His tan, conical-shaped hat made passers-by think they were in rice fields in Southeast Asia instead of outside a coffee shop in Oxford. He sat alone at a table waiting to be interviewed. On the table was a chess board, a cell phone and a black bag with the words “Shure Microphones” written on it.
“You play chess?” he asked me before I could even sit down.
The chess match, the interview and the life lesson began right away.
“Some good lessons come out of chess,” Silas Reed said as he pulled faux-glass pawns, rooks and knights out of the black bag and placed them on their corresponding squares.
“If you move and support, you’re good,” he said.
“You can scare off a competitor or any force that tries to deter you if you move and support – if you have a good foundation.”
Reed, a 24-year-old musician from Knoxville, Tenn., is full of useful life proverbs. The senior business major at The University of Mississippi compared chess to life, but more specifically, to his band, Silas Reed N’ Da Books.
The band, composed of guitar players, a keyboardist and a full horn line, has been playing in Oxford and around the Midsouth since 2007, wailing a funky sound that combines everything from Stevie Wonder to Otis Redding to James Brown.
“It’s just a swirl of many funky colors,” Reed said of the band’s sound.
“It’s definitely more of a spiritual thing for our fans. I want people to feel it. A really good musician could play ‘Yankee Doodle,’ but if he’s making it jam, it would be a great show. That’s our goal.”
Silas Reed N’ Da Books mixes the electro, rock, jazz, funk, soul and hip-hop genres to create original music that resembles nothing played before.
“The Books bring a much-needed and eclectic sound to Oxford,” long-time fan Rob Cornelius said.
“I pretty much set my clock and wallet by the shows they played their first two years.”
With a mix of multiple genres comes the ability to alter types of concerts played for different groups of people. For people who have heard the band play, it’s groundbreaking and literally unheard of.
“I love listening to Silas,” said Chaz Rasco, a senior music education major who’s been a fan of the band for more than three years.
“He has a classic, funk groove that I love on a chill night. It’s nice to sit back and have a beer and just listen to some great music.”
Reed uses his eccentric, personal style as a brand for the band. His basket-weaved, Asian conical hat, which he wears everywhere between class and shows, is something that he wants people to associate with the band.
“Besides me loving the shit out of this hat, I am hoping that it catches on,” Reed said with a laugh.
“I want people to remember the band when they see that hat. It’s a marketing trick.”
Reed is using his knowledge from his business and marketing courses to effectively run the band—something he wasn’t ready for when the it started.
“I’ve done a lot more learning outside the classroom than I have inside the classroom,” he said.
“I was a music major, but I felt like I’d gain more power in the music industry with a business degree with a marketing emphasis. You have to create a cycle that perpetuates itself in order to become successful in the industry.”
The band has been playing at local Oxford bars and restaurants for six years now, including Proud Larry’s, Rooster’s, The Blind Pig, Ajax and Two Stick.
It has played shows throughout the Midsouth area as well, traveling to cities like Starkville, Tupelo, Memphis and Nashville.
Last year, it played in front of about 50,000 people on the Rebel Stage at the Double Decker Arts Festival in Oxford and on Thacker Mountain Radio in Oxford, which is broadcast on Mississippi Public Broadcasting.
“My favorite gig so far has been our New Year‘s gig at The Blind Pig this past holiday,” said the band’s bass player, Adam Hollowell, who has been playing with Reed since June 2012.
“We had a great crowd, and the energy was flowing. The crowd was into it all night.”
Currently, the band is waiting on its moment for exposure. In the meantime, the members are trying to better themselves as musicians while volunteering at the Oxford Boys and Girls Club and Azalea Gardens nursing home.
They are also turning their rehearsal space into a recording studio after talking to a few publishing companies.
“The plan for now is to keep booking shows, lay down some wax for people to buy and go on tour this summer,” Reed said as he fiddled with the peace sign ornament hanging from one of his bracelets.
“We are hoping to get down to New Orleans this summer and make our way back up the South to Nashville. Only if it’s feasible money-wise, of course.”
In the next few weeks, the band has scheduled shows at Rooster’s, The Blind Pig and Ajax in Oxford, as well as one at the Blue Canoe in Tupelo and a house show in Nashville.
Two shows that Reed is especially excited about are the Ajax show in Oxford on the Friday night of Double Decker weekend and a show at the first annual Oxford Beer Festival in late April.
“We are going to move around where we can without losing money or losing limb,” he said as he stuffed the chess pieces back into the black bag after beating me in fewer than 50 moves.
“Failure is not really an option. I’ve never thought about failure. To me, failure just seems to be the easy way out. For now, it’s all about the music. It’s definitely all about the music.”