Photo: Rebeckah Campbell
Growing up, Victoria Reed was surrounded by mysticism and divination. Her parents took her to church, but also turned to astrology and psychics. Spirituality was a large part of her upbringing—the way she was “raised to interpret the world,” Reed says.
So it’s no surprise then that Reed’s new album, Chariot is close to magical. From skin to bone, the 26-year-old songbird’s acoustic-laden offering is equal parts dreamy enchantment and wayward Americana—a folksy and intimate study of spiritual deliverance.
But the daughter of Alto Reed—Bob Seger’s right-hand saxophonist—wasn’t always grounded in wistful lucidity. In fact, Chariot was born out of an internalized conflict between philosophical curiosity and divine understanding.
Four years ago, while a philosophy student at DePaul University, the Detroit-born Reed also worked at “a spa for the spirit”—a place where you could get massages, numerology readings, acupuncture,‹ and energy healing side-by-side. With her feet in both worlds, Reed began questioning everything she knew and thought she knew, descending into an existential crisis of sorts.
“It was a really scary and really frightening place to be in,” Reed says.
After sitting all day in her Chicago apartment one spring evening, Reed decided to pull Tarot cards, with caution. In that reading, the Death card, a symbol for an end, represented Reed's heavy-hearted present; the Chariot card, a symbol for triumph, represented her wide-open future. And when Reed pulled the Chariot, she knew she'd crawl out of the rabbit hole. So she wrote a song about it.
It wasn't until an intuit chat with an intuitive reader and healer, though, that Reed listened to the universe and headed to Brooklyn, where she now lives, and recorded Chariot over the next two years. Now she’s performing Chariot to audiences across the globe while on tour with Citizen Cope, which ends April 11.
We caught up with Reed about existential confusion, writing through clarity and what comes next. You can also watch her new video for "All My Power" below.
Directed by Michael Beer
Noisey: It’s fascinating how divination and the Tarot influenced Chariot and how you can hear it in your album. Take me to that day and what you were thinking.
Victoria Reed: It was a really crazy time because maybe a year or not even six months before that, I had finally resolved to learn to play guitar, which was huge for me. I’ve sang and I’ve written songs my whole life, but I was always dependent on other people to either play shows or to record with. Being able to actually play guitar, it really was a big shift for me. And simultaneously I was going really, really deep into my philosophy studies, then also going full throttle into the whole spirituality thing. At a certain point, the philosophy and spirituality collided. Left me just in a place of total existential confusion. People call it a dark night of the soul. They call it a spiritual crisis. Whatever it was, I had it. I just never knew that I could feel so lost. I was left just trying to put the pieces back together. I pulled these cards. In the future position, there was the Chariot card. That card is always about triumph and balancing opposing sources. Almost like a well-earned victory. Not necessarily an easy one, but hard fought victory and stability. It was a very big symbol of hope for me.
When you wrote your title track after that hopeful reading, did the words just flow?
You know, it’s so funny, the way that songwriting has always been for me is if I’m writing a song that feels like I’m being kind of whiny or very morose, it just turns me off. It’s just not fulfilling to me. I honestly get a physically nauseous feeling and I’ll just stop. What really most inspires me is to write songs that are self-help in a way. It’s like I capture myself in a moment of clarity or a moment of positivity in the midst of whatever the hell is going on. It's like, "Okay. Let's keep a little snapshot of this right here because this feels truer that anything else and this is very important." Even though when I feel lost, this place seems like I can't even access it, it just comes to me when I do it that way. Whatever melody comes out is what melody comes out; I think especially because I don’t have any real extent of formal musical training or education. And when it does, it’s always a really big source of relief for me.
Photo: Amber Mahoney
How did writing Chariot get you out of that existential crisis?
It sounds so completely cheesy, but the first thing that honestly made any sense to me was that I was supposed to be making music and that music was a good thing. It was the only thing that really motivated me. This makes sense in a world that is so confusing. This is clearly what I’m supposed to be doing. I knew it even more so because it was the only thing that really brought me any relief. I was just feeling crazy. My head was just on fire. Then I’d write a song and I’d go perform at an open mic [and] I felt normal again. So yeah, it was huge.
The day I decided to drop out of philosophy and said, “OK, I’m focusing on music,” was the day this manager who I had met after a show three or four years before that wrote me out of the blue. That turned into this record. Out of it, I met a wonderful group of musicians and started a real music career. I met my fiancé [keyboard player Erik Deutsch] that day. So it’s kind of crazy, but it really feels like music was a major, major rescue for me.
And that’s definitely not a coincidence.
Oh no. It’s incredible. It just gives me so much faith in everything.
Do you find yourself having more moments of positivity and clarity than anxiety? Is that helping you write what might be your second record?
Yeah. Over the course of a couple of years, I've found a new kind of ground to stand on. In retrospect, it was really difficult going through a crisis like that. But at the same time, I wouldn't trade it for the insights that I've gained. There was so much to gain from it. But, you know, you're still figuring things out. Before that first record, it was like I was shot out of a canon and I was trying to hang on to anything that I can. And now it's a little more like it's not such a state of emergency. The insights I'm able to tap into, definitely less anxiety-ridden.
Is what you’re writing continuing off of Chariot or is it its own being?
It feels like its own being already. Being so inexperienced with playing with a band with this first record, the way that it came out was so—I never want to use the word “organic,” but it really was. We didn’t make any plans for it to sound like any specific thing. I just went into the studio, played my song for these guys that I’d just met, and they start playing something and was like, “Let’s hit record.” That’s how most of the record went. And I love Chariot for that, you know? It really feels so true to me. It’s also exciting to learn so much and actually get to a point where I can hear things more and articulate what it is that I’m hearing or what I want to say. Also just having a little more confidence when you’re in a room full of really seasoned musicians. I have a little more confidence to say, “Let’s try this.” So that’s exciting.
You’re on tour. You have your album. What are your plans for what’s next or are you basking in the moment of Chariot?
Definitely basking a little bit. But things keep happening and you keep feeling things, so I keep writing. I have been writing like crazy over the last few months. I was even starting to get a little frustrated or a little anxious. I also think there is something to getting in the studio and recording things when they’re very raw for me. I’ve heard from a lot of really trustworthy people in the music industry is the goal of the first record is to get to your second. And then to get your third, fourth. I definitely feel it, so I’m just going to try to keep going.