Mikey Freedom Hart Is Ex Reyes
Mikey Freedom Hart Is Ex Reyes
WORDS BY: ARIELA KOZIN | IMAGES COURTESY OF MIKEY FREEDOM HART
Discovering a new artist is like that first sip of coffee in the morning—it’s invigorating. Mikey Freedom Hart has collaborated with everyone from The Cranberries to Bleachers to Albert Hammond Jr., but this is his first step into the spotlight as Ex Reyes—a combination of shoe gaze melodies with lyrics that could make you weep and an anthemic quality that makes you want to dance in the street.
See what we’re saying? We’re not exactly sure how to categorize Ex Reyes, but that’s why we love him. He is one-of-a-kind and who knows what musical goodness awaits when his full EP hits the airwaves this November. In the meantime, we chatted with the musician (and low-key amazing collage artist) to get to know him a little better. Check it out:
You’ve been on tour with everyone from Bleachers to The Cranberries to Albert Hammond Jr. Was there a particular point where you decided you needed to go your own way? Why?
I don’t think of this as a separation from work with other artists…collaboration is one of the richest parts of making music, I think. There’s so many layers—from collaborating in the studio to communing with an audience to make a show feel special.
So I don’t really view Ex Reyes as a departure as much as an extension of those collaborative experiences I’ve had, and continue to seek out.
I’ve had the privilege of contributing music to many of those artists and others that I’ve met along the way, and that’s such a special discipline, helping someone to realize their vision, but it made me excited about the stuff I was working on that wasn’t for a specific artist and wasn’t being created according to any existing guidelines.
Even with only two songs, I can tell that Ex Reyes is more than just feel-good dream pop. There is depth to each song — a sort of lifestyle and movement is being unfolded. The style, the neon artwork, and the tigers, all seem very purposeful. What is the movement and overall theme you’re trying to convey those discovering you?
It means a lot that you perceive that depth. I could only hope that something could be received that way, but would never assume! I think my main aesthetic with Ex Reyes is to pay attention to the less obvious beauty in anything and amplify it—that kind of joy that is in any moment of sadness, that end of summer feeling. So each of those visual elements is kind of like an avatar for something that resonates throughout the Ex Reyes stuff. But I don’t want to say exactly what it means to me, unless we’re close friends, because my favorite thing in art and music is when an expected resonance is found in another person who comes to something from a different place.
I find the unintentional art of cities to be super inspiring, the type of signs and the stickers on cars, the clothing of older locals in Chinatown, the vendor stands on Fulton St. Mall in my neighborhood. Those kinds of subliminal things end up being the most pointed in memory, often, to me. And I want to create something, as best I can, with the same freedom of intention and without any restriction on the production techniques. Cause that’s what happens on a city street. Humanity, urbanity, nostalgia, stunting, having fun, being sad, all that.
Mikey Freedom Hart is a pretty amazing stage name. What is the story behind the name, Ex Reyes?
I know it’s pretty amazing, but it’s just my name! Ex Reyes is a collaborative project, I view it as very rooted in community, and so I didn’t want to create something under my proper name. I view myself as just sort of the head writer or producer at Ex Reyes—like the show runner on a TV show or something. That allows the magic of different individuals to be showcased.
The name Ex Reyes came about initially as a reference to the richness of Latino culture and music in NYC, something that I find hugely inspiring and also, though I’m not Latino, deeply part of my identity as a New York. The name means Ex Kings in Spanish, and drummer Aaron Steele (who IS a Latino from NYC) and I thought it was a funny way to play with the New York identity, but to denounce the idea of patriarchy, and to play with the English double meaning of X-ray as in, trying to see through things.
Really, I have this thought that band names have to be intentional but they’re just a name. Like, I’m Mikey. But I don’t think that everything I do is like “there I go doing Mikey stuff again”. I mean, what the hell is a Led Zeppelin?
Can you explain your creative process? Did you create in the studio or did you go in with sheet music?
Making records is a mechanistic art so I think playing with process is one of the areas where you can really develop new feelings or ideas. Like Eno’s oblique strategies—if you reach a moment of writer’s block, try and show up and do something completely off the wall with your process and bring that about to a finished product.
If I’m working from a demo, I generally won’t go in and like ‘record the demo with a band’, but will improvise in the studio with inspiring musicians, creating and composing and developing the prompt or demo on the spot, tracking that, and then basically using that material as sample to chop up, re-edit, and write over. But it unmistakably bears the imprint of the musicians who contributed.
What can we expect from Ex Reyes in the coming months?
Well, right now everything is geared toward prepping for this How To Dress Well tour and releasing this EP of songs in the beginning of November. I’m excited about all that. Going to release a video for each song on that EP.
I’m also band-leading Tom’s [How To Dress Well’s] band as well, so that’s been a lot of work getting his music together to back him up. It’s really lovely though and he’s a super great artist, I’m loving the process.
I’m also writing tons of new stuff. Who knows where that material will end up, if it’s Ex Reyes or not.