As is the case with artists such as Emmylou Harris, Nanci Griffith, Mary Chapin Carpenter and Mary Gauthier, Kim Richey writes songs that just sort of transcends all talk of gender, age and whether or not youíre from Nashville. Her new album Wreck Your Wheels features help from Matthew Ryan and Neilson Hubbard along side a team of great players, and as she prepares for her UK tour starting this Monday, we caught up with Kim for a chat about writing hit songs, hanging out with George Martinís son and never sticking with the Nashville way of doing things.
Interview by Soren McGuire
Hi Kim. Tell us about the songwriting for Wreck Your Wheels
The songs are from a lot of different times. I never write specifically for one record, I just write all the time. There are people who can do that, write songs specifically for a record and then just stop when theyíre done and not start again untill they have to write another record. But I canít do that. I just write whenever I have the chance to. I recorded the record in Nashville, and it was really fun to do. I worked with my touring band from he Chinese Boxes tour, and Neilson Hubbard, who was also the musical director for my touring band, produced the record.
How do you think working with your own touring band affected the outcome?
Weíve spent so much time playing together, so when youíre in a studio recording an album, you play differently. The studio we worked in on this record was so tiny that there wasnít room for an isolation booth for the guitar amp. We had to pull up Neilsonís car to the studio and put the guitar amp in there and close the doors. It was a really small space, so for the most parts we were in the room together at the same time, and when youíve played so much with people on tour, thereís a certain communication there. At one point, the three guys were in one room playing and I was running the board and singing in the other room. That was our isolation right there. We donít use a click or anything like that, so you really needed to tune in on each other when you play.
Neilson Hubbard rose to fame over here when he worked with Matthew Ryan a few years back on the Strays Never Sleeps project. Can you tell us more about Neilson?
Neilson works really hard. Heís always working on something. The first time I met him was when he produced a record for Glen Phillips who was in that band, Toad The Wet Sprocket. Glen asked me to come sing on the record, and that was the first time I met Neilson. Itís really fun working with him. Heís just a kind and sweet person whoís open to everyoneís ideas, so it was really more of a cooperative thing instead of him just being the producer and telling everyone on the studio what to do. He plays as well. Some producers come from a technician background, but Neilsonís a musician himself, so he has a different perspective on things. †He played and sang on the record as well.
Some of these songs have sort of a sad ring to them. What do they say about you?
Theyíre little snapshots of whatís going on in my life at the time when theyíre written. The lyric of the song and the music of the song always catches some sort of time period for me, but also, when I play these songs later on, I can always remember how I felt when I wrote them. They bring you back to a certain place when I hear them and I remember where I was, who I was working with, what I was listening to and so on. †Itís never the same old thing.
Without getting too personal, do they tell the story of a songwriter in a happy place in her life? Or is it the opposite?
Well, the thing is, by the time people hear this record, Iíll be in another place. Some of these songs have maybe been around for a couple of years or so. But to answer your question, some of these songs are very personal and some are more inspired by the person I wrote them with. I donít know if it says anything about me as a whole, cause theyíre very different songs. I donít think the record has a sad feel to it or a happy feel to it. Theyíre like the best movies Ė they have a bit of everything.
Youíve lived in Nashville, but you gave up trying to become the Next Big Thing on Music Row at an early point in your career, and you once said that you had grown estranged with the business aspect of your career. Have you always felt better not doing things the ĒnormalĒ way?
Yeah, Iíve lived in Nashville for a long time, but I havenít really followed that path. The first guy I worked with, Richard Bennett, I sought him out because he had worked on Steve Earleís records, and I was a huge Steve Earle fan. Richard and I decided that we wanted to work together, so we went and talked to labels together. If someone was going to sign me, I wasnít going to make a record if I couldnít make it with Richard. You know, I havenít had a normal career. I was signed so late, when I was 37 and thatís when I made my first record, and I was left completely alone in the studio and I always have been. I donít think that happens so often these days. I didnít have anyone telling me which songs to record and how to sing them. But thatís how I wanted to do things, so they let me do it. But the music buisness is kind of all over the map these days, so I donít even think there is a normal way of doing things any more.
Do you ever regret not just sticking with the Nashville way of doing things? I made a conscious decision at one point not to do that. When I was touring my first album, I had written this song called Believe Me, Baby I Lied. We hadnít recorded it, we just played it, and Trisha Yearwoodís people kept calling me up saying Ēwe want that songĒ. I said no cause I was planning on recording it, but† one night I went to the Station Inn in Nashville and saw Gillian Welch and David Rawlings play. And thatís when it occured to me that that was what I wanted to do, play music that I would be proud of and not something I thought might be a big hit on the radio. So I called the other two people I had written the song with and said Ēletís let it go, cause itís not a song I want to sing over and over again every night for the rest of my life.Ē It went to number one for Trisha, so we made some money off it as well. But thatís when I decided I wouldnít go the Nashville country radio way.
So you donít regret not keeping that song for yourself either?
No. I mean, itís a good song, but itís not something that really means a lot to me. Itís more of a good, commercial song. Making something Iím proud of means a lot more to me than being famous.
You spend a lot of time in London. What is this attracts you with our great capital?
Five or six years ago, I started going over there. My album, Glimmer, was recorded over there, and Giles Martin (son of Beatles legend George Martin) is a† good friend of mine. I just kept going over there, spending more and more time, meeting a lot of new people, and I just reached a point where I would miss London and miss my friends when I wasnít there.
Is it very different playing with British musicians than Nashville musicians?
I guess it is different, because the people Iíve played with in the UK arenít really country. They havenít grown up on country music, theyíre not country music fans, so their references arenít country or bluegrass. They come at it from a different angle. But a lot of times, the people Iíve played with in Nashville didnít come from a country music background either. If you grow up on it, you have a different take on playing it I think, but I never listened to country music either before I started writing songs myself.
Kim Richeyís Wreck Your Wheels is out now. Go to Kimrichey.com for more info and tour dates.