Ward Reeder Is One of the Best Drummers in the Valley

A drummer and his cat.
Susie Prentiss
A drummer and his cat.
Fans of local music may not recognize Ward Reeder by name, but if they’ve seen or heard one of his many bands, they definitely recognize his skill behind the drum kit.

Reeder has lived in the Phoenix area since 2006 after growing tired of the rainy Pacific Northwest. Daylighting as a cook at the Musical Instrument Museum, he currently plays in three bands which have all recently released records. His drum style, reminiscent of The Who’s Keith Moon, drives whichever band he is playing with at the time with a combination of virtuosity and raw, barely contained power.

Shovel, Reeder’s duo with guitar player and singer Dusty Rose, is probably the best known of his active projects, and their exciting new LP on Dirty Water Records USA called It’s Fun To Be A Nothing is absolutely stellar. The two piece’s blend of fuzzy punk, ’90s grunge, and pummeling stoner rock is quickly becoming a favorite among local music fans.

Another of Reeder’s projects, 16 Eyes, is carving a nice niche in the worldwide garage rock scene with their self-titled debut record on the Pisa, Italy-based label Area Pirata. For 16 Eyes, Reeder teamed up with his former bandmate Orin Portnoy (Odds and Sods, Automatic Erasers) on bass, as well as guitar wizard Frank Labor (Labor Party/Battered Suitcases) and guitarist Steve Ostrov (Freaks of Nature). Their revved up ’60s-style garage rock is reminiscent of bands like The Kinks, The Who, and San Diego’s Gravedigger V.

Finally, GodSpeedBall is Reeder’s third and newest project. Heavy and serious in sound, GodSpeedBall could easily be at home on the infamous Midwestern label Amphetamine Reptile, once home the Cows and the Melvins. Reeder’s bandmates, guitarist/vocalist Todd Renfrow and bassist Jesse Stryszko, form a tight three-piece that will undoubtedly build a local following.

This interview has been edited for length.

Phoenix New Times: Where are you from?
Ward Reeder: I was born in New Jersey. I didn’t live there very long. I moved down to Virginia and grew up living in the Blue Ridge Mountains.

How did you get into drumming?
Love of music. That’s basically it.

So there wasn’t any epiphany moment where you thought, “I have to play drums?”
It was a hobby that I did throughout high school. My dad was a drummer, and he showed me a thing or two. It was very organic.

Are there any Phoenix drummers that you’re fond of?
I like ’em all. I like to keep things healthy in the music world and just enjoy the talent that’s there.

Tell me about your cat.
Well, his name’s Winston, and he’s an unusual guy. I take him on walks and he handles the leash really well. We go out and he chases lizards.

Does Winston ever hang out when you’re playing drums?
He doesn’t because I don’t play drums at my house. I think the noise would scare him.

You’ve been prolific this year.
Yeah. Things just came together and started happening and I just went with it. GodSpeedBall came together on its own. I recorded with Todd’s previous band and when that ended, I asked him if he wanted to jam and it kind of came together. It works. We’ve been playing almost a year.

Pretty fresh still.
We still have more room to grow. We’re basically still figuring it out, but what we got from Jalipaz [Nelson, the band’s recording engineer at Audio Confusion] let us know who we are. We don’t really write in a way that is cemented, so much, but it became cemented after we recorded. (Laughs) … We ended it at the same time and we started at the same time so there you go. (Laughs).

GodSpeedBall really has that Midwestern, AmRep sound.
I am more influenced by the Australian AmRep bands like Cosmic Psychos, Lubricated Goat, and King Snake Roost. I find myself more into Australian bands for some reason. I saw the Australian version of X at The Rhythm Room. They were amazing.

What’s next for GodSpeedBall?
We want to do everything, basically. Everything is possible for GodSpeedBall. We want to play outside of Phoenix next.

How often do you guys get together?
About every day … once a week. Those guys want to go, go, go.

How often does Shovel get together?
Every other week, but in that scenario, I’m like the taskmaster. I’ll say, “Let’s practice,” and it kind of works out in its own way. Shovel is the most organic band I’ve ever been in. I think that’s why it has lasted as long as it has. It comes together at the right time.

With Shovel, I love it when you sing backups.
It’s hard to compete with Dusty because she is so much louder. I’ve always had a quiet voice. I add my two cents and she’s happy with it. She wants me to add more, but it’s hard to sing and play drums at the same time. It’s fun trying, but until you realize you’re singing in a different timing than you are playing, and it makes it difficult. It turns to jazz, really fast, for me at least.

You mentioned that it’s organic. Do you write together?
We write together. She has things and I’ll have things and it will mesh together. Dusty will work on her phrasings, and then I know it is a song that will stick around for a while because she knows where she’s gonna sting at. With a two-piece, it is far easier to be spontaneous. We seem to follow each other intuitively. I can tell when the change is coming.

In the live setting, do you just kind of go with the flow.
Yes. There’s planning, but there is also go-with-the-flow situations, especially when we forget. (Laughs) There is a lot of happy accidents, which happen a lot with Shovel. GodSpeedBall has a lot of happy accidents as well. We are developing a language other than words.

Shovel started when?
That’s a good question. I’m guessing around 2012.

So you have that comfort level.
Yes. Even if I’m wrong, I can work around that. It’s more along the jazz thing for me and I can go with the flow.

I’m guessing, with 16 Eyes, there is the least amount of that improvisation?
Not so much. Orin (Portnoy) and I have that understanding as well and I’ll follow him, or he’ll follow me. The other two guys will sort of hang back, sometimes, and then jump in. Orin and I are on the same page, pretty much, all the time.

Did you meet Orin in Phoenix? What was your first project?
Automatic Erasers. He started that band by putting an ad in the paper and I answered that and we hung out and it went from there.

How did 16 Eyes come about?
It was Orin and I. We were talking and said, “Let’s get a band together,” so we brainstormed, and Steve [Ostrov] was unanimous, and Frank [Labor] came next. We play once or twice a month. Steve is becoming more and more prolific. He’s adding more and more songs and he’s an amazing lyricist. He’s one of the funniest, most entertaining people I know.