I've had this conversation with friends before - how has the American Dream changed with the shift of power to the Millennial generation? Gone (for the most part) are the aspirations for a family in a nice suburban home and retiring by 65. What's replaced those "desires" is unclear, but more times than not, the updated version revolves around chasing a "dream." Or better yet, a calling. All that to be said, it's easier said than done to uproot oneself from a cushy gig in a top-tier city in order to chase a calling. Because, again, that old idea of the American Dream is a slow eroding corinthian column of society, and it'll be here longer than it probably should. But nevertheless, people go for it. People chase their dreams, they find their callings, no matter what the risk. People like Becca Richardson, who moved to Nashville from an enviable San Francisco tech gig in order to pursue her true calling as a musician/performer. In the couple years she's been in Nashville, things look to be paying off in spades, and she's that much closer to reaching her true calling. Her new record, We Are Gathered Here releases next week, October 6th.
Now/It's met with Becca Richardson at Barista Parlor, near the Five Points neighborhood of East Nashville.
N/I - Well how are you? How was your show last night?
Becca - It was great! I’m a little bit discombobulated - because I’m tired - we were out pretty late. But it went really well, the turnout was good, and it was a fun show.
N/I - So was that the official release show for Nashville?
Becca - It started out with that show being the album release, but then I met with PR and my distributor and they said we shouldn’t release the album that early, but the show was already booked, and it was being marketed as the release show already, so I kind of turned it into the Nashville CD Release, since I have digital copies. So I sold those last night at the show, but the album itself isn’t available digitally or anything.
N/I - Right. So it’s almost like the “Becca Richardson fan club exclusive show” or something like that.
Becca - Exactly. Because I was like “Aw, shit. We still need to do the show and make it special somehow.” So we morphed it into that [laughs].
N/I - Well that’s good. I’m sure it keeps you on your toes.
Becca - Yeah.
N/I - So since you’ve only put the physical CD out to a handful of people, have you gotten a ton of feedback on the record?
Becca - It’s been done for a while, so a decent amount of people have heard it already, but it’s mostly been industry people that we’ve sent it to, and the feedback has been good. I released “Wanted,” which was the first single, and Lightning 100 has started playing it. So that’s always good.
N/I - Oh yeah. You’re the local artist of the week.
Becca - Yeah. So that’s been really good. We do have some more articles coming out, which will be good. I think it’s going to be in Paste, on the Daily Dose segment. So that will be cool. Michelle [King, publicist] has been doing a lot of work on her end, as far as getting it out there.
N/I - That’s always good.
Becca - Totally. It’s been an interesting process, because I’ve always done so much on my own, and this is my first project where I have this team of people helping me put it out. So it’s definitely a learning experience.
N/I - Has it been a learning experience in the sense that you don’t necessarily have to micromanage every single aspect yourself?
Becca - Exactly. It’s really nice, because I just can’t have expertise in all of these different things, so having Michelle - who knows how to do that world - and One RPM is distributing it, so having them in on that end and dealing with the marketing side is really helpful. As an indie artist, you can’t do all of it. You can try to do all of it, but….
N/I - Every single aspect becomes a “trial by fire” type of scenario I would imagine.
Becca - Right. Right.
N/I - And how long has that been going on? The general “push.”
Becca - For the record? We’re kind of in the middle of our record release campaign. I released one single, and the next single comes out the 25th of August. We’re still working on that premiere, we don’t know who’s going to premiere it yet. Then the album is going to come out October 6th.
N/I - Okay. Cool. And how long has that release date for the album been set?
Becca - We kind of just decided on that recently. We really decided it two weeks ago, because we were just going to do a barebones campaign, but the more I talked to Michelle and with other people involved with the record, they were all like “Why don’t we do a bigger thing?” I was really just planning on using this team to release “Wanted,” but then we all decided to do a three month cycle instead. So it was all really two weeks ago that we decided to push it all back.
N/I - So what were the respective or collective modes of reasoning?
Becca - I think we all just wanted more time, specifically Michelle. We decided it might not be great to release the record in one fell swoop. That was what I had originally planned on doing, because I don’t have a huge budget to keep people on retainer for months and months while working for me. So I was like “Why don’t we just do a “Wanted” premiere somewhere, I’ll have a minimal budget for a release and then put the album out.” Basically just create a little bit of buzz and then put the album out. I had gotten some advice from managers that all suggested that approach as an option if money was as readily available, it was another thing to do. Then, once we were talking about it more - One RPM, they do a big push for playlisting on Spotify and Apple Music, and they were like “We would love to have more time, because the more time in between singles, the repetition of reaching out to curators has more context.
N/I - Having one unified thing to push out to all the curators is more advantageous than going to each of them individually with different songs. You’re basically heightening your odds.
Becca - Right. It’s very relationship based. It’s whatever is catching on people’s radars. Maybe if they hear my name twice, or three times before the record comes out, as opposed to just once. It’s all their business approach, because I was just thinking I had new music and I’d put it out whenever. These songs have been done since January, so they’ve been in limbo for a while.
N/I - And how has that been for you? Having the songs finished for as long as they have been.
Becca - It’s been interesting. I’ve heard from other artists that once you’ve finished something, you just want it to be out there, because the whole process of making the music and making this record is a really long process, so you’re involved so much that when it’s ready, you just want to move past it. So no I have to do all the work to put it out, but I’m learning from having a team that you don’t just take the finished record and throw it out there. You have to do a lot of work and planning and all these things. So that’s been challenging, but it’s also been really good, because it’s given me time, because in this space, I haven’t played a ton of show yet or anything, because the record is still being shopped around. So I do feel like - because I have been working on my musicianship and songwriting - I can just start working on the next record, and write a bunch of more songs and have that space. So that’s what I’ve been doing, and now I’m kind of returning to this record and playing it and putting my mind on it a little bit more before I start recording my next thing.
N/I - So whatever the next project is, is it done on your end?
Becca - I feel like I have a handful of songs that I definitely want to do, but at this point, I’m not thinking about releasing a whole record again. I’m thinking of doing three single and stepping back to see if it’s something. Just exploring this new, evolved sound. That’s basically what I’ve been doing.
N/I - So what defines these new songs as “evolved?” Just the time that’s passed?
Becca - Totally. I moved to Nashville two years ago thinking I would do the whole folk, americana thing.
N/I - Like a little bit of stomp clap and stuff like that?Becca - Yeah! So I came here - and I was living in San Francisco at the time, and that wasn’t a huge thing there, but there was a good songwriter community that did lean toward the folky americana sound - and over the past two years, my tastes have changed, I’ve changed as a person. I was working at Google, in tech, and I was in this world where I was very corporate and trying to be a musician on the side, and dealing with these two different sides of myself that were always very different, always toeing the middle instead of going into really having the space and time to think about who I am as an artist. What am I writing about? What do I want to say? So once I took time to meditate on that - because when I came here, I totally didn’t fit into what Americana and folk is in Nashville.
N/I - How so? You don’t wear Stetsons all the time?
Becca - [Laughs] Yeah. I don’t know. Maybe it’s just like a vibe thing, but I couldn’t see myself functioning within that community. Some of my dear, dear friends are Americana artists - it is Nashville.
N/I - For sure. Don’t let my sarcasm serve as a knock against it, by any means. That’s half the reason why I love being here, but at the same time, when you come to Nashville without at least a few years prior knowledge, it can be a lot to take in.
Becca - Yeah. And I didn’t really know what to expect from Nashville. I visited once before I moved here and I felt a calling to come here, and so I moved on a whim. When I came here, I just started going to open mics, I knew literally nobody, and through all of that, I was like “Okay, I want to take some time away, listen to music, read books; just do things that make me feel inspired by other people’s work. Even outside of music.” I would go to museums, look at art, just go back to all the things that get to the core point of “What is art?” without the pressure of being successful or not. Through all of that, I just started experimenting with more sounds. I had never used synths or electronic instruments, so I started working with that. Then I met Roger Moetnot, who produced this record, and he brought on Courtney Little, who co-produced it. But Roger was just coming off of Adia Victoria’s record, and I met him after that. I was actually singing on some stuff that he was writing, and then he asked me what kind of record I wanted to make, which at the time, I was still pretty loose-y goose-y. I didn’t know, but I had these ideas of what I wanted it to sound like. So we wound up spending a year making the record, and he dedicated a lot of his time to me. We would just go in there and play around with the stuff, and then some of the songs were born there, some songs I would just bring in. I was getting weird cell phone apps that I could make synth loops off of and trying to write songs off of that. Basically, I was just getting out of my chord-y, acoustic guitar stuff.
N/I - Basically a different version of DIY.
