Reardon’s recent album Where the Artists Go expresses all of the bittersweetness of youth with the clarity and wisdom of an old soul. It is at once an homage to small-town New England and a declaration of wanderlust; an expression of wild dreams and a lament over the shackles of teenage social anxiety.
For Reardon, songwriting was a compass that enabled her to navigate the turbulent social waters of middle school. At a time when bullying became a recurring theme in our national dialogue, Reardon wrote songs about her own experience as a witness to bullying. She searched the internet for resources and found the PACER Center, an organization that would in turn adopt her as its spokesperson and sponsor her “Find Your Voice” performance program in schools across the country. With PACER, Reardon has developed a variety of classroom toolkits using music, art, and classroom discussion prompts to promote tolerance to students at every grade level.
Reardon is developing a national fan base through her school performances, and she is learning how to harness the power of social media to interact with her fans. Reardon uses Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr, and YouTube, as well as her personal web site, to promote her music. She recently put out a social media call for participants in a music video that features her fans in front of their webcams, holding up the lyrics to her song “Tribe.”
“I love that it continues and grows,” Reardon says about her work with PACER. “It’s not just about bullying anymore, it’s about making growing up easier. [Ending] bullying is important to me, but it’s not going to be my issue forever. When I’m not in school anymore, the issue will be passed on to someone else. I want to use my music to connect with issues that are important to me.”
Like others her age, Reardon is beginning to bring her post-high school plans into focus. Acknowledging the support that she has enjoyed from her family, she admits to some trepidation over balancing her career with the rigors of a college education. “I want to be able to think about college normally … to continue my music but also study something that excites me on a different level.” One of many factors that will influence her college choice is the artistic network that she has already built in certain areas of the country.
“I’m extremely intrigued and inspired by the idea of what it means to be an artist,” she says, referring to the independent musicians, poets, and artists who she has encountered through her work. “Lately I’ve become more and more into the things that really scare me, that don’t come naturally to me.” While she describes the songwriting process as effortless, her developing affinity for prose and slam poetry broadens her artistic horizons. She even reached out to Hawaiian slam poet Sterling Higa, who collaborated on a track from her recent album. “If I’m going to be a real artist,” she says, “I need to step outside my comfort zone.”
Reardon is optimistic about her artistic future, pointing to the success of artists like The Civil Wars, Mumford & Sons, and Ed Sheeran as evidence that acoustic music is once again gaining a foothold in popular culture. She sees the flourishing of independent music as an antidote to the heavily produced, sterile-sounding tracks that have dominated the industry in recent years. “They fill our need for something genuine.” While folk is a genre largely unknown by today’s teens, Reardon is reaching a new generation of listeners who relate to the honesty of her lyrics.
“All of the songs on the radio were about boys, so I just thought, okay, I’ll write about that. But in middle school it became apparent that the most effective songs, the songs that really reach people, are the ones that talk about things that I really know well.”