Introspective Introversion: An Interview With Dave Richardson

Songwriter Dave Richardson is living the quintessential life of a singing poet. Living in a small New England village in a rural section of Vermont, embedded in a community of like-minded artists and collecting stories of living that life. This weekend he will further perpetuate that sense of community as he is one of the 4 acts that is celebrating the coming of Autumn and the foliage at Free Verse Farm in Chelsea, Vermont for their inaugural Free Verse Festival. The event will celebrate local arts, food and community as folks will rise up to the high hill and enjoy craft beer, tasty treats and poetry and song from folks around the area.

Dave was kind enough to spare some of his time to talk with us about that community feeling, his own art and a new record that is coming very soon. Read on my friends.

(photo by James Napoli)

RLR: You coin yourself as a ‘folk singer’. The nature of folk is that it is deeply rooted in the past. So, why don’t you tell us a little bit regarding your backstory. What made you get into music and writing? 

DR: I have always loved music. My parents are not particularly musical themselves, but could see that I was. They always encouraged and supported my interest, and bought me an acoustic guitar when I was around 12. I took a couple of lessons but mostly taught myself how to play. I was listening to a mix of ‘60s pop music and Top 40, and somehow heard Ani DiFranco. That opened the door to contemporary folk artists like Dan Bern and Dar Williams. The more I listened, the more I wanted to hear and I got deeper and deeper into folk music. I am drawn to the instrumentation, the storytelling, the people, the history, and the use of music as a platform to speak out.

I am an introvert; I don’t talk much. I have found that I can better express myself through music. Songwriting is a way for me to process and understand my feelings and thoughts. Song collecting has also become an outlet for expression; it’s been really interesting finding traditional folk ballads that contain a message or thought that I want to express and figure out how to present that piece of work to an audience in a way that fits in with my original songs.

RLRWere there specific artists you heard that made you say “yes, this is what I need to do in my life”? Or maybe special moments?

DR: My life really changed when I first attended Miles of Music camp in 2014. MoM was founded by Kristin Andreassen and Laura Cortese and features an all-star roster of instructors and campers. I had been writing, singing, and playing music for quite some time when I signed myself up and attended the week-long camp. Looking back it kind of surprises me that I signed up and went because I am so quiet and introverted. But I knew there was a lot that I wanted to learn. When I got there I discovered that I needed to be a part of this community. It’s a group of people that value collaboration, inclusivity, risk-taking, and fun. I have always wanted to make a career out of writing and playing music. Attending the camp, meeting these incredible people and becoming a part of the community made me feel like I could take the step to pursue a career in music, and helped me gather the tools I needed to make it happen.

RLR: Folk and roots music is also well known for community, sharing stories with other artists and listeners. I feel as though this specific event is a quintessential example of community and is a pretty good depiction of the majority of people I have been lucky enough to meet in Vermont. What does the community in and around your home in Windsor mean to you?

DR: I am from Northern New England and it is where I belong. I lived several places while I figured that out. The Upper Valley is a special place; I have lived here since 2012 and plan on staying put. My wife and I moved to Windsor, VT last fall. Our house was built in the mid-1800s and is full of inspiring, charming character. We live on a quiet dirt road, have 5 acres of land with an orchard, flowerbeds and plenty of room to plant a garden. But I’m also 5 minutes from our modest downtown, and 3 miles from I-91. I love having access to woods, trails, streams, ponds, lakes, and animals. But I also love the ease of getting to Montpelier, Burlington, Brattleboro, Boston, and NYC. I like how close and connected things feel in the Upper Valley. There is a collaborative vibe – we are living and working and making things together and I feel very connected to the people around me. Restaurants feature local ingredients, products, beer, and art. Stores showcase the work of local craftspeople. There seems to be an