Interview: Miranda Lee Richards
Fri, 20 Feb 2009 08:04:03
Not since Tori Amos burst on the scene has a girl with a piano had so much to say. That girl in question is Miss Miranda Lee Richards. On her sophomore album, Light of X, she goes deep inside of herself to concoct an album that's simultaneously somber, uplifting and poignant—often in the span of one track. In this exclusive interview with ARTISTdirect.com, Miranda discusses her Light, growing up with comic book artist parents and being "political."
The album summons a lot of imagery. Was that something you were thinking about while making it?
I don't think it was totally conscious, but I'm a very visual person, so maybe that's the result. I'm seeing all of the images in my mind, and I'm describing them and the scenario. I'm exploring how it looks and feels. Maybe the music itself might be cinematic in some way—it makes you think it's the soundtrack to something or another visual somehow. I don't know.
"Cinematic" is a great way to describe it because it's got cohesion that's similar to a film.
It's a whole piece from start to finish. I encourage people to check out the whole record because it is an experience. When you make a record, it's meant to be a whole piece—especially with this record. I was really careful about what songs went on the album. I labored over making the most balanced record. There's a whole story. I was trying to create a cohesive journey of sorts when you listen to the album. I wanted it to move you through different phases of your life and different moods and experiences. God knows I had enough time to write this record, so that might be a part of it [Laughs]. It's been about seven years. Songs are coming from different periods of time. I think that was probably a good thing. I used to be concerned that if I didn't write a record all around the same time, it wasn't going to be cohesive enough. I think the album is more of an in-depth experience overall because it was written over a longer period of time, so that had a different positive result that I didn't expect.
Did the deeply personal nature of the album make it difficult to record?
Yeah. However, what really made it hard to record was the physical nature of the situation. It wasn't always easy. Maybe I had created it that way somehow, unknowingly. I was trying to work another job and get the record made. There were these other responsibilities in my life. It can be a struggle. I was doing it without the help of a label, on my own funding and time. I had other things that were incredibly easy and synchronistic. Rick Parker [album producer] has his own studio. There was a lot of time in there to work on this. That part of it was such a gift. I needed to earn a living and any other thing going on in my life that I had to contend with other than just getting to space out for hours on end in the studio. Artists only get to do that when they reach a certain level. There's still a lot of real life going on. It's a balancing act to give yourself that creative space. Music is a luxury ultimately, right? [Laughs]
But you were still able to completely immerse yourself in the album?
Whenever I do something, I throw myself into it. I work very intensely when I work something. I surround myself in the moment with the task at hand. I always give a really physical performance. Whenever I was recording, I was completely in the present. I think music helps draw you into the present. When you're singing a vocal take, you can't really think about much else, which is kind of nice [Laughs]. There are times when things are a bit of a struggle, but I'm grateful for that. It hasn't been all perfect and easy, and that gives me some character. Other things have been perfect and easy. I've had both. I can't complain.
"That Baby" stands out. What's the story behind that one?
I'm glad you like that song. That one doesn't get talked about often, and it's one of my favorite songs on the record. That was my one protest song on the album. You have to remember, I wrote this record while George W. Bush was president. There's a lot to reflect upon politically. I think it was hard to talk about the war without sounding preachy, angry or whiny. I think it was an honest way to describe two different situations and juxtapose them together to make my statement. Those two situations were the innocence and beauty of childhood and then that weird incredible leap that needs to be made for people to actually go to war with one another and bring themselves to kill someone else—all that would go in between those two polar opposite states of being. It's between loving your little friend at the beach and being in war against another country. It's intense to think about it. I thought about it for a moment, and I included it in a song. I wasn't trying to be too dramatic about it, but I think it's a nice way to talk about those things. Musically, even if you didn't know what it was about, it's a good moment in the record. It's a good ending.
“It hasn't been all perfect and easy, and that gives me some character.”
What about "Last Days of Summer?"
I woke up with the melody and lyrics playing in my head one morning for that song. I just played it on the piano. I'd been watching Amadeus, and the ending of the song was inspired a little bit by Mozart, even though I'm not as an accomplished musician as he is [Laughs]. There are some classical references performed at the end of the song.
Is there a movie that you'd most liken your record to?
The Piano, it's one of my favorite movies. The film and the music are gorgeous.
Your parents were comic book artists. Was growing up in an artistic household inspiring?
Well, on top of that, they were underground cartoonists. Comics were actually off-limits to me when I was a child. It was x-rated material—18 and over. Not just sexually but also politically, they were considered adults-only. Some of it was violent. My parents didn't draw violent comics, they weren't into that, but in some of the publications the other artists did. My parents' comics were packaged along with some of these explicit-content stories and drawings. I knew that my parents drew. I watched them draw. From a childhood perspective, it was this innocent observation. It was an innocent, playful undertaking. I thought my parents were cool. They were incredibly good at what they did. I was always in awe of them. They would draw little storylines for me. They drew my teddy bear and things my animals were doing. It was so exciting to see that. I was also excited by their life. I loved their friends. I always responded to the environment and their friends. They were creative people and very hip. It was a really inspiring artistic climate. They were all rebels who were into making their own living and forging their own path. I was one of the only children on the scene because it wasn't really a domestic kind of life, per say. I was around a lot of adults as a child, and I was an only child, so I'd just go to their publication parties and run around the printing press. They published in the same place that the Fillmore posters were published, so I'd see all of this music poster art too. I got to see it all at a young age. It was fascinating. It was more fun when my parents did that than when they went to get real jobs [Laughs]. Then they got stressed because they had to make a living in their thirties like regular adults. When I was a little kid, they were having a lot of fun.