Miranda Lee Richards interview
By Alexander Laurence
I first became aware of Miranda Lee Richards about ten years ago. Itwas a much different time. The music scene was not very interesting.The record companies were very self-indulgent. Most female musiciansat the time aspired to be a new Janis Joplin or some punk rock /rocker chick. I can’t even remember the hundred of acts that I cameacross in those years. But Miranda’s first record, The Herethereafter(2001), was a breath of fresh air. It pointed back to a rich past, andpath to the future.
I had found out that we had traveled in similar circles in SanFrancisco. She was even a member of Brian Jonestown Massacre (as canbe seen in Dig! The Movie). She moved to Los Angeles at some point andcreated a neo-folk scene of her own. When I listened to her firstrecord, I could imagine hanging out in the desert, and Joshua Tree,with my hippie friends. Or having a guitar circle in Laurel Canyon,and playing songs by Neil Young. Or perhaps sitting on a chair in ahouse in Topanga Canyon watching the stars. Of course you can imaginedoing that now, but Miranda put out this record many years ago, inanticipation of any such scene.
In recent years, Miranda has done tours of America, England, andJapan. She has played shows with Neil Halstead, Joe Firstman, and NeilFinn. Miranda has also recently performed as a member of GoodListeners and the Jesus and Mary Chain.
I got to talk to her recently. Her second album, LIGHT OF X (2009)will be coming out on February 10th, 2009. This record is amazing andwill grow on you in time. She will be doing a residency at Spacelandin February 2009.
AL: The first album came out in 2001. It's almost seven years later.What have you been doing?
Miranda: After the release of my first record, I felt I needed tore-approach the business in a way that was more enjoyable, and Iwanted to make music on my own terms. It took me a lot longer thanexpected to get into another good label situation as the business hadbasically died and re-birthed during that time! I actually wentthrough a rough period there for a while, and some of the songs onLight of X reflect that struggle. Without getting too personal, orreferring to this period entirely as ‘the lost years’, here are someof the things that occurred: I finally finished the record, wrotematerial for my next albums, worked a day job for a while, built myindependent Miranda Lee Richards empire, did a fair amount ofsoul-searching, maintained my garden of close friends and familymembers, wrote songs for film and TV, sang on commercials as a sessionsinger, did an assortment of photo shoots and creative ventures,worked on my house, performed fifty or more shows, and did quite a fewof collaborations in the studio with other musicians. DIG! Came outduring this ‘seven years,’ and I performed at Sundance in 2004 - I’vealso done some touring since the release of my last album (more onthat later). The rest of this year has been dedicated to other aspectsof the release (artwork, videos, etc.), handling music businessmatters, and rehearsing, all of which has kept me really busy.
AL: How does a song begin for you? Is it music first or lyrics and melody first?
Miranda: I love this question. I could answer it over and over againfor the rest of my life! Definitely music first, unless I hear amelody in my head with a little lyric line attached to it. I writepoetry independently of music, but I rarely think it’s any good unlessI’m in ‘the zone.’ The music helps me to extract the words as poetryand helps me to express what’s going on at any given point in my life.That’s why I always try and get a first draft down when I first comeup with a song idea - It helps me document where my heart and mind areat the time and gives me at least an outline for what the song will beabout for when I revisit it later.
AL: There seems like there was a different approach to making “LIGHTof X”. Can you talk about the creation?
Miranda: Well, on The Herethereafter, there was a large amount ofinput from the label and other outside sources. Some of that input Ipraise in retrospect, some of it I do not, which of course is theparadox of the collaboration. By comparison, Light of X was madewithout the initial help of a label, so there was very little creativeinput other than from myself and Rick Parker, who produced,engineered, and mixed the record. One of the upsides of collaborationwas that on The Herethereafter, I had the luxury of working withtremendously talented individuals every step of the way: Jon Brion didsome additional production; David Campbell arranged the strings, andChad Blake mixed the album. These were incredibly well establishedindividuals who made it a stronger record than it otherwise would havebeen. On Light of X, we had more of a creative luxury, but less of afeedback luxury - it was just Rick (who is ‘tremendously talented’himself, by the way) and I working together, and while that producedand undeniable sense freedom, it was also an unbelievably daunting toproduce an album of this quality on such a tight budget. Forget thebudget, it was a challenge to wear so many hats! We were up for thechallenge, however, and I ended up arranging the strings, and Rick andI played most of the overdubs. What we were missing with Light of Xwas objectivity, but in retrospect, perhaps that’s not what I wantedas I am very proud of the result. I can back this record 100% even ifit’s not perfect, it’s almost perfect in my eyes...
AL: Who played on this album and how did you choose the musicians?
Miranda: This question segways perfectly from the one above. KeithMitchell (Mazzy Star/Green on Red) played drums and Eva Gardner(former Mars Volta member) played base for most of the album. Keithhas a unique style and naturally feels the pocket in a very slow, downtempo way, which heavily influenced the sound of this record. That wasmy one reservation at times, I was worried that album was too mellowfor people’s tastes, but at the same time, that was what gave thesongs their atmosphere and most closely emulated how they sound to meat home, without any accompaniment. Another contributor to theminimalist sound on the record is Eva Gardner who plays clean, simplebase lines; she doesn’t overplay and has an awesome pocket and tone.Other songs were from other sessions: John Wilmer (The Shore), playeddrums on “Pictures of You” and “Life Boat”, and co-produced “LifeBoat”. (OK, I lied – there were some other collaborators!) One of myjazzier rhythm sections played on “Olive Tree”; Derek Syverud on drumsand Ryan Feves (Eleni Mandel) on stand up base. Ben Peeler (ShelbyLynn) played all the lap steel on the record, and Josh Schwartz(former Beachwood Sparks member) played great guitar on a couplesongs.
AL: Are there any "new" influences on this record?
Miranda: Basically, I have my same bag of tricks I like to use, my‘paints’ I call them from the last record to this one, but one of thebiggest differences may have been that there was more piano basedmaterial on this record than the last. The music I write on pianotends to have a more classical and ballad influence to it, vs. myguitar material which is more folk and rock inspired. I think thesetwo styles wield nicely together and compliment one another like agood recipe. A little sweet offsets the salt for example, a littledark brings forth the light...
AL: How do you feel about people downloading your music?
Miranda: I have mixed feelings about it, but on a primal level, I amagainst my work being available totally for free, just for the merefact that is costs money to make an album and let people know aboutit! Besides, nothing ever truly for free, you can’t just take and takewithout there ever being any consequences. I mostly agree with thatanarchistic attitude of downloading in the sense that there wereextraordinary excesses happening in the music business, and thatneeded to come to an end. Now that all that’s crumbled, and out of theashes needs to emerge a new way to protect copyrights and revenuestreams. Artists will have to do even more self-promotion and out ofpocket funding as labels disappear, and that is damaging to theircreative work because it takes time and recourses they don’t alwayshave. I could go on and on, but if you do manage to avoid these pitfalls, one simple fact remains: to have a lasting career in music, youstill need to produce high quality work over a long period of time, sosomething’s never change.
AL: Can you talk about some of the tours you did in the past two years?
Miranda: I went on a solo acoustic tour of U.K. in November of 2007; Idid a few dates with The Jesus and Mary Chain on part of their WestCoast tour in 2007 as a guest vocalist; I toured with Tim Finn inJanuary of 2008 and I toured with Neil Halstead the early fall of2008, all amazing experiences.
AL: Did you make some videos, which songs, and what are they like?
Miranda: We’re just about to release the video for “Early November”from Light of X directed by Piper Ferguson which I’m really excitedabout. It’s a French New Wave cinema/Ciao Manhattan-themed video, aportion of which was shot on 16mm. I also plan to do videos for a fewmore songs from the album TBA, and I will be adding lot’s of liveclips and things to You Tube this year.
AL: Do you have any other hobbies?
Miranda: Well, before the release of this album took over, lol, I usedto like to fix up my pad and garden and try new recipes in the kitchen– all very domestic, I know, but when my home’s a wreck, I feel like asub-par human being. I also enjoy meditation and reading, and try tofind the time for that in order to stay more grounded and joyful in myapproach. I have a background in fine art/painting and drawing and Ithought it would be healthy for me to take up drawing again – perhapsI could draw a record cover one day, that would be really cool.
AL: What other new bands do you like?
Miranda: I am really digging Beach House right now.
AL: What should people expect in the shows in February 2009?
Miranda: Well, I always strive to give a soulful performance, andbesides that and the accompaniment of my usual band members (base,drums, and guitar), I would love to add another keyboard player, pedalsteel, and strings. Hopefully as we build momentum, we can afford amore elaborate live set up; that’s my dream anyway, as I want to puton the most beautiful performance imaginable for people.