Through the looking glass with Reed Thomas Lawrence.The left arm of Reed Thomas Lawrence is resting on a sidewalk table in front of a downtown Bend coffee shop clearly revealing a tattoo that covers a healthy chunk of the appendage. The tattoo is a three-frame strip of film with one frame occupied by Salvador Dali's "Sleep," another filled with an Andrew Wyeth realistic work, and a third that remains blank. I ask if this is an intentionally blank canvas awaiting a stamp that represents the next phase of the rising soul-soaked Bend songwriter's life.
He laughs and then casually remarks that he's simply not sure what piece of art he'd like to drop into that particular frame. My attempt to connect the un-needled skin with a figurative blank canvas falls flat, but Lawrence gets where I'm coming from. In the last year, Lawrence has transformed from an amiable singer songwriter about town to a thriving up-and-comer who's become the fascination of Los Angeles musicians and producers. In the days before his self-titled album drops (slated for a July 15 release), things in Lawrence's life are still moving as fast as ever.
The 25-year-old Lawrence has Abercrombie good looks and almost never stops smiling - a combination of traits that for whatever reason doesn't come across as annoying as it should. Sitting across from Lawrence is Franchot Tone, the producer/engineer who's collaborated with a swath of artists including Ben Harper and Garth Brooks and has recently moved to Bend to work with Rage Productions (where Lawrence also works as a marketer). It was only a matter of months ago that Lawrence got a call from Tone, who is also a member of the Los Angeles reggae troupe Culver City Dub Collective.
"He called me when I was driving down the road and said he'd listened to my stuff and liked it. And I was like, "What? This producer who I don't even know likes my stuff?' We didn't really plan on recording a record, it just kind of happened," Lawrence says.
In a display of modernity, Lawrence recorded a bulk of the record in Bend, which Tone then added to with a collection of artists in LA, including Jack Johnson, drummer Adam Topol, as well as Tone himself. The result of their efforts is a record that has a studio polish that's crisp as any record to come out of Bend in recent memory. The album is undoubtedly a summer record, laced with laid -back pop numbers that some will probably liken to Jack Johnson and Sublime. But with the full soul/pop band attack Lawrence has behind him, his sound is far more akin to acts like ALO or Citizen Cope than Johnson - an artist Lawrence nonetheless appreciates and is used to being compared to.
"If you play acoustic guitar and you're a singer/songwriter, you're going to either be compared to Jack Johnson or John Mayer. But even Mayer went electric to get out of that comparison," Lawrence says.
It's hard to gauge whether or not Lawrence truly grasps the rate at which he is heading down a road that could very well be a route to artistic success - he is both casual and gratefully humble when discussing the indisputably serendipitous nature of the last year. But that could be due in part to the fact that the success hasn't come quite yet, as Lawrence repeatedly tells me, but it's quite likely that it's on its way. Aside from being taken under Tone's wing, Lawrence also found a new drummer and roommate in the form of his 19-year-old half brother Blake Manion, whom Lawrence just met for the first time six months ago. The two became fast friends and just two days before Lawrence is sitting outside this coffee shop, Manion moved to Bend.
"I feel big as far as my ideas in my head, but I feel really small as a person, like I'm lucky to come and have coffee and have two legs and two arms," Lawrence says.
Later that night in the backyard of one of the quintessentially tiny Westside homes off of Portland Avenue, Lawrence and a four-piece band are playing along to the single from the new record titled "Music," in a viciously repetitive loop (Lawrence estimates afterward that they lip synched the song about 65 times in a row) as a team from Rage Films shoots a music video. Girls are in sundresses, guys in polo shirts and all are swaying to the groove with keg cups in hand recreating what Lawrence describes as an ideal Bend summer party to cap off an ideal Bend summer day- which is the theme for this video. The previous day's shoot saw Lawrence riding through town with a posse of about 75 other beach-cruising 20 somethings.
Lawrence has been in Bend on and off for most of his life and although it might be his connections to LA that fast track him to nationwide tours and massively distributed CDs, he is quite high on his hometown.
"I don't think many people outside of here know that Bend is as cool as it is," he says.
This might be true, but something tells me that Lawrence isn't afraid to let that secret out.