During quarantine, many people have tons more time on their hands to turn inward. To help combat coronavirus-induced anxiety, some are picking up meditation, learning yoga or spicing up their reading with self-help books.
Dallas songwriter Ward Richmond’s way ahead of the self-improvement curve. The former partyer-turned-yogi broaches personal growth and meditation in his catchy new single “Smile,” which was released in May.
Richmond’s entire upcoming album, the aptly titled Highly Meditated, tackles some pretty under-the-radar topics in the pop music world like Zen, yoga, chakras and inner transformation. But Richmond insists he's no Dalai Lama.
“I was in panic mode for the first two weeks [of quarantine], just freaking the fuck out,” he relays with a laugh over Zoom. “So I don’t want to sound like I’m some Zen master.”
Zen master or not, Richmond’s lived one decidedly interesting life. In college, he and Dallas music fixture John Pedigo created cow punk trio Slick 57. Later, the two founded honky-tonk band Boys Named Sue, snagging themselves some Dallas Observer Music Awards along the way.
Then at 27, Richmond says he stopped waiting tables at the AllGood Cafe in Deep Ellum and kickstarted a new passion: commercial real estate. And the man’s good at it. He’s earned accolades and even tucked some real estate broker awards under his cowboy belt.
Richmond says he wanted to rediscover music after some serious life hang-ups. For much of his adult life, he says he was an alcoholic. So at the end of December 2015, he decided to snuff his hard-partying ways and start down the road to recovery. Quitting booze actually proved to be a gateway of sorts. After rehab, Richmond says, he began devouring self-help books and signed up for yoga teacher training.
Armed with a brand new outlook, Richmond says life was starting to look up. Then, he got slapped with some difficult news: His young daughter was diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes. One month later, he learned his niece has Temple Syndrome, a rare genetic disease.
Soon after that, Richmond says, he picked up his guitar and “the songs started writing themselves.”
“If you listen to all the first 10 albums I did, the theme is getting fucked up — it’s like freedom and drinking and partying,” he says. “But now I had all this new content flowing out of me.”
For the last couple of months in lockdown, Richmond says he’s tried to remain as productive as possible. He filmed the video for his first single, “Everything,” during isolation and is considering following suit with other key cuts.
Richmond recorded Highly Meditated with producer Beau Bedford (Texas Gentlemen, Paul Cauthen) at Modern Electric. Nearly every track on the 10-song album is a certifiable banger, but “Smile” is one of the LP’s best. The single boasts a Wavves-esque hook, with Americana, garage and indie pop influences all fusing into one righteous, high-octave groove.
“I want to live by the ocean in Hawaii,” Richmond sings, clear as a bell. “I want to die on a mountain when I’m 90 / With everybody I know meditating all around me / So I can feel all the love that surrounds me / I want to feel all the love that surrounds me.”
Richmond plans to drop Highly Meditated digitally via streaming services on his birthday, June 26. Plus, half of the proceeds from streaming and album sales will go toward the United Negro College Fund.
While in quarantine, Richmond has also begun writing his memoir, Drunken Alchemy, in which he touches on sports, music, business, spirituality and recovery.
Richmond says he hopes his art will help people get through tough times, like the self-help gurus he turned to at his lowest.
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And for a dude who doesn’t admit to being a Zen master, Richmond sure seems pretty enlightened.
“I used to look at life like there was this goal to always hit: I want to get this real estate award, or I want to get a DOMA,” Richmond says with a smile. “But it’s not the award or the record — it’s the process of getting there.”
Listen to "Smile" below: