photo: Angel Ceballos
Miranda Lee Richards
I met the very beautiful Miranda Lee Richards years ago in the Lower Haight section on San Francisco. She seemed to be destined to have great things happen to her whatever she did. I didn't see her around for many years, and then I heard she had a record coming out this summer. Her album, The Herethereafter, is a perfect reflection of her own aesthetic. It's a mix of a poetic sensibility and pop music. The songs are very well written, full of great melodies and harmonies, just like her 60's heroes, The Rolling Stones and Gram Parsons. I remember Miranda as this poet and artist who was looking for her own voice. I didn't know what to expect.
I saw her play a few weeks later in San Francisco. Her sound was impressive. Songs like "The Beginner" and "Beauty Queen" seem like instant classics. With her partner, Rick Parker, they were able to blend rock and country, and alternative music and hiphop, into a new cool hybrid form. I talked to both of them after the show, and they both seemed very down the earth and talk about the record they have spent the past year making. They seemed very excited to meet people and to present their music.
Miranda has been known in the past as a model. She is known also for her work with Brian Jonestown Massacre. But now she has her own record out and is scheduled to play a bunch of live shows this fall. We hung out at her soundcheck at The Bottom of The Hill. A film crew was filming us during our chat. Later I found out it was Ondi Timoner.
AL: You grew up in San Francisco and Los Angeles. When did you start thinking about making music and being in a band?
Miranda: Around the age of nineteen, all of a sudden I put two and two together, and found out that I could incorporate my writing and my love for music, and in one art form. Because I had been thinking of wanting to be an English major, I was already going in that direction. I realized that songwriting was the prefect thing for me, because I could incorporate all my interests, artistically. And if I could make a living from it, that would be amazing.
AL: Were you writing diaries and poetry back then?
Miranda: Not really. Good question. (Laughs) It wasn't so much of the tortured spirit of poetry. I have a lot of diary entries but it tends to be long prose. Longer stories. Lyric writing is a whole other art form for me. Music forces me to write poetry. It's almost the opposite because I fit the words to the music. I always work backwards.
AL: I know that you were involved with Brian Jonestown Massacre and Anton Newcombe. How did you get involved with them?
Miranda: I just started playing music. I had made a demo tape at my friend's house. It's was me for the first time singing and playing music in the studio. And Anton had heard it through a mutual friend, Dave Deresinski, who was the manager of Brian Jonestown Massacre. Anton had heard it. I saw him for the first time walking down Haight Street. He started saying "Miranda, Miranda!" He was with his manager who was my friend too. They called me over. Anton said "I really like your singing voice. I would really like you to sing on my music. Would you be interested in singing in our band." Of course, being so young, I was just so excited to start on any project. After the first rehearsal I realized that this might not be so much of a function situation. The first rehearsal I went to, Anton fired his guitar player. I was like wow, I hope that I don't get fired.
AL: I was looking at that picture right there. It reminds me of albums from the 1970s. Is that the album cover?
Miranda: There I am on the wall. It's a Michelle Phillips or Karen Carpenter type of thing. Actually the album cover is still up for debate because do you want to be so frontal and Blind Faith-ish, or do you want to be blurry, like you can't see me, like on this EP. That's okay though. A lot of artists stay on their record covers. It's not going to look like a Mazzy Star record.
AL: How did you meet Rick Parker and when did you think of forming your own band?
Miranda: I had written a lot of material for the record already or so I thought. I went into the studio and I realized along the way that more stuff had to be written. I totally came to terms with that. I got a brand new vision for what I was doing. I had to. Easier said than done though because it sounds like it took a second to reorient my mind but it was a long process. I had decided early on that I was going to call the record The Herethereafter or Compositions from The Herethereafter, and concentrate on a whole new sound, and let it be the first thing I presented. It felt okay when we started to co-write some songs. There are some of my original pieces on the record. Some more newer material. We ended up co-writing four songs. I had never written songs with somebody else. It was a good exercise and challenge. The writing process in the studio took longer than we anticipated. Also to complicate matter, Rick Parker, who co-produced my record, is also my boyfriend. It was not planned.
AL: How did you get from the demos to the finished product?
