Shareese Ballard (better known as Res) did something most young, aspiring musicians would consider unthinkable: She asked to be let out of her major-label recording contract without having a safety net to fall back on or, necessarily, a game plan for the next step of her career. Res’ critically acclaimed (and many say criminally underrated) first album, How I Do, was released in 2001. MCA Records saw great promise in the young talent and put a great deal of resources behind her, including sending her touring the world in promotion of the LP, opening for acts like Maxwell, Mary J. Blige, Alanis Morissette, John Mayer and Michelle Branch. The video for her first single, “Golden Boys,” was a staple on VH1, and her third single, “They Say Vision,” reached number one on Billboard‘s dance chart. How I Do went on to sell a not-too-shabby 300,000 copies and helped Res develop a rabid fan base and garner huge props from industry insiders who saw her as a truly unique, genre-busting, eminently gifted artist who would be around for a long time.
In 2003, Geffen absorbed MCA Records and dropped most of the label’s acts. Res was one of the 100 or so Geffen kept onboard. The only problem was that the label didn’t want to release her second record, which was mixed, mastered and ready for the world. After years of inertia from Geffen, Res eventually had had enough. She asked the label to release her from her contract. Geffen complied but retained ownership of the completed album (which she eventually leaked for free to her fans in 2009). Not long after the split, she was invited to tour the world with Gnarls Barkley as a backup singer, just as “Crazy” was just starting its trajectory to becoming a number-one hit across Europe, North America and Australia. Soon after that whirlwind 18-month tour ended, her father died. Res moved back to Philly to be with her mother and family. It was the first time she had lived back in her hometown since her wild ride in the music industry began.
I met up with Res at Silk City Diner in Philly. When she walks into a room, it’s hard not to notice her. She carries herself with an air of purpose and confidence that immediately draws your attention, as do her stunning good looks. But her physical beauty quickly becomes an afterthought once you start talking to her. Her motivation, street smarts, innate business sense and belief in herself immediately grab your focus. These qualities are so ingrained in her core that you would never question her decision to abandon a cushy label deal without a backup plan. She knows how talented and unique she is, and she has a very clear understanding of what she is capable of. She gives you the sense her destiny is much bigger than being an independent artist living in Philly.
It also becomes immediately apparent that Res has her shit together. She continually talks about making sure she releases her music “in the correct way,” taking the time to promote herself “in the correct way.” She also talks about landing the right endorsement deals, about manpower and resources. It is a much more honed and deliberate sensibility than the spray-and-pray approach many independent musicians pass off as a promotion strategy. But perhaps the most important thing she has going for her is a boatload of resilience. She doesn’t lament about how hard it is getting music heard, or how much easier things were when the label was taking care of everything, or anything else, for that matter. And even with her huge ambition and confidence, she has no illusions that her success is guaranteed, and she knows that she has a lot of work to do to get her career to where she wants it to be.
Res is getting ready to drop a slew of new music that’s a testament to her eclectic talent and genre-bending musical sensibility. There is the debut Idle Warship album, a side project with longtime collaborator and acclaimed rapper Talib Kweli. Then there is Refried Mac, an EP of her unique interpretations of some of her favorite Fleetwood Mac songs. Finally, a full album of her original songs (featuring cameo appearances by Big Boi from OutKast and other big names who have loved Res for years) is in its final stages.
Res is equal parts the colossally ambitious artist and laid-back, down-to-earth girl you feel like you’ve known your whole life. We discussed her years living and working in L.A., wearing insane outfits on the Gnarls Barkley tour, the pitfalls of being pigeonholed, her frustration with Philly musicians, major labels vs. independent ones and rebuilding herself in the music industry.