor. Frederic is a skilled producer whose songs play off hyphy, P-Funk, R&B, and Afrobeat with panache. Within his catchy choruses, the spoofs on narcissism and celebrity culture are much funnier than his spoken bits.

Electro-funk closer "Evrytm We Do It" becomes the event's great elevator. As Ricky repeats the banal lines "Every time we do it, I wanna do it again," the blossoming beats and Space Invaders sound effects lift fans straight onto the catwalk. The fourth wall between Ricky and the models — and the dudes who love them both — is trampled. Partiers clamber onstage.

Driving back from Sacramento at 3 a.m., Frederic is careful to keep the enthusiasm he generates in check. He spent his late adolescence in progressive rock bands, being promised record deals that never materialized as his older peers — Papa Roach, Hoobastank, Alien Ant Farm — made it big.

He is now an intrepid hustler using every social media site, club night, and business connection he can to his advantage. He's determined to make it in a new music world, which means he also refuses to sit still, even if he's occasionally racing toward dead ends.

"I don't believe in luck," he says. "Everything I've gotten, I've gotten from hard work. I'm always going to be the underdog."

At San Rafael's PopSmear Studios, Frederic is multitasking long past midnight. In the control room where he once apprenticed for owner Scott Llamas, he switches among a remix for local indie-poppers Morning Benders, a cover he's recording of a Michael Jackson demo, and a mix of a friend's rock record.

Frederic is an unusually versatile songwriter and producer, seamlessly fusing disparate musical styles. His remixes are complete, distinct singles, in large part because he records all the instrumentation live instead of simply sampling tracks, re-creating the songs from scratch around the original's vision. Live 105's Aaron Axelsen calls Frederic San Francisco's Danger Mouse, referencing the megaproducer behind Gnarls Barkley and the last Beck album. But Frederic's gift for weaving genres together earns him more respect than it does bank. Many of the remixes he creates are done on his own dime to connect his name to larger acts he believes in. Only the rock record he's mixing this evening will generate the gas money he needs to drive to the next Wallpaper. show in two days. The week before, Frederic sheepishly borrowed cash from another musician to buy two tacos when the taqueria didn't take credit cards.

Frederic's various musical iterations are on full display along the control room walls at PopSmear. There's a framed photo of Locale A.M., his high school progressive rock band, with a quote noting the group received offers from "Elektra/Atlantic, Arista/BMG, and Hollywood/Disney."

It's unsurprising that the labels took notice of him at an early age. He grew up understanding the world through the recording industry. Peg Frederic says her son refused to fall asleep without music playing when he was a year old. By age four, he was earning Slurpees on the way to daycare by answering her challenging classic-rock quizzes or by clapping on the correct beat to a '70s funk song.

In his junior year of high school, Frederic spent a sick day cold-calling all the major labels he found listed in an A&R directory. Locale A.M. had recorded an album called Groove Heroes. He got through to Hollywood Records, and, shockingly, received a callback from the president of the label, who sent a representative to see the band perform. Nothing came of that connection at the time, but Peg was impressed. Her son's combination of naiveté and tenacity actually got him noticed.

By 2003, Locale A.M. had a manager, a lawyer, and an offer for a record deal of $75,000 — which Frederic was advised by his manager and lawyer to turn down and wait for a bigger jackpot. Label interest in the band immediately disappeared, as did its representation. He was hung out to dry. "I felt helpless," he says. "At that point, I thought all you can do with your career is to be on a major label."

Now he thinks differently. He'd rather be broke with total creative control than take a dime from a source he can't trust.

Farther down the wall at PopSmear hangs a glowing review for Facing New York, the funk-rock act Frederic still maintains. The band was only a few months old when it was invited on the Warped Tour in 2004. The members drove straight to New York in 54 hours, only to be told the shows were overbooked. They stayed on the tour anyway, waking up at 7 a.m. to pitch kids waiting in line their EP, Swimming Not Treading, which they played through a Discman. Facing New York sold an average of 250 CDs a day that way. It was an impressive feat for an unknown act. It was also an indication of Frederic's hustling work ethic and his direct-to-fan approach when it comes to marketing his music.

Frederic became wise early to the inner workings of the music world, a world that has recently fallen into financial jeopardy. For the past two years, the industry has been making headlines for continuously tanking. The big labels are fracturing as CD sales plummet. Insiders are scrambling to figure out how anyone makes money on music in an era of rampant free and illegal downloading. The key seems to lie outside record deals, with artists finding the greatest financial reward in concerts and merchandise; or through licensing, which pays for individual songs to be used in commercials, films, and television shows. Little bands no longer really expect $75,000 deals to help lift them out of obscurity. We've entered an era of minivictories, with do-it-yourself measures of success.

About The Author

Jennifer Maerz


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