Performing onstage with Idle Warship, a collaboration with Brooklyn rapper Talib Kweli and Canadian musician Graph Nobel, singer Res vamps in a leopard-skin, Hollywood pin-up dress, her hand folded into a pistol she stabs into the air, keeping time on a song that hangs on that voice, big as the sky and effortless as a bird.
Res (pronounced “Reese”) still looks every bit the 23-year-old sexy club princess donning a tiara and white wife-beater with the girlie-glossed lips in the “Golden Boys” video that spun seemingly nonstop on VH1 Soul 10 years ago.
While the singer looks—and sounds—pretty much the same, everything else around her has changed.
Res spent most of the last decade on a rollercoaster ride through the music industry. On the breakthrough artistic promise of early hits like “Golden Boys,” “They-Say Vision” and “Ice King” off her 2001 debut album How I Do, Res lived large out in L.A. for years in a beachfront pad, cherry-picking producers and studio musicians and flying overseas for gigs on the label’s shiny dime.
The upstart was determined to ascend as high as the game goes. But then the wheels came flying off the music industry and mid-level artists like Res were tossed out of the carriage. Now, Res is back home, a music-industry refugee seeking asylum in Philly where she’s rebuilding her career, DIY-style.
“I’m trying to incorporate myself back into the Philly scene and figure out where I fit in,” she says. “I need to build a musical home for myself and build a buzz. It’s a new time for me. It’s a rebirth. I’m doing this again, from scratch.”
This time around, Res is working on her own terms. To announce that she’s home and ready to rock, the singer is hosting a homecoming residency Sunday nights through October at Silk City she’s calling Reset, also the name of the forthcoming album that will be ready for release early next year.
Without label support, Res is a one-woman business screening musicians, scheduling rehearsals, booking shows and pushing publicity to lift her brand-new show, album and career up off the ground.
On a recent afternoon, Res sits in a coffee shop in West Philly, chilled-out in her everyday uniform of boots, jeans, sweatshirt, no make-up. She spent the better part of her day dropping postcards off at coffee shops and stapling posters to telephone poles.
“No wonder people do that at night,” she laughs. “People looked at me like I was crazy!”
It’s not that Res is a diva. She just never had to do these kinds of hands-on, nuts-and-bolts tasks. She shot through up from being an unknown to a Big Deal with one big bang back when artists were still developed—now a concept as foreign as an 8-track tape.
“I was sitting on a cushion where I could just perform and take pictures,” she says of her early time as an artist on MCA Records. She describes a sort of upper-middle-class style of artist, where you log a ton of hours toward a carefully planned upward trajectory. “In a way I wish I had to do more, but I wouldn’t have been as good.”
She didn’t have Skynyrd-style angst about workin’ for MCA.
“It wasn’t the classic situation where an artist hates the label,” she says. “It was, ‘You want to hire this musician?’ Cool. ‘You’re still living across from the beach and we’re paying for it?’ Cool. They took care of me as an artist.”
Res isn’t shy about admitting she’s not fond of working independently. On challenging days, she tweets frustrated blips like ‘I need a manager! I can’t do what I need to do without a budget!’
But it’s better than the alternative.
“I don’t like all the things you have to do to be indie, but I love to sing more than any of it,” she says. There’s no going back. “I’m doing what I’m supposed to be doing on earth.”
Known as Shareese Ballard while growing up on the Main Line, Res couldn’t hear destiny calling through the show tunes she sang as a student at Rita Cavell Music Studio in Bala Cynwyd. Cavell fondly recalls teaching “little Reesy.”
“Oh, she was a beautiful little girl,” coos Cavell. “Her voice was very strong, very expressive. Good pitch.”
Tomorrow night, the inaugural BlackStar Film Festival presents the first look at "The Res Documentary," a forthcoming feature film profiling rock and soul singer Res, a Philly homegirl.
PW's Taste of Philly 2014
Election Day 2014: Tues., Nov. 4