Remy Reilly is surrounded by her family, friends and fans in Modern Electric Sound Recorders. She made her way back to the place she recorded her first EP, Rattlesnake, for its release party. As she sits at the piano and sings about a rattlesnake of a boy — "Went through stashes of Band-Aids with you/to find your horrible attitude" — her voice fills the room.
After three more songs on the piano, including a medley of ZZ Ward songs, Reilly moves to the center of the room to play her final song of the night, her first single, "26," which has made its way to local radio. For this song, she's sitting behind the mic and is backed by a guitar and bass player — the first and only time in the night the audience hears what Reilly sounds like with a band.
After the show, friends and family hug Reilly and congratulate her. Middle-schoolers take photos with her and gush about her performance.
Reilly, 14, is about the same age.
When she's behind a mic singing, "Take your stupid memories and all your games because I'm OK," you somehow forget that she spends her days at a science and technology STEM school. While she performs, you hear a deep voice fill the room. When you look up, you see Reilly capping off a song with a sip of water. She grins, showing off her clear braces and reminding everyone in the room that she is a teenager.
Reilly says she has been singing since she was 2, but it's wasn't until she was 11 that everything started coming together. That's when she learned to play drums, when she started singing in front of other people and when she performed for the first time outside a Starbucks.
And of course she writes her own tunes. In fact, she's been doing that since she was 5, says her father, John Nicholson.
"She had this locket that her best friend gave her," he says. "She wrote the song 'Breaking the Heart of Love' about getting your heart broken. Then a couple days later, she came back and she was like, 'Nope. I'm gonna break the heart. I'm breaking the heart of love.' She changed the song. I'm like, 'What? You savage!' Well thank God, that's crazy, but good."
Reilly's five-song EP is filled with stories about relationships, bullying and crushes. "You are the best thing since portable TVs/When you look at me, I'm an old PC, I freeze," she sings in "Virus."
It might be difficult for most fathers to listen to a 14-year-old daughter sing about some boy, but Nicholson, who has worked on promotion for Disney music for the past 15 years, understands.
"Part of me is like ..." he says, raising his eyebrow and giving a stern look. "But it's just songwriting," he says. "I mean, people write songs about murdering people."
Nicholson isn't sure where Reilly gets her vivid imagination, and Reilly says she doesn't have to feel it to write about it.
"Most of the songs on the EP are about a relationship that I've never been in," Reilly says. "So people are always like, how would you know how that feels? And I'm like, well you see it on TV and passed down stories from other people, and I think that's really where the inspiration comes from for it because I really don't know what it feels like."
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She does know what bullying feels like, though, which is the subject for "26," a song in which she asks the listener to use those 26 letters in the alphabet carefully because you never know who they might hurt.
"I've been through some bullying myself," Reilly says. "Elementary and, of course, middle school, where no one likes it. But I know that everyone's been through really mean words and stuff thrown at them. And, of course, with everything that's going on in the world today, I thought it was important to write something positive and something that I can express myself through."
Reilly's father says her songwriting and talent are special.
"I've been doing this for almost 30 years, and it's impressive," he says. "Her lyrical ability's ridiculous, her melodies are ridiculous, and her piano ability is — she's only been playing piano for a year, and it's pretty, pretty special."