March 11th, 2009 | Interviews

dan monick

Download: Miranda Lee Richards “Early November”


(from Light Of X out now on Nettwerk)

Miranda Lee Richards has just finished a residency at Spaceland and has released a new album called Light of X, which comes eight years after her last album and the times in her life when she used to live in a tent. She speaks now after one photo shoot and before another. This interview by Chris Ziegler.

Nico’s favorite tarot card was the four of swords, which represents peace and stillness. What’s your favorite tarot card?
That’s really amazing that was her answer. I didn’t know that but if I were very familiar with the tarot deck, I would probably choose that as well. I know—‘Whoa.’ But I almost never feel grounded and it bothers me. I’m always trying to find peace and stillness and it’s really hard to come by for me. There is also a card of death, but what it really means is change—I really respond to that one as well because I am interested by transformation and expansion.
Nico also said a true artist must self-destruct—what do you think about that?
That one I will choose not to believe. That was probably one of those core beliefs that ended up manifesting for her a little too much. That’s a kind of subconscious thing you want to watch out for. Don’t think that stuff. It’ll become true in your life. That was the word on the street twenty or thirty years ago and I think that ideology has changed. People are looking at it differently now. That used to be what people thought—like Bukowski or all the great artists that were just suffering the whole time. Janis Joplin. People that died. But I think there is new evidence to support the contrary. Artists are very creative so they can create darkness in their life or lightness. And some people feel very powerless over that choice. I know there were times in my life that I’ve felt powerless over it and I have a few songs about it. I think you do have a choice, though. I think if you make a daily choice to find yourself, you’ll be happier. I used to think I needed to suffer to make great art but then you’re just miserable all the time.
Is this why the record is called Light of X?
Yeah—I don’t want to sound—I don’t know. People think I’m pretty upbeat.
Feel free to depress us.
I struggle with that. I have a lot of darkness in me, too, and I don’t want to deny it either. The Pollyanna thing is just downright scary because that’s the denial of any negativity at all. It’s very unbalanced—it’s very odd and I don’t relate to that. Nor do I relate to songs that are so positive they aren’t even speaking to me because they’re just glossing over any sort of reality. And I like being real, too. But I struggle with how much of that to let in. You can literally defeat yourself to the point where you wouldn’t get out of bed in the morning. I haven’t really been there too much. It happened one or two times where I couldn’t handle something really depressing—I think a lot of people have been there at least once. If I could, I would like to be happy but not irritatingly happy.
That’s very considerate of you.
It’s a thank you to the world! I just feel like if you can be peaceful and wise, that’s kind of cool. And for the record, this record is a cool record—no one has to worry.
Why do you think so many reviewers make excuses about why your album makes them feel so comfortable and calm?
I’ve been extremely confused by this myself. I’ll get this glowing review—like this record really spoke them on so many levels—and then it will get like 3 stars. One thing that’s happening here is that I haven’t officially been out on the release circuit in a long time. And I think people are reintroducing themselves to my music and they hear a lot about me—they hear that someone else likes it and that I come from a certain scene and even that is by association. Some of that weird funny stuff like meeting Kirk Hammett—that’s just from being in a small city like San Francisco. That’s just by chance and fate. The manager of the Brian Jonestown Massacre knew Kirk, too. I think they’re just trying to figure out who I am. I think people hear this record and they hear the story and they just go, ‘Who is this girl?’ And in a way the anomaly is good because we want to keep people guessing. But the real me is still there—I’m somebody that just loves really beautiful music and that’s just one way to describe it.
Our reviewer said you must have a dark side that wants to come out—is he right?
There is a darkness to this record, too, that I hear. Someone said, ‘Oh, someone’s mom might like it.’ I don’t think they would. That might be too scary for them! I’m getting that gentle thing, but maybe you have to listen loud. It’s a quiet record that you have to listen loud! That’s what I have to say to everyone—blast it and then you’ll get the full picture. That will answer all your questions. The worst thing is for somebody to say its adult contemporary because to me it’s not like that at all! What do you think of that? Are they crazy?
Maybe they just heard the first couple notes on the first song.
It’s that first song! [Producer] Rick [Parker] told me it’s my only song that’s sort of like regular music. That song had sort of an interesting lyrical flow and I liked the message in it. I was like, ‘Can I just have one of those? We’re not gonna be cool for one song.’ Thematically it just works! And maybe I did wanna open the record with, ‘Hmm, what’s this record?’ Make your own interpretation! So listen to the whole record, goddammit!
