Over the course of eight albums, singer-songwriter Kim Richey has covered a lot of musical territory. Her first three albums for Mercury were gentle, indie country. Since then she has recorded in a variety of settings including an orchestrated album produced by Giles Martin (the son of famed Beatles producer George Martin). Richey just released a new album titled “Edgeland.” The Weekender spoke to Richey over the phone as she was preparing to tour for her new album.
Your new album has a nice, shimmering sound, kind of a contrast to your last album, “Thorn In My Heart,” which was a basic acoustic record.
That’s Brad Jones. It was a blast working with him. Normally I’ve had one backing band and you do all the backing tracks. This time we had three different groups of people that played on the record then some other people came back in to overdub and stuff.
I saw your labelmates from Yep Roc—Robyn Hitchcock and Chuck Prophet—made guest appearances.
Yeah we woke Robyn up and got him out of bed to come over and play a sleepy solo on one of the songs. I love him, he’s a great fellow. We recorded in Nashville. So many people have moved to Nashville. Robyn’s there, Pat Sansone is there. The only import was Chuck Prophet. We had him come in from San Francisco, where he lives. Everybody else already lived there. It’s a pretty rich area, there’s a lot to draw from.
Your first album from 1995 still sounds very fresh, not dated like a lot of country albums from that time.
When I started out, I was so fortunate because I had Mercury records who always let me do whatever I wanted to do. They didn’t even interfere with my song choice. They gave me plenty of rope to hang myself with. I remember with my first record we had been in the studio for a few days ... usually the label is all over you, wanting to hear something. I called up Luke Lewis [head of Mercury Nashville] and I said, “you guys know we’re in here making a record, right?” and he said, “yeah we’re just waiting on you to invite us over.” I think I had a pretty unusual experience starting out. I also had a publisher that was the same—they never tried to make me write in a certain way, or say, “try to write this stuff that’s on the radio.” They were super supportive. They just said do what you do, that’s why we signed you.
That may explain why you’ve been able to have a nice long career instead of a fast rise and fall.
I’m just kind of motoring along. I’ve been able to make the type of records that I wanted to make, which is really great. The music’s the most important thing to me, and not trying to fit into some box. I think people don’t know what to make of me a lot of times. Each record’s pretty different, which is fine with me.
How has your songwriting changed over the years?
The very first record, when you’re staring out, you’re more concerned with writing songs that somebody else would want to cut. As you start making more records, that’s less important. The more important thing is to write a good song, always, but to say things that are important to me. I have a song on the record called “Not For Money Or Love.” That’s a song about my father. That’s not a song that anybody else is going to want to cut, but it’s a song that’s really important to me.
That’s the story of my father. He died when I was two. My mom was pregnant with my sister at the time, so it was a pretty awful thing. I’ve never written about it, but I was sitting with my friend Harry Hookey, an Australian fellow, and we’d written a song the day before and we were sitting around playing some music and trying to figure out what to do the next day. All of a sudden the first line of the song, “I was a young man the day that I drowned. I was married with one on the way.” just popped into my head. So I thought, alright I guess I’m writing it. Once I started, it was really easy to write that song. My cousin on my dad’s side had just given me a clipping from the newspaper of the story about my dad dying. It wasn’t mysterious, but they never knew quite what happened. He was with some people on a boat and one guy decided to swim back to shore and then my dad decided to swim back to shore. One guy made it and my dad didn’t.
You’ve had other artists record your songs.
Mostly they’ve heard them on my albums that I put out and then they went ahead and recorded them. “Believe Me Baby (I Lied)” [Trisha Yearwood]—that we had the number one with, I never recorded that song other than the demo.
Who are some of the other artists who have recorded your songs?
Brooks and Dunn did “Every River.” Mindy McCready did a song off my first record [“You’ll Never Know”]. Patty Loveless, which is one of my favorites, cut a song that was on my first record [“That’s Exactly What I Mean”] and Mary Chapin Carpenter and I got to sing on it. I love Patty Loveless, her singing is just amazing, so that was pretty cool. Sometimes people copy the song, or the demo, pretty much note for note and what I loved about Patty Loveless was she made it her own in a super cool way.
Are you touring with a band this time?
I’m in a trio. I have an electric guitar player and I also have a bass player and they both sing. So we can make a pretty good noise with the three of us. I always like playing at Jammin Java, too. The people in that area are some of my oldest fans, so it’s almost like home away from home for me to play there. It’s a great music place.