Interview: Lisa Richards
Lisa Richards has one of the most amazing voices AND stories AAA has ever heard. After 22 years living and writing in America she’s now returned home for a few shows before the release of her sixth studio album ‘A Light From The Other Side’. We asked the veteran singer-songwriter to enlighten us about her musical journey from childhood to present day and the inspiration behind her latest single Water Needs To Fall.
From growing up in subtropical Queensland to living in New York City and Texas for over 20 years, did this move give you a new perspective and influence your creativity?
Undoubtedly. From North Queensland I moved to Sydney, then NYC, then Austin. There’s so much energy in NYC and you can feel it humming through the pavement. Steam rises out of the grates in the streets and it’s smelly and the subways are both desolate and bustling. The access to art and music totally blew my mind. I grew up reading about Van Gogh and looking at his paintings in books and the first time I stood in front of Starry Starry Night in the Met in NYC I wept. It was so unexpected, I was not prepared for the physical and emotional impact the painting had on me.
There’s immense wealth and immense poverty and people are eking out lives on the streets of NYC collecting cans and making their homes on street corners. I once watched a woman walking along Second Avenue in the East Village and she was pushing her shopping cart full of her possessions and she had a little dog in the cart and she was happy and chatting and laughing with people and I thought, “she’s an urban gypsy, she’s figured out how to make it work for her”.
NYC is a tough city, but full of amazing people who are drawn there from all over the world for all kinds of reasons. Illegal immigrants working in kitchens sending money home to their families. People studying…poets and filmmakers, journalists working as wait staff because their English isn’t good enough for them to work as journalists.
Then there are the locals, the born and bred, people who have never been out of Manhattan. When you live in Manhattan there’s this magnetic field that stops you from leaving the island and makes you think there is NO LIFE outside of NYC. You can’t comprehend that there is anywhere else in the world as exciting or interesting.
NYC has long harsh winters and short intense summers. Austin has long intense summers and short winters…it’s a mixture of beautiful peace loving left wing musicians, artists, writers, filmmakers, and high tech computer and gaming geeks. There’s a large university population, over 60,000 so lots of smart people living in the area. The people are warm and welcoming and you can play music every night of the week. I could write endlessly about my time in NYC and Austin.
You said Water Needs To Fall was created while you were closed off and ‘between lives’, what is the story behind the song?
I was living in NYC again after 14 years in Austin. I left my marriage of 14 years, sold the home we shared, and got rid of most of my possessions. One day I was married and three days later I left with a suitcase after turning my ex into the police. Then he began to make my life in Austin very uncomfortable in a threatening and harassing manner and the detectives suggested I may want to move far far away…so I went to NYC and moved in with my good friend Irene. It was a very strange time and I was traumatised, afraid and unsteady. The song came out of this space.
How was the recording process working alongside producer Greg J. Walker (Paul Kelly, C.W Stoneking)?
I loved working with Greg, he has a studio full of creaky worn beautiful broken down instruments and he coaxes these amazing sounds out of them. It was a very easy and natural process. He encouraged me to pick up instruments and contribute musically. We would sit around and go “hmm, what instruments do we hear on this song?”. We frequently agreed on the instrument choices and definitely have some instruments on this album I have never had on my songs before.
We built each song up very organically, starting with a shaker track, then guitar and then vocals and sometimes recording both guitar and vocals at the same time and going live to tape. There are happy songs on the album too…quite a few actually, so that’s always a surprise when I write a happy song!
Your mother was a concert pianist who constrained the playing of musical instruments, did this affect your musical upbringing?
My mother was a complicated woman. I am the youngest of eight children and my two older sisters were dancers. The story goes my mother wanted to be a dancer and not a pianist, but her mother wouldn’t allow her to dance and pushed her into piano. So all the girl children were dancers from a young age (myself included until I was 12). Then she must have had a change of heart as I actually had a few piano lessons with a grumpy old teacher when I was seven, but then my mother had a car accident and got a severe brain injury and could no longer play the piano…or walk…or talk.
She learnt to talk again but she lived very much in the moment with not much past memory or future plan memory. So my point is the piano, people playing instruments, was a source of emotional pain for her and so the piano was sold before she even came home from hospital…like I said, it’s a complicated story!
You’ve released five projects before this one, how do you feel ‘A Light From The Other Side’ differs?
This is the first album where I wrote the majority of the songs right before I recorded them. I spent around 10 days recording over a six-month period, so it’s also the fastest I have ever recorded an album!
This forthcoming album is inspired by the crumbling of your marriage, was it hard to be that open with your personal life in the music?
The album is inspired both by the crumbling of my marriage and about falling in love again. It has been four years since my last album and four years since my divorce. I think it took that long before I could actually write about it with any kind of clarity. My song writing style does tend to be pretty personal, and even when I’m not writing songs that are about my life they still turn out to be personal.
Creating an array of music now for so long, what drives you to create?
That’s a good question! I have no clue. It’s in me to create and express, the drive doesn’t seem to have diminished over the years. There are cycles of creativity and cycles of what I like to call ‘gestational periods’, where I am waiting for the next cycle to begin. I do write in this period but I feel totally traumatised and like I will never write a decent song EVER. Martha Graham calls it “a queer, divine dissatisfaction; a blessed unrest that keeps us marching”. I sometimes think about what I would do if I could no longer sing or play music and I am sure I would be a writer or an actor or both…
Lastly, when can we expect your album to ‘A Light From The Other Side’ to be released?
It will be released Friday 23rd of September!
Lisa Richards Live Dates
FRI 17 JUNE
Smiths Alternative, Canberra
SAT 18 JUNE
Gasoline Pony, Sydney