Becca - Totally. So going through that experience - getting to spend so much time in the studio - being an indie artist and paying for studio time is basically spending four days in the studio and then you cut your record. That’s it, because that’s all you can afford. But having this opportunity to come in and plunk around with no pressure to finish something really fast was great. It pushed me a lot. I grew so much from that, I feel like I evolved - my horizons were expanded. So that’s why I’m really excited for the next record - I’ve been self producing my own demos, and now I have an understanding of sound from a recording standpoint. I feel like I can have much more of a say on the production.
N/I - Right. That way, you don’t have to lean on other people’s input quite as much.
Becca - Exactly.
N/I - So what does the progression of Becca Richardson’s influences - in terms of musically, culturally, aesthetically - going from San Francisco to Nashville, what does that look like?
Becca - I think that…. In getting older during all of this, I feel like I was kind of diluting myself a little bit in order to try and fit into something. From that, the biggest evolution of myself as an artist is just trusting my own voice, and saying what I want to say and making the sounds I want to make, all the while putting that into my art. I’m done trying to be a carefully curated image of this thing that I think would be successful, and I’ve dialed into that. Granted, I’m still working on it, but I have more confidence in my own voice than the actual truth of that, it connects with people way more than the watered down version that I was trying to make more palatable to everybody.
N/I - Was there any form of unconscious imitation as well?
Becca - Probably. I didn’t study music as much as I do now, and I feel like I want to seek out other females doing interesting stuff, and look at how they’re using sounds and song structures, and things that I really admire. I feel like my focus for a long time was too much on myself - in my own head, which is okay too - but I got to the point of thinking that I need to write a perfect song and figure out how to do that, when in reality, the best songs I’ve ever written just come through me, instead of using the other side of your brain to try and be something.
N/I - Right. You’re not stopping and trying to apply meaning to everything that comes through, necessarily.
Becca - Yeah. And I think Nashville kind of helped me evolve, because I never co-wrote or anything when I got here, and I started doing that and realized how much that was not my pace, because I can’t share my voice with somebody else. So that was hard, because I felt like I was failing at co-writing, because that’s such a big thing here. Luckily, I realized that was dumb, because that’s not what I wanted. That was very liberating in some ways. I’ve discovered a lot of things that I’m not since I’ve been here, so it helps me figure out what I am at the same time.
N/I - Well that’s important with anything, not just songwriting. But when it does come to songwriting - knowing you’re not keen on co-writing - I’d imagine it’s an easy thing to do once you realize it. Then you can just tell someone, “Nah, I’m good.” As opposed to trying to skirt around people’s feelings.
Becca - [Laughs] Totally.
N/I - So who were some of the women that connected with you when you were trying to dive in?
Becca - Well growing up, I was very much a child of the nineties. My first record ever was Alanis Morissette’s Jagged Little Pill, which is very inappropriate for me to have at that age [laughs]. But I have an older sister, and she was really into Alanis, too. So it was Alanis Morissette, Fiona Apple, but then I also loved Whitney Houston and Celine Dion, that whole diva thing, because it was so big too. When I listen to my music now, that stuff comes through, because it’s absolutely become a marriage of the two. But as far as female artists now that I’m super into, I love Angel Olsen, I love Adia Victoria, Mistki, who’s in Brooklyn, basically women that are really speaking truth and not trying to be this image of what a female should be and the “proper woman.” Instead, they play gnarly guitar music and I really respect that. That’s definitely influenced me a lot, to have them as role models, and seeing that that movement is becoming such a thing.
N/I - Sure. There’s little to no pretense in what they write. It’s like you’re saying, it’s obvious there's nothing external commanding how or what they say, with the exception being that they’re not saying they’re going to kill somebody or something; anything inhumane. Otherwise, that’s the way to go. It sounds like things took a little while, but it seems more pervasive all over, and in Nashville, specifically. I would imagine the songwriting culture kind of makes that stuff a little harried as far as co-writes are concerned.
Becca - Oh yeah. I don’t think this is inherent to co-writing, but it’s at least been my experience - if you have a really strong voice, in terms of writing, you’re trying to find common ground with this other person, so you undercut what you want to say sometimes. Also, a lot of the music that I connect with and I write is not “Okay, this is the verse. This is the chorus.” Granted, I do write pop music, it’s not very avant-garde at all, but at the same time, it’s not as mapped out. In my experience in Nashville, it’s still very much the thing. Although, I’ve met some amazing artists that are very centered, and that’s what I connect with, so it’s great to be continually inspired all over town.