Interview: Kim Richey on “Every New Beginning”

Credit: Stacie Hukeba

Why writing songs and making demos is a fun thing to do even after 30 years.

Anybody who takes an interest in country, americana and folk will have at least come across Kim Richey’s name in the credits of various albums due to this Grammy-nominated singer-songwriter’s prolific songwriting and vocal session work. She has written No. 1 hits for Radney Foster and Trisha Yearwood and sung with or had her songs covered by everyone from Jason Isbell to Patty Loveless, including Americana UK favourite Chuck Prophet. She also maintains her own nearly thirty-year career as a recording artist and she is about to release her latest album, ‘Every New Beginning’. Americana UK’s Martin Johnson caught up with Kim Richey at her home in East Nashville over Zoom to discuss ‘Every New Beginning’ and getting back together with producer and musician Doug Lancio. Kim Richey explains that she keeps her recording and songwriting careers separate in that she doesn’t write specifically for any particular album, rather she and her producer will pick from her store of songs those songs that are the best fit for a particular recording.  She is also a serial collaborator and she shares details of her new songwriting relationship with East Nashville neighbour Aaron Lee Tasjan, and she lets slip that a song she wrote with Aaron Lee Tasjan and Chuck Prophet will appear on the new record Chuck Prophet is working on.

‘Every New Beginning’ is your 10th album, and you are a major songwriter for other artists, a vocal influence on others, and have two Grammy nominations, why do you keep doing it?

I don’t really know. The business has changed so much since I started out, this could be my last record but I’m not sure. I love writing songs, I love being in a studio recording, and I love playing in front of people, but all the other stuff I have to do now I don’t love so much.  The social media stuff seems like it is just me, me, me all the time and I’m not that interested in myself that much, and I have other interests I like to do. I’m not sure how good an idea a career change is at 67, we’ll see.

As long as you are still enjoying yourself.

Yeah, I think so, it just gets harder. Travel wears you out because I’m not in a bus, or anything, these days, I’m just driving around in a car or a van, so it wears you out physically as well, I think. There’s also always that thing where I’m afraid I would miss it so much if I didn’t do it. Who knows, maybe I’d find something I’d love as much. I do enjoy the music bits and I love that I’ve met so many really, really great and nice people just doing this over the years, and also I love the travel. I would never have gone to London, or any of the places I’ve gone, places like people would go to visit on holiday, those places are fantastic, and travelling around in a car I see lots of places where you would never go if you were going on vacation or something like that. All these little towns I didn’t even know existed, and you find all these cool restaurants and weird little hotels. I love all that, discovering new things.

You have ten new songs on the album which is the size of an old style album. How important was that for you?

We kept it to ten songs because that’s all we had money for, honestly. It costs a lot of money to record, and we were originally going to record eleven songs, and then one just wasn’t going well. I thought ten songs is good, better ten songs than eleven with ten good songs and one urgh song. Maybe that’s good because I don’t think attention spans are getting longer these days, they are getting shorter

You seem very comfortable co-writing. What do you get from that shared process?

I love collaborating. I started taking my songwriting seriously when I moved to Nashville, that’s kind of the Nashville way is to write with other people. I didn’t do the Nashville thing where you write for a publisher, though I did write for a publisher at first. They hook you up with somebody you’ve never met before, it’s like a blind date, and you sit in a room with all the inspiration of a cubicle or an office or something, and you are there from 10:00 ‘til 2:00 and you are meant to come up with a song. That never worked for me at all. I met some people that I really got on with, and when I meet people I really like writing with I stick with them, or some new people I’ve written with like Aaron Lee Tasjan on this record. He was my across-the-alley neighbour, I live in East Nashville and I’d heard he was over there and I thought he was really great. We met at a Bluebird show one time, and I asked him if he wanted to come over sometime and write, and he did. That’s pretty much how I operate now, I don’t write nearly as much now as I used to because I’m not home as much now.

What was it like working with Aaron Lee Tasjan?

He’s one of my most favourite people ever, I love him to bits. The first time he came over I didn’t know what to expect, and he’s a little intimidating to me because he is so good and he’s always looking really cool, a snappy dresser, and I’d see him across the way there in the alley, and I’d be like, there’s Aaron Lee Tasjan. When he came over I didn’t know what to expect and we had the best time, he’s so dang funny aside from being super talented. We’ve written a couple of songs since, and he introduced me to Brian Wright who I love, and those two came over the other day and we did a live recording of ‘A Way Around’ that the three of us wrote together, and at one point I almost had to make them go home because my stomach hurt from laughing.

The songs on ‘Every New Beginning’ are quite varied. Do you just grab songs as they come along?