What’s something about you now that the Miranda Richards who released her first record in 2001 would never believe?
That’s a good question. That’s an amazing question! That’s a slow burn there! I didn’t think that it would take as long to get another record out. That’s only part of the answer. The music business is so not in the ‘60s and ‘70s anymore, and it’s a different time—I guess my spirit and my musical self feels like—I’m not 100% vintage per se, but I feel like I’m in the wrong era sometimes. Like in another era, I would have had more success more quickly, maybe? Like ‘72 or something? In the ‘60s I might have OD’d. The ‘70s were a bummer for a lot of people but I feel like I could have come out of that with a good message. I can take it! Looking back, I would have thought even if my first record didn’t do well commercially, I always thought I would get back on my feet quicker. But the business has changed so much that you can’t even find a record deal, really. And I always thought I would look really old and haggard by now! It’s almost like I’ve always been in a time warp—that’s what’s so weird! This huge chunk of time when by and I just picked up right where I left off! With the same hairdo and everything! That was a weird era—that was like a no man’s land. It was a weird time creatively—I think people were struggling for a foothold. I think we’re coming out of that now—the Age of Aquarius I think has truly begun at this point.
Wasn’t that supposed to be here forty years ago?
Well, there’s all these arguments as to where it starts.
I know your parents were artists, and you’ve talked about the point where they had to stop drawing comics and get straight jobs—what kind of impression did that make on you?
It gave me the message that if you want to do any kind of real art—any kind of underground art—you’re never gonna make any money and you have to get another job. That’s not necessarily true, then or now. But that was their take on it, especially my father—‘I can’t stand being broke, so I’m gonna go work in Silicon Valley.’ And that’s what happened. And my mom was working in graphic design and of course that’s when they got all stressed out and crazy—like real adults stressing at their jobs. It was much more fun when they were cartoonists.
What’s the way to make it work?
I think that’s the golden question, right? You just have to stick with doing what resonates with you the most. And then whatever monetary success you achieve, you accept as being the best possible outcome because you’re doing what you love to do. I haven’t talked about my commercial session work very much—it’s kind of under the radar but you can do things like that. Otherwise you’re just totally starving. I’ve been on the music scene for quite a while now and I’ve watched generations of bands come and go. I finally found out that as much as we hate the music industry, there isn’t a lot of music industry in Los Angeles anymore—it’s all in New York. So all the Brooklyn bands are having a feast over there! If they’re halfway decent they get some indie deal, and if you’re lucky out here, there’s like one or two record companies. It’s insane. Or there’s like Sub Pop, and then if you get through the gates of Sub Pop, then you have a chance. But think of all the amazing bands—that label can’t sign everyone. From my perspective, there needs to be more music business to handle all the creativity going on. There’s way more bands than there are managers or agents and they turn down amazing stuff. And the people they don’t have time for are like top people. Like the Chapin Sisters, they don’t have a manager, a label, or a booking agent. And then there is Manimal Vinyl—thank God for Manimal Vinyl. If there wasn’t Manimal Vinyl, everyone would be screwed.
You said once that music is a luxury—is that what we’re talking about?
It’s just sort of how I view it. If you get to make a living from playing your art, it’s almost like you never have to grow up—although a music career is a lot more work than anyone really realizes. You have to live in a tent sometimes! To not disappear and to not give up, all the people that are still going have had to work incredibly hard—myself included. And I do it for the music, I do it for the goal, I do it for the moment and I do it for somewhere that I’m going to—and that’s just to have people enjoy what I do and play shows for them. And that’s my only goal. But it just takes a lot to get there and to keep it going.
When was the last time you had to convince yourself not to quit?
I’ve had to do that a lot. I think about if you had some mega-talent, like if you wrote as well as Bob Dylan or sang as well as Joni Mitchell—would those people just always had success no matter what? If you were just that good on any level, would that attract success organically? I think that what I kind of strive to do is to be the best that I can be—it’s the only way. And it should just come naturally. You should just be doing good work and then people will eventually catch on. That is the era that we’re in right now. And I guess that has always applied—even in the ‘60s. I think Bob Dylan had some luck, too!
Do you think having that kind of talent does guarantee it? You always see re-issues of ‘lost classics’ at the record store, but I’m sure those bands were pretty disappointed waiting for something to happen in 1967.
It doesn’t, does it? I guess you can always die. That’s one marketing strategy.