Miranda: My music process is this: I talk a piece of music, and we have a melody and an obvious feeling for the music itself. This is the magical part of music. It's an ability to hear and understand melody. You are always thanking inspiration for giving you that. Because that is something you just can't understand. You can have something that sounds like a song, in a second, or after three days of messing around with it you can get a song. After we would get the melody and the structure of a song established, we would go into lyric writing. It's just the way I work. I just go by the way a piece feels. It inspires me and I get a few ideas in my head. I want to talk about a few current issues that are in my mind and heart. It almost comes out as a stream of consciousness. Then we mold and shape the lyrics as we go along. My favorite songs that we have made happen quickly. Either that or they are something that I can go back over them and refine them so that they read beautifully on paper, so they become beautiful pieces of poetry. After that we go into the elaborate process of overdubbing, because it's not a band. We have to lay down the tracks and play all the instruments. It's a huge production.
AL: I was really impressed with the beats, which were more like hiphop.
Miranda: We studied that. I like Massive Attack and all the DJ culture. That stuff is intense, man. You can't just go "I'm going to make a beat to go with a song." It's a whole subculture. Making and producing beats is like such an undertaking. We took it very seriously. We didn't want it to sound cheesy or taken from a beat sampler. We wanted to come up with cool sounds. Rick got really into the beats. We were checking out old records. We got into it maybe too much. You have to be careful not to cross the line. We used this record as an excuse to study music.
AL: What are some of your songs about? Are they all stories?
Miranda: "Gypsy" and "Folkin' Hell" are little stories. "Right Now" is a visual tale of a pretty little girl and a cute little guy. How they are feeling about one another.
AL: Why did you cover "Dandelion"?
Miranda: We decided to do one cover song on this record. And the record company was in agreement. Thank God that they preferred that song over other things. It wasn't my initial choice of a Stones song to cover. I was thinking about some more obscure material. We did the cover song because we thought we needed some more up-tempo songs on the record. I had so much material written already, and then I was thinking of doing some obscure songs that no one would recognize. I write a lot of mellow stuff. At least "Dandelion" was from the cool, psychedelic stage of The Rolling Stones. It's a lesser-known track.
AL: You have a lot of emotion in your voice.
Miranda: As a singer, what I like to do, if I hear a very beautiful thing that another vocalist is doing, sometimes I will try it out and see if it works. Other vocalists will influence me even though I have my own style. When I was making this record, I was listening a lot to Mercury Rev's "Deserter's Songs." And also Cat Power's "Moon Pix." I love Chrissie Hynde. When I get that tremolo going I sound like her. There are weird subliminal vocal tricks that you pick up from listening to the radio. This happens to me. I am sort of a parrot. So I combine all these people into my own personal style. This is very unconscious. That's the way it comes out.
AL: You have played about twenty live shows now. How are those experiences?
Miranda: It's been better than expected. Some of the shows have been dead silent and that scares the shit out of me. Everyone is paying attention. I feel like I'm going to freak out. You feel less vulnerable when nobody is paying attention. I have been making some strides with the live show because I can see them in the audience now responding. The first few shows I was just trying to get through the songs. Now I can concentrate more on what I am saying lyrically, and the emotion, and I can think about what I want to put across vocally. It's an interpretation of what I hear in my head and how I want to deliver it. All the songs sound very natural to me now.
AL: Any advice to your young fans who may want to do music one day?
Miranda: Oh yeah. I had to overcome some much fear in my life on my own. I have become a testament of someone who has persevered through that stuff. It's usually your self that holds you back. If you are good at something in your bedroom but not in front of people, that means that you are scared. You can decide what you want to do with it. You have to have love and inspiration for what you are doing. You have to bring it to the people. Everybody is in the closet. If you feel that potential inside yourself you should go for it. People will decide for you. I would like to have a long recording career.
AL: Do you have any anthems for people to sing along to? Like in a festival atmosphere?
Miranda: Maybe "Beauty Queen." I went busking on the street today. I went out in front of Haight Ashbury Music and just played the guitar. And we got some fans. They may not be the fans that you want to have, but there was some interest. It was like doing an open-air show. It's good for kids to go to.
Miranda Lee Richards plays at the Fonda Theater on March 4th. She will also appear at Starry Nites Festival later in March 2017.