Yeah, I think with this album the songs are really different. Some of the songs are older songs, because when I first started out all I did was write all the time, I wasn’t touring like I am now, and I’ve never written for a specific project, and I know that’s how some people work, I’ve got to make a record so I’ll write however many songs for the record. I just wrote constantly because I enjoy doing it so much and it is an excuse to hang out with my friends. So, I’ve got a huge back catalogue of songs to pick from, so when I’m making a record I just like to pick songs that speak to me at that point. ‘Chase Wild Horses’  on ‘Edgeland’ I wrote a long, long time ago with my friend Mike Henderson and it wasn’t something I wanted to say at the time, and when I got older it was like I get this song now. So, I have older songs to draw on and newer songs that are inspired by what’s going on now in my life,

You’ve released some songs already, as is the way these days for steaming.

It’s so funny, they call them singles and I have to put quotes around that whenever I write it, they are just tracks from my album. I see that as kind of marketing so I leave it to the label, but I have total input on that, I’ll say that a particular song is doing well when I play live so maybe think about it, and ask them what they think, so it’s a back and forth, but I definitely have the last say so on what goes out.

What’s behind ‘Joy Rider”?

That’s Aaron Lee again. This was during stay-at-home COVID time, and where I live is a really small house and the windows face the sidewalk in a block-long street in East Nashville neighbourhood, and during COVID it was like my window to the world because I met all my neighbours walking with their dogs and their kids. There was this kid who rode around on a mini-bike, like a really loud mini-bike, and he’d pass by every so often, and I remember thinking you might think urgh there goes that kid again making all that noise, but when he rode by the kid didn’t give a damn. You could tell, he was out there, COVID smovid, I’m on my bike I don’t care about anything. He’s blasting by, sometimes he’s topless and he had red hair just sticking up all over the place. If I heard him coming I’d run out and look, it’s the kid, and he’d go zooming by.

When Aaron and I got together I had a little chorus worked up and I said what if we write a song about the kid and call it ‘Joy Rider’ because that’s kind of how I thought about the kid. We had so much fun writing the song. I’ve never met the kid, and he doesn’t know he has his own theme song, and a couple of months ago there was like a little street fair and I checked it out. When I was coming home and I was standing on the curb waiting to cross the street and a guy came up and stood beside me, and then I heard vroom vroom and I looked down the way there and went, oh that’s cool that’s the kid because you don’t see him that often. So he comes by, and this guy and I are just standing on the curb and as soon as the kid passes us by his back turns and he flips us off, he just gives us the finger. We both cracked up laughing so hard, and the guy told me he was so glad someone was there to share that with him. So, that’s the kid.

Why did you use the demo version of ‘Floating On The Surface’?

We tried to record it, and I wrote that with my friend Roger Nicols and it was the first time we got together and he has his own studio. I got a record by a band from your way when I was in Spain, they’re called Ultimate Painting and they may have broken up now, I rocked up to a record store and they were playing it and I was like, what’s that, kind of old school. I bought the album and loved it, and they had this song which was really simple with just the drummer and guitar player, and they had this guitar lick. When I went to Roger’s I played him the song and said why don’t we just try to write something over the top of a lick, and I can’t do that when I’m writing by myself because I’m just a strummer. So we did, and we had a blast writing it because there was no pressure, it wasn’t like we were writing it for an album or anything, we were just making a good demo.

Roger played everything, he programmed the drums and I sang all the parts, and I love singing all the harmony parts so that was fun for me, and I played some percussion. It sat for a long time because picking songs for a new record I pick with the producer, so we pick songs we both want to do and that wasn’t one anyone got on board with before Doug,  So, we picked that as one of the songs to record and when we were in the studio Doug said we should stick pretty close to the demo, and the guys did that but we couldn’t get it to work. We couldn’t get it to where we liked it, Doug tried mixing it a bunch of different times but we couldn’t get it to where we liked it better than the demo. We tried putting live drums on it but that just messed it up, we tried changing the vocal but that just messed it up, but it’s a demo. It’s funny because a song I wrote with Radney Foster which went to number one was a demo too, ‘Nobody Wins’. So you never know, when someone says it’s just a demo there’s no such thing as just a demo even if you don’t use it on an album that’s what people hear, and they don’t hear what you’re hearing in your head how it’s going to turn out. That’s your one chance to present the song.

Is this the first time you’ve worked with Doug Lancio?

No, we’ve kind of done stuff over the years, every once in a while we recorded a song and stuff, and then he produced and played everything, programmed drums, apart from flugelhorn on a record I did called ‘Long Way Back: The Songs of Glimmer’ which was a revisit of the songs on ‘Glimmer’. I loved everything he did on that, and Doug is just fantastic and he’s easy to work with, and I like him a lot. That’s why I asked him to do this record with me, he’s so talented I’m just happy we got to make a couple of records together.

Neilson Hubbard is on the album, it’s a wonder he gets time to sleep.

I know, he’s busy.

Did you see a difference between working with a full band and the simple arrangement of ‘Floating On The Surface’?

When you’re making an album in the studio with musicians there are time constraints. So that would be the biggest difference, and when Roger and I were working in his studio we took probably a couple of days on that song because we could, but that’s not the way people are working so much anymore because of the cost unless you have your own studio, and then you can do that. The last record I made like that was ‘Rise’ which I made with Bill Bottrell, and we were writing and recording in the studio because he was the producer and he played stuff and it was his studio. I love being able to work that way and I really, really enjoy it. I’m not fast, I’m not fast at songwriting or anything like that, so I like to take my time and get the best possible song or recording and arrangement I can.

