By Jim Schutze
By Rachel Watts
By Lauren Drewes Daniels
By Anna Merlan
By Lee Escobedo
By Alice Laussade
By Scott Reitz
The Herethereafter is a detailed and heavily produced album, and it took just less than a year of careful work to assemble. "We're all perfectionists," says Richards of the team that assembled it (a roster of some of L.A.'s most respected, if not most popularly recognized, musicians), "and I'm not even one to the extent that some of the other people are. I really wanted each song to be kind of a perfect, finished piece. Of course, they're not," she says with a laugh, "but we did pay a lot of attention to the elements as they came together, like what was going where. We were able to add a lot of stuff in the mix and decide what was working and what wasn't."
The bulk of their post-recording time, Richards reports, was spent subtracting, and so The Herethereafter went through a number of significant changes before it achieved its final form.
"Since we spent almost a year on it, from songwriting to release, a lot of things changed several times. One thing was, we ended up with way too much...just too much stuff on each track, effects and overdubs and that kind of thing. Even our producer [Rick Parker, who also plays on the album and in Richards' live show] kept putting more things in, and I'd be saying, 'Please, stop, it's finished!' even though it was actually a lot of fun to try out. So by the time we got to where we were mixing it, we were essentially editing, taking out a lot of elements. The strings were the very last part to get added, and they're what really changed the sound of the record, I think."
The final product recalls Richards' mention of "plugged-in folk"; though the album was carefully (and very audibly) crafted, The Herethereafter maintains a freewheeling spontaneity in its performances throughout that keeps it from sounding too tightly controlled.
Of course, solid production values are a moot point when the music itself is pedestrian. But Richards, happy to report, is a confident and skillful songwriter, a talent honed by years playing and performing around the Los Angeles scene.
"I never really had a steady live performance schedule. I would just get up with different people when I could," she says. A vocal stint with the Brian Jonestown Massacre in 1997 brought her a somewhat higher profile, and she eventually contributed songs to two BJM releases, Give it Back and Bringing it All Back Home Again. As the central creative force on her debut album, however, Richards stands or falls on her own merits, and The Herethereafter succeeds largely by virtue of her considerable songwriting skill.
Perhaps because so many of her recent endeavors have been centered around notions of "space," Richards finds herself acutely aware of the places through which she's moving these days. She's on her first extended tour, picking up new vibes in new places; and, as a transplanted San Franciscan--having moved to Los Angeles in 1995, just before her 21st birthday--she finds herself newly receiving unique benefits from both cities.
She thinks for a moment. "That was really an important part of moving to L.A., for me. Being able to do other jobs while I was getting my music together. In San Francisco I was going to have to work at a clothing store or something.
"L.A. is really fun in its own right," she continues. "It's a major city, which makes it a lot more cosmopolitan, and of course everyone who lives there or moves there is bringing their own art and culture to it. And because the rents are cheap, it brings in a lot of young people, so everyone's trying out lots of different things, and there are a lot more ways to make money. But if you are genuinely focused and you're trying to make something happen in the entertainment business, it's really the only place to be.
"But the two cities are so different," she continues emphatically. "San Francisco has a lot of soul and character; its public transportation system is still in effect, and you can walk everywhere if you want. There's a whole intellectual scene that's unique to the area. Los Angeles mainly runs on the entertainment-capital-of-the-world thing, but in San Francisco when you're out in the city you'll see little kids, and old people, and all different kinds of people, which is 'real life,' you know? In Los Angeles...not so much. People in San Francisco in general are very soulful; the city kind of has a better vibe in the air, more electric. Like a lot of coastal cities have, I think. You get the wind in off the ocean, all that energy..."
She trails off, considering other spaces. "It makes a huge difference in the feel. So open."