An Interview with Sheldon Reynolds of Earth, Wind & Fire
by: Casey Pukl
I have a feeling that Sheldon Reynolds is going to be one of my favorite people of 2012. I know that’s a bold call to make 6 days in, but I have a feeling you all might get on board following this interview. Best known for his time with The Commodores and Earth, Wind & Fire, there’s so much inspiration behind this world class guitarist and songwriter that it’s hard not to be charmed by his positive attitude and fascination with the universe. This Rock & Roll and Songwriting Hall of Fame inductee is more than his impressive collection of hits. Did you know that he’s now a contributing editor for Astronomy Magazine? How about that he and his wife are working on a series of inspirational books? There’a a lot about Sheldon Reynolds that I didn’t know, and I hope you’ll enjoy as much as I did.
CP: What have you been up to lately?
SR: I’ve been doing a lot of production work, and trying to prepare for a hopefully great year with Elements of Fire playing a lot more gigs. So, we’ve been in the studio doing stuff with other artists and stuff like that. I just wrote a song that just came out a couple weeks ago for Ron Tyson who was a long time member of The Temptations, and it’s called “My Sweet Lady”. Other than that, I’m just trying to keep busy in this crazy economy, man.
CP: I hear you on that. I’m sure the economy and technology have really changed the way that you’re doing business these days, right?
SR: Oh yeah, it’s upside down. We’re in a new world right now. It’s not just the internet and all that.
CP: Absolutely. Tell me a little bit about the production side of things— how has that changed for you in the last few years?
SR: It has some of the remnants of what it’s always been, sometimes, but just the pursuit of business is different. We spend much more time trying to figure out what to do rather than just making the music sometimes.
CP: Are you finding that you’re having to tour a lot more these days rather than rely on selling albums?
SR: That’s part of it. We’re in an instant market right now. We’re still playing gigs and doing it the old way of trying to sell records at the gig and all that, merchandise and the rest. You try and do it all in one shot.
CP: How about when it comes to full records vs. singles?
SR: I still think I want to put out full records, but just not as many songs and really make all of them special. I’m trying not to put any filler on there and waste time with stuff that people don’t feel like hearing.
CP: I know you’ve been doing a lot of work with Brian Culbertson.
SR: Oh yeah! I actually came to Anthology with him a little while back. I’ve written his last four or five singles. We had one number one called “Always Remember” and we’ve had two top fives. We’ve had a wonderful time. He’s my hero.
CP: That’s awesome. I know he also played with you and Larry Dunn when you were playing as Devoted Spirits, right?
SR: Yeah, he came in because he was in the neighborhood, so he came over and went crazy, jumped all over the ceiling and stuff (laughs).
CP: (Laughs) Sounds like a good time.
SR: Oh it was. I love working with Brian.
CP: Tell me about Elements of Fire. How did the whole project come about?
SR: The whole idea was basically doing a tribute to what I had been a part of. I just gathered musicians together who reflect the same love of the group and are dedicated to the sound and the excellence. We’ve tried to hone in on just bringing a lot of love to the gig instead of it just being about how famous they were, it’s more just about the love of the music. I’ve teamed up with some guys now who are just incredible musicians. I just love them all. They’ve all got arsenals of music that you just wouldn’t believe. They’re just about as funky as you can find on this planet. There’s a great chemistry between this set of guys already.
CP: Sounds like a great line up! Are you guys thinking about writing any new material, or are you sticking with the older songs?
SR: We’re actually in the process right now of writing a bunch of new stuff. We’ll do some of our own stuff already because some of it is already done and in the works. But we’re working on some new stuff as well, not just doing Earth, Wind & Fire because you know, they still exist. You don’t want to just be playing the same thing all the time.
CP: Tell me a little bit about your writing process. Do you have kind of a set formula for writing, or does it vary?
SR: Like anything creative, it comes in spurts. It’s based on whatever my inspiration is at the moment. It could be something I saw that day, or a real life experience. It could be triggered by something I saw on TV. It’s always a trigger, just not always from the same source. Sometimes I’m just expressing my love for another song in my songs. But a lot of it as we grow as people comes from just life experiences and expressing that through music. The worst person to pick on is a songwriter, because you might hear it for the rest of your life (laughs)!
CP: Isn’t that the truth! Tell me a little bit about when you’re writing, are you more music or lyrics first, or together?
SR: For me, I’m stronger with music, so I tend to go there first, but it depends what the song is about. If I hear a song in my head, I’ll write at least the first half of the lyrics right away. Then I’ll do the music, and finish the lyric once I’ve got that all sorted out. Once I have a start to a story, I can kind of see where the music needs to be going.
CP: Going back to the subject of technology for a second, has that changed how you write at all?
SR: I tend to start from the basics, playing on a piano or a guitar. But that changes if we’re trying to do a dance music kind of thing or something that’s really heavily percussive or has a real strong bass groove. Then you want to start with the bigger production before you get into the song. Technology really comes into play there and makes that process a lot easier. It’s easier and faster to express all of that these days. You can make a drum track in five seconds. It’s easy now.
CP: For sure. Now, tell me a little bit about some of your other interests. In poking around your website, I learned that you’re not just into music, but you’re also a contributing editor to Astronomy Magazine and you’re writing books with your wife!
SR: Yeah, in both cases, I’m very honored to talk about it. My wife and I wrote a book called, “Under the Same Moon”. It basically chronicles our life together and apart and just the whole drama about it. It’s really special. And it’s not just a chick’s book (laughs).
CP: (Laughs) I’ll be sure to include that!
SR: Yes, men don’t have to be afraid to read it! I’ve also written a book called “A Voice From Heaven” which is about my discovery of my two children, which is really touching as well. I’m trying to finish that one and put it out. In addition, I’ve been brought on as a contributing editor to Astronomy Magazine, who I’ve had a long relationship with. I do a lot of photography of deep space and stuff like that. I’m not trying to be an Einstein or anything like that, but just someone who is trying to inspire young people to take an interest in the universe that we live in and are a part of. It’s so vast and beautiful, and hardly understood at this point.
CP: You know, this all makes your music and your inspiration so much clearer to me now…
SR: Oh yeah. That’s the whole thing. Music and the universe are really part of the same subject matter in a lot of ways. Both are these mysterious things that touch our spirit in some sort of way whether it be looking at something we can’t understand, or listening to music that touches our hearts. Both are real things that touch us.
CP: Do you have a favorite topic as far as astronomy goes?
SR: The Big Bang debate. What started the big bang. I believe that the big bang is really the start of what we are a part of and what brought us to be. It’s that debate of whether it was God, of if it was a collection of molecules and neutrons that just went “Boom”. It’s a cosmic debate between me and friends about what the reality may be.
CP: Are there any books about astronomy in your future?
SR: Currently my wife and I are trying to create a series of just really touching stories. There’s enough negativity out there, you know, you flip through the channels and after about five seconds you’ve heard about every negative thing that’s happened in the world. And sometimes you can avoid the negativity by influencing people with positive stories. You know, you might make them feel better about themselves, and then maybe they won’t go out there and shoot each other!
CP: Couldn’t agree more. Now tell me, where can we all find out about your upcoming projects and books, and everything else you’ve got going on?
SR: It’ll all be up on my website, you can keep track of me there (see link at bottom of article).
CP: Fantastic. Well thank you so much for your time! It’s been great speaking with you!
SR: You as well! Looking forward to coming back to Anthology! It’s going to be a great show!
Special thanks to Mr. Reynolds for his time! I hope you all enjoyed getting to know a little more about him as much as I did. For more updates about what he’s up to, be sure to visit his website here! There are still some tickets left to see Elements of Fire here tonight, so get yourself in the mood with our Spotify playlist below, and grab your tickets now!