You are an inspiration to younger artists, but who are your own musical heroes, particularly songwriters?

Joni Mitchell, I’m a Joni Mitchell kind of person, and also Karla Bonoff, I loved her too in college. She’s a good sad song person too, and I love her songwriting, and Joni Mitchell really inspired me to write, I think. Yeah, Joni Mitchell would be my main person. It’s funny when I was growing people I listened to were like Jackson Browne, who I love, and I got to see him a couple of years ago, I’d never seen him, and when he started singing I started crying. I think I’m drawn to the melancholy side of things a lot, Jackson Browne and Joni Mitchell, but then one of my most favourite people is Tom Petty, I love Tom Petty’s music. Carole King, I remember when the album ‘Tapestry’ was out I was maybe in junior high school or something, and I used to babysit for these people who had that album and I would just play it over and over and over again and sing along. So, those would be my influences, I think.

Do you have a favourite cover version of one of your songs?

Yes, Patty Loveless, who I just think is one of the best singers ever on the planet, and it is so great to have her cover a song. She did ‘That’s Exactly What I Mean’ and I got to sing on it. A lot of times when people cover songs, especially if I haven’t recorded them already, they just kind of copy the demo, but she made that song her own in a way that I loved. So, I would have to say, Patty Loveless. A song I wrote with Chuck Prophet that he recorded first called ‘Pin a Rose on Me’, I love his version of that too. I always tell people to go listen to Chuck’s version.

He’s an interesting artist, he’s continued to develop over the years as a performer and songwriter.

I love him to bits too, he’s one of my most favourite people. That was one of the good things when my publisher was hooking me up with other writers, they introduced me to Chuck years and years ago, and we became good friends and we still write together. He’s got a song that Aaron Lee, me and Chuck wrote that’s going to be on his record, he’s working on a new record. Chuck came into town and the three of us spent a couple of days writing.

Retirement sounds a long way off. Are you looking forward to the tour in May?

Yes, and we’re working on coming back again in November because we didn’t get to a lot of the places I wanted to get to and we’re just putting that together now. I’ll be over there as well when the record comes out, so that will be fun. On some of the dates, at least half of them I think, Carla J Easton, who is an artist from Glasgow, will be joining me with Paul Kelly her guitar player. While I’m touring on some of the shows it will be me and guitarist Luke Brighty who’s from there, and when Luke can’t join me then Carla and Paul will join me for five or six songs at the end of my set. So, that’s what we’ve got going on for May.

At AUK, we like to share music with our readers. What are three of your favourite tracks, albums or artists on your playlists?

You know, I’m kind of all across the shop with stuff that I listen to, but recently I was listening to Stevie Winwood and Traffic. Do you know he lives in Nashville?

Yes, I think he has a farm in Nashville and a country estate in Gloucestershire in the UK.

He’s crazy talented, and the last big concert I went to was Stevie Winwood and Tom Petty which was just a dream for me. So, I listen to that and I’ve also been listening to Beyoncé’s new record like everybody else on the planet. That’s the most recent things I’ve been listening to. I don’t know Beyoncé’s music that well, but I did see her at Glastonbury when she played there, and she is a star, it was amazing, especially for someone who’s not that familiar with her music. We were touring out on the West Coast and I was driving along, and I’d never listened to ‘Lemonade’ so I was listening to that. That’s my new thing when driving I’m going to study some more on her. I think her voice is incredible and the production is amazing because where I come from in country, americana, and folk it is pretty linear, and that production has lots of different elements going on, and it changes all the time. It is just really interesting to me, so I’ve been studying on that a bit.

Finally, do you want to say anything to our UK readers?

I can’t wait to come back and play for y’all and see my friends. We’ve already sold out Glasgow so I’m really looking forward to playing there, and it’s Carla’s home town so that’s going to be a really fun show. I’m really looking forward to being back over, it is like a second home to me.

Kim Richey’s ‘Every New Beginning’ is released on 24th May by Yep Roc Records.

Kim Richey’s 2024 UK Tour

May 15 – London, UK – Green Note
May 16 – Swindon, UK – The Old Stables, Cricklade
May 18 – London, UK – Half Moon, Putney
May 19 – Bristol, UK – Bristol Folk House
May 20 – Aberdeen, UK – The Blue Lamp
May 23 – Glasgow, UK – Glad Cafe
May 24 – Newcastle upon Tyne, UK – The Cluny 2
May 25 – York, UK – Newbald Village Hall
May 26 – Birmingham, UK – Birmingham Kitchen Garden

About Martin Johnson 402 Articles
I've been a music obsessive for more years than I care to admit to. Part of my enjoyment from music comes from discovering new sounds and artists while continuing to explore the roots of American 20th century music that has impacted the whole of world culture.
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