Portland-based alternative country artist Amanda Richards was born into music. Her father led one the area's leading outlaw C&W acts, Jason Richards & the Silverado Band, and Amanda was stepping up onstage to sing with him at his standing shows at Disneyland, Knott's Berry Farm and other Southern California venues from soon after she started to walk. As she explains, "Music has been my whole thing my whole life" – alongside such other artistic pursuits as a henna body artist, interior designer, muralist and more – "and I got really comfortable when I was really young singing in front of people." At age 17 she played her first paid solo show and eventually recorded her 2001 debut EP, Last Train. That was followed by the albums Not Always Sexy and Live at Mississippi Studios. In 2009 with the album Who Has Your Heart, Richards earned Grammy nominations for Song of the Year, Best Female Country Performance, and two nods each for Record of the Year and Best Country Song. In 2011, she released the well-received Play Dead, a concept album that centered around zombies. Now, she and her band The Good Long Whiles are gearing up for the release of their new album, Tough Ones to Love, due November 4th. In advance of the release, Richards kindly took the time to answer some questions about the album via email.
Your last record was a concept record, so were all of the originals on this record written since then or were some ones that you had in your pocket?
Some songs like “Last Train” and “Close to Me” had been previously recorded but the band breathed new life into them and changed them enough to justify re-tracking them. Most of the songs, however, were written after the zombie album was written and have been waiting in the queue to get their time in the studio.
Are you influenced by many different genres as the music blends roots rock, country, and even bluegrass into something uniquely your own?
When you love many different styles of music it is easy to let it wash over you. I grew up with folk, and country & western music; I listened to rock, punk and alternative as a teen and studied jazz in my early 20’s. I see myself as a breakaway traditional country artist - but instead of going the pop route like the majority of my contemporaries, I chose a more rock-influenced path with savory tones and dark emotional themes - kind of witchy cowgirl.
“Fresh Kill” is the lead single, but right now “Lame Tattoos” is one of my favorites. Is there any particular story behind that song?
I usually introduce “Lame Tattoos” as a song about my experience with dating Portland hipsters. This one hipster, in particular, was brilliant but guarded. He was also pretty. I saw him as pretentious but I think he was probably just insecure, living in his head and making up for the mess of his emotional life with OCD-like habits. I knew he was going to come into his own someday but he was going to have to grow up and stop being so concerned about other people’s perceptions of him. I reference a lot of old Portland landmark’s in the song, because I literally felt like we had to divide up the city we had enjoyed together to avoid crossing paths or triggering memories.
While there are ten originals, there are also three covers. Specifically, why did you chose to record a song by the Magnetic Fields?
“Two Character’s in Search of a Country Song” is off of the Magnetic Field’s album Charm of the Highway Strip. I see that whole album as a beautifully written country album that was executed by synthesizer-wielding robots. It does not bare any resemblance to a country sound but the heart of the material is very country. Stephin Merrit is a brilliant songwriter, I love his music and sound but I wanted to take this song, dust it off and show people what I think it really is- one of the greatest country songs out there.
“Hanging On” is another standout track on the record. Is there any significance as to why you chose to end the record with it?
For me, I just want to remind myself and our listeners that we’re still here after everything we’ve been through. We’re not letting go of this dream yet, so expect another chapter.
The original mix had the song completely breaking down and falling apart at the end. But the song became too beautiful to completely destroy so we buried it instead.
I am always interested in knowing why an artist titled an album the way they did and about the album artwork. Can you elaborate on both?
The song “Another Temptation” references being a “tough one to love.” Steve Moore (lapsteel & banjo) loved that line and championed it as the title. It makes sense because every song on this album is a story about a person or an experience that has been tough to love. I think there is some medicine in that. Lovers and experiences can be ruthless teachers that contort us and hurt us yet those are the very things that help us grow into stronger, wiser and better people.
I chose the Bull Thistle for the cover of this album because it is prickly and tough to handle, but it is a nourishing herb with strong medicine to offer. That’s how I’d like our music to be seen too: tough and prickly but also healing and nourishing. The rest of the cover is simple and old-fashioned looking. As I said before, I see myself as a breakaway traditional country artist and I want to remind people of the sound and the roots that I have grown from.
Are there plans to tour with this record either on the West Coast or elsewhere?
So far, we mostly stick to the West Coast. I consider myself kind of a home body and I have a difficult time leaving my cat for any extended period of time (and he hates being in the car) so we tend to play pretty close to home. I would, however, love to get over to the UK in 2017. That would be an exciting first for us.
Finally, I always like to know if there is one recent release, any genre, that you recommend we check out?
The Growler’s Chinese Fountain. It’s well over a year old but it is one of my favorites.
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