INTERVIEW: Singer/Songwriter Miranda Lee Richards
Singer/songwriter Miranda Lee Richards is due to release her new album, Existential Beast, on July 16, which is characterized by its “70s-influenced, country-tinged psychedelia.” The San Francisco-native will showcase her new material during a performance at the Bootleg Theater in Los Angeles on May 31 with her full band for a record release show. Miranda has also released The Herethereafter (Virgin), Light of X on Nettwerk Records and Echoes of Dreamtime (Invisible Hands). The new one Existential Beast will also be out on Invisible Hands music. Recently, Miranda spoke with SoCalMusicToday.com and the creative and introspective artist discussed her new LP, upbringing in an artistic and bohemian environment, the open-minded influence and revolutionary spirit Miranda’s parents instilled in her as well as shaping her craft, Miranda’s growth as a person and artist, and how Metallica guitar Kirk Hammett taught her how to play “Fade Into You” by Mazzy Star and more.
Can you tell us how growing up in an artistic and bohemian environment influenced your politics and that resulting in the culmination of Existential Beast?
My parents were very liberal-minded, leaning towards being labeled radical activists of their time. They were both underground cartoonists and their original art and content of their comic strips were a platform for self-expression that embodied social and political commentary with a rebellious and revolutionary spirit. Their material was anti-war, sexually explicit, and in my mom’s case, feminist in nature. I think the biggest difference of the previous generation of artists was that they felt their role was to break down the old paradigm and expose its underbelly, freely expressing whatever was in their psyche, whereas my generation now feels the responsibility to build something new (no pressure or anything). So when thinking about making a protest album the way was certainly paved, both by my parents and historically by popular musical artists. But then, as now, I believe a good protest song must also embody a solution, and speak of un-justice from a tender, truthful, and compassionate perspective. The subject matter of Existential Beast is not solely political — many songs are spiritual in nature and have to do with moving past the existential angst we feel in not being totally fulfilled by modern life (or political outcomes). Some songs are just here to express magic and wonder — from that vantage point, problems begin to resolve themselves as we personally and culturally create a new paradigm.
Would you say Existential Beast is a progression artistically compared to your last two albums?
I would say it is yes, as I do feel I am expanding and growing both personally and as an artist. Musically, I am more proficient and able to manifest my vision more readily than I used to be able to, and that has been a rewarding progression for me. I also have a broader and more mature perspective which influences the message in my work.
Do you come from a musical background? If not, who encouraged you growing up to become a singer/songwriter? How profound would say their influence was on you and why?
My dad played bass in bands when he was young, and my mom sang in folk groups in college but neither of them aspired to play music professionally. I displayed music talent from a young age, but was not formally trained. I learned to sing harmony by performing Everly Brothers and The Beatles songs in my elementary school choir, and was known to sing louder and more confidently than some. As a kid, I would play piano by ear, right and left hand, at my friend’s houses. When I was 16, I got my first keyboard and at 17 my first guitar. At eighteen, I pretty immediately began to write songs after my mom’s roommate taught me how to play guitar chords (she was a single parent by that time so we had roommates growing up). One of my best friend’s dad’s owned a music shop in San Francisco, and when I went in to buy a harmonica, he asked me what key my song was in — that was my first impromptu music theory lesson! Then of course, there was the story of Kirk Hammett showing me how to play “Fade Into You” by Mazzy Star. Once I could play a popular song by a popular artist, playing and singing at the same time, I thought, “This is what I want to do!”
Did you find going to the San Francisco School of The Arts helpful developing as an artist and why?
At School of the Arts, I focused on painting and drawing and was not a part of the music program initially. But it was certainly an artistic environment where talent and creativity were cultivated, and for that reason, I think many musicians end up coming out of art school. A very pivotal moment occurred during my senior year, when I did a Pursuing Your Dreams workshop in one of my classes for Urban Pioneers (a charter school that was part of McAteer Public school where the School of the Arts campus was housed). I decided then and there that I wanted play music professionally and began to envision the steps necessary.
What was the best advice you got about going into a career in music and have you applied it since you left the school?
Quite simply, do it for the love, not the money. If you TRULY love what you do, the money will follow.
What is your process in writing songs? Do the lyrics could first or the music?
Mostly I write the music and/or melody first, then lyrics. I usually rely on the melody to structure the word phrasing and rhyme scheme around, otherwise you can lose quite a bit of the initial poem when trying to fit it to music. However, sometimes an existing poem or lyric has a certain depth and color that’s not always easy to create when writing to an existing piece of music, so I like to work both ways.
How did you come to work with Rick Parker on Existential Beast? What did he bring to the making the album in your opinion?
Rick Parker is my husband and long-term collaborator, from back when we made the demos that got me my first record deal. He is an amazingly knowledgeable producer, engineer, mixer and mastering engineer, as well as a great guitar player, bass player, drummer and keyboard player, so he can wear a lot of hats. Many of the songs on this album were tracked with my live band, so Rick didn’t play as much on this album as previous ones.
Will you be performing with a full band at the Bootleg Theater? Do you like to perform acoustically best versus playing live with a band and why?
I will be performing with my full band plus string quartet on a couple songs, and then with the addition of saxophone and flute on two others. I like performing both acoustically and full band for different reasons: acoustically you can really hear the vocals, harmonies, and lyrics (If you like to pay attention to such things). With the full band there is a lot more dynamic and there’s more energy and wow-factor. This album is a combination of both, and certain songs can only be performed with a full band, like “Golden Gate” for example, and other songs, transversely, can only be performed acoustically, like “Back to the Source”.
What are your favorite haunts and places to go in San Francisco and why?
San Francisco has changed so much since I grew up there — just like NYC there’s a whole host of new shops and restaurants. But there are some old mainstays too. I love to vintage clothing shop at Held Over and The Wasteland on Haight St., and I also make a mandatory stop at Piedmont Boutique and Amoeba Records while I’m there. In the Mission, I love to go to Tartine Bakery on Valencia for the best pastries and coffee, and La Cumbre Taqueria on Guerrero for the ultimate Mission burrito (there’s even a chain in the UK called Mission Burrito now, go figure — *disclaimer, I don’t eat like this every day)! I like to go to The Makeout Room and Chapel to hear music, and I love going to North Beach for an Italian espresso and to buy vintage postcards. Just walking the streets of San Francisco, through the various neighborhoods, is always an adventure. Most of all, I love the Victorian houses. They have so much beauty and history — you can almost hear the walls speaking.
“LUCID I WOULD DREAM”