Passion or practicality: It’s a choice faced by many teenagers as high school winds down and the road to adulthood lies ahead. Virginia singer-songwriter Reece found himself at that crossroads last year.
Reece loved music, but his parents hoped he’d go to college, then law school. So when he graduated in June, he struck an agreement with mom and dad.
“I said, ‘Just give [my music] one year… If I don’t do anything, then I’ll go to school,'” Reece says.
The agreement would end up changing the teenager’s life. In November, Reece posted his debut song to Soundcloud. Called “Ghost,” the sparse and moody track quickly picked up steam online. Months later, music website Pigeons and Planes featured the song, earning him even more attention.
Reece calls the anticipation “nerve-racking,” but he doesn’t seem to regret choosing music over law school. “In my life, I never really had anything that I loved doing until I started doing music,” says the 19-year-old.
Reece — whose full name is Reece Miller, though he records under a mononym — began dabbling with music in December 2012 and immediately found it more exciting than the other options arrayed before him. By the following summer, he’d cobbled together a mixtape. He took a break from music to wrap up high school, but he jumped right back into it after graduation.
“I felt like I really wanted to prove not only to my parents but also to myself that I can do this,” says Reece, who lives in Woodbridge, Virginia. “I was really working hard to get somewhere — to get anyone to notice me.”
“Ghost” introduced listeners to Reece’s chill-inducing vocals and stirring lyricism. He’s since published three more songs on Soundcloud, all of which showcase his natural ability to emote.
“I am very happy, but I’ve also spent a lot of time not being happy,” Reece says. “It’s easier for me to write something sad than to write something really happy, because I feel like when I’m writing something sad, I’m writing something that’s honest.”
Reece’s propensity toward melancholy may stem from feeling like an outcast growing up. The youngest of five, he says he’s the only one in his immediate family who makes music — somewhat of a dream killer for the Jackson 5 aspirations he once had. Plus, he says, he was an odd kid.
“As a 9-year-old, instead of playing with the neighborhood kids, I was listening to Imogen Heap and, I don’t know, watching Ancient Aliens,” Reece says. “Maybe not weird, but different for my age. I was really interested in conspiracy theories and stuff like that. I don’t know why.”
Reece’s music doesn’t steer into alien territory, but he does vividly convey his feelings of loneliness — the rasp and vibrato of his falsetto channeling a distinct anguish. His cover art deepens the feeling: He likes to appear ghostly, his face a blur. (“I love using blurred photos for my cover art because I find it to be the aesthetic equivalent to the music,” he told Pigeons and Planes — though he posts plenty of selfies online.)
His latest track, “Don’t Go,” caught the ear of singer and rapper Angel Haze who, in addition to sharing Reece’s ties to Northern Virginia — she once lived in Springfield — is similarly known for the honesty and vulnerability in her music. In September, Angel Haze tweeted to her nearly 200,000 followers, “Been listening to [“Don’t Go”] my whole flight. Chorus is killer.”
Reece was stunned. “I started freaking out, but I didn’t really think that anything would come of it,” he says. “Then I got an email from her manager.”
Just a year into his life as a musician, Reece has already found thousands of listeners. But his songs come from a feeling of isolation, and he hopes to reach people in the same space.
“It was always hard for me to say how I feel,” Reece says. “But with my music now, I try to take everything I’m feeling and help people who are also feeling that way who may not have people to talk to about certain things.”
Reece plays with Beau Young and Angel Haze Nov. 20 at the Rock & Roll Hotel.