An Interview With LA-Based Singer-Songwriter, MIRANDA LEE RICHARDS On Learning To Play Guitar from Metallica’s Kirk Hammet, Leaving Modeling Behind For A Music Career and More
Posted On 15 Feb 2016
Tag: 7th Ray, Agnes Obel, All Access, All Access Music Group, Anna Calvi, Anton Newcombe, Artist Interview, BCBG, Bert Jansch, BJM, Black Fawn, Black Rebel Motorcycle, Bob Dylan, Bringing It All Back Home Again, Calvin Klein, Dave Deresinski, David LaChapelle, Ditta Eyewear, Echoes Of The Dreamtime, Esprit, Ethan Johns, Everly Brothers, Fade Into You, French Mademoiselle, French Marie Claire, Georges Mariciano, Gibson, Give It Back, Invisible Hands Music, Jackson Browne, Jewel, Joan Baez, John Lennon, Johnathan Wilson, Joni Mitchell, Kevin Parker, Kirk Hammet, L.D., LaChapelle Land, Laura Marling, Leonard Cohen, Levi's, Light of X, Lord Huron, Max Martin, Mazzy Star, Metallica, Michael Haneke, Miranda Lee Richards, Missing Piece Group, Mose Allison, Natasha Kahn, Neil Young, Nettwerk Records, Norah Jones, Paul Mitchell, Paul Simon, R. Crumb, Rick Parker, Ryley Walker, San Francisco, San Francisco School Of The Arts, Sandy Denny, Sassy, Sean Lennon, Seventeen, Seventh Son, Sia, Songwriters on Songwriting, Stung Out In Heaven, Tame Impala, Ted Richards, Terre Richards, The Brian Jonestown Massacre, The Face, The Herethereafter, The Long Goodbye, The White Ribbon, Vidal Sassoon, Virgin Records, WWD
Miranda Lee Richards is a gifted Los Angeles-based singer-songwriter. Born in San Francisco after the summer of love and before the dawn of disco, she grew up in an artistic and bohemian environment that has informed her adult life and work. Her parents are well-known underground comic book artists Ted and Terre Richards, R. Crumb being their most infamous contemporary.
After graduating from the San Francisco School Of The Arts, she traveled to Paris to model, but soon returned to the U.S. to pursue a musical career. A series of chance encounters with influential people began when she became friends with Kirk Hammet from Metallica, who taught her to play guitar. Early demos of her songs reached the ears of Anton Newcombe, and she soon joined his band The Brian Jonestown Massacre. She sang on their early albums Give It Back, Bringing It All Back Home Again, and Stung Out In Heaven, and appeared with them in the seminal documentary DIG!.
In 2001, Virgin Records released her full-length debut album The Herethereafter. The record was a mix of folk, psychedelia, country and indie pop, and generated fans worldwide, especially in Japan where the single “The Long Goodbye” reached the top five.
Her critically acclaimed sophomore album Light of X, the title of which came from a dream about harnessing beams of light to travel in time, followed in 2009 via Nettwerk Records. The music was a progression from the template laid out on her debut, anticipating the symphonic pop music that came later with the likes of Anna Calvi and Agnes Obel.
Richards’ latest album, Echoes Of The Dreamtime, was recorded at her home studio with husband and producer Rick Parker (best known for his work with Black Rebel Motorcycle Club and Lord Huron). It brings together eight pastoral, atmospheric epics into a work that is her most impressive yet. Echoes of the Dreamtime focuses on a lyrically narrative style, with many of the songs counting in at over five minutes, with four and five verses a-piece. One song, the eight-minute track “It Was Given” (based on the movie The White Ribbon by Michael Haneke), is an example of an adaptation put to song.
As Richards states, “So much of our experience lies within the realm of the subconscious, influencing our outer realities. When we realize we have control over our offering to the world, we begin to examine the subconscious and have a conversation with it, instead of being ruled unknowingly by it. Contained therein are themes of self-discovery, transformation, and grappling with the duality between dark and light within ourselves and society. The literal use of Space Echo throughout the album is reflective of the theme: it’s subtle and beautiful and repeats until we listen.”
Learn more about Miranda in the following All Access interview:
Well, coincidentally, I have a couple others to finish up today as well! It is the weekend so I’m doing some home projects like cleaning out my closet; I’m a bit of a weekend warrior that way. I’m also organizing my record release show and preparing for the big year ahead.
What are you most excited about for 2016?
Well, obviously the release of my album, the release of a side project called Black Fawn, and hopefully, if there’s time, the release of the follow up to Echoes of the Dreamtime, already mostly recorded. And I’m excited about the U.S. election…or is it anxious?
On Jan 29th, you will release a new album called “Echoes Of The Dreamtime” on Invisible Hands Music. How different or similar is this collection to anything else you’ve put out?
Echoes of the Dreamtime is more lyrically narrative album, containing some lengthy, story-driven songs. It is a folk rock record at the core, with almost every song composed on acoustic six or twelve string guitar (with the exception of 7th Ray, which was written on piano). It is a continuation of a style template influenced by 60’s and 70’s folk, Baroque, and psychedelic rock. I have no immediate plans to go new wave or electronic in my solo project, although you can expect that from Black Fawn.
What was the inspiration for the album’s first single, “7th Ray”?
I was reading a book called Songwriter’s on Songwriting, and there was an excerpt on Mose Allison who wrote a song called “Seventh Son”, inspired by the fact that he was born on the 7th day of the 7th month of 1927. I thought that had an interesting ring to it, and my best friend growing up had just had her first child, so I was on the theme of birth or newness. I put “ray” in there instead of “month” for the simple benefit of the rhyme scheme, which led me to the 7th ray (which is the color purple, the highest frequency of the color spectrum). My friend’s little girl was nine months old at the time and already had a fully formed, fiery personality. That fascinated me, how we come into this world so innocent and perfect and sure of ourselves. So I made the song about the journey of the soul, and what happens when the effects of karma, disillusionment and disconnection set in, and what happens when you reclaim yourself again — never a bad topic in my opinion.
I find it very interesting that you moved to Paris for a while to model but then returned to the states to pursue music. What ultimately got you to that decision?
Well, it wasn’t a very hard decision to make. I was invited by my agents to go to Paris at a time when everyone was looking for the next Kate Moss, and I fit the bill as a waify teenager measuring in at just 5’7”. Before the rise of Kate Moss, models had to be over 5’9”, and this change seemed feasible, like why can’t any reasonably attractive girl be able to model? But it was tough because all the sample sizes were huge and unflattering, I didn’t speak the language, I couldn’t eat a thing, and I had to go on five to ten castings per day in the rain. It was a lot for a teenage girl. In the three months I was there, my career didn’t explode overnight (despite shoots for French Mademoiselle and French Marie Claire), and I simply didn’t have the passion, wherewithal, or way to support myself. So I decided to throw in the towel and return back to San Francisco where I got a job at a used clothing store, and my first guitar at a garage sale. About a year’s time later, I decided I wanted to play music professionally, and moved to LA, where I resurrected my modeling career (the money was too good to ignore, and music gave me focus). I had a successful run as a junior and catalogue model, appearing in ads for Georges Marciano, Calvin Klein, Ditta Eyewear, Levi’s, BCBG, Esprit, Vidal Sassoon, and Paul Mitchell. Editorially, I appeared in spreads for WWD, The Face, Sassy, I.D., and Seventeen. I also appeared in David LaChapelle’s coffee table book, LaChapelle Land. I remember them talking about what an amazing voice Jewel had at a shoot one day, and I just thought to myself, “You just wait, I can sing, too!”
Kirk Hammett was dating a friend of mine at the time, and we both had a love for the band Mazzy Star. He showed me how to play “Fade Into You”, and taught me my first B minor chord. Kirk had a cool black Gibson guitar with stars on the fret board (it might have been an Everly Brothers limited edition?). I remember thinking all fret boards had stars on them.
Can you describe your time and experience with the Brian Jonestown Massacre?
I met Anton in San Francisco the same year I returned from Paris. I made my first demo tape in Kirk Hammett’s basement studio and coincidentally, my friend Dave Deresinski was friends with Kirk and also managed the Brian Jonestown Massacre. So Dave gave Anton my demo, and that led to Anton asking me to sing with the band. Anton got in a fistfight and fired the guitar player at the first rehearsal, so it didn’t start off well. I quietly decided I may need to go my own way and look for another band to play join, but I ended up doing some really cool recordings and performances with the BJM. We are friends to this day.
What made you decide to go out on your own and record solo albums?
When I first started out, I was just looking to be a singer in a band. But when things didn’t quite work out with the BJM the way I had hoped, and when I first started performing and rehearsing with drummers, I quickly realized that I didn’t want to be in a rock band; my voice and songs were just too gentle for that. So I began getting into folk and country, and various forms of alternative music. And I always gravitated toward the art of songwriting, even the solo aspect of it. I have since collaborated with other writers, and can do that too, but I’m just fine working on my own. I love diving into that insular space, creatively distilling the subtle voices of my subconscious…
What was it like working with your producer-husband, Rick Parker on “Echoes Of The Dreamtime”?
We have a system that works pretty well, occasional arguments aside. This time out, we recorded each song as a performance, starting with me playing guitar and singing at the same time and building around that, vs. tracking live with a rhythm section. So there is a cohesive and intimate performance behind each song, ideally capturing the vibe and sentiment.
Who are some of your favorite musicians?
Then: Sandy Denny, Bert Jansch, Neil Young, Bob Dylan, Joni Mitchell, Jackson Browne, John Lennon, Paul Simon, Leonard Cohen, Joan Baez. Now: Kevin Parker, Laura Marling, Natasha Kahn
Who would you love to work with in the future?
Jonathan Wilson, Ethan Johns, Tame Impala, Sean Lennon, Norah Jones, Ryley Walker, Sia, Max Martin
What do you hope is the message of your music? What do you hope listeners take away from your songs?
This may sound a bit lofty, but I want the people to have a reflective, contemplative and transcendent experience. It is my hope that they identify deeply with some of the themes, and are inspired in someway. We all get caught up in the day-to-day details of life, the drudgery, the chores, and the mundane. But within us all exists passion, magic, mystery, love and excitement. Many of the songs on Echoes of the Dreamtime are about connecting to that part of existence. Music in general can be that catalyst; it is my intent is to have a small hand in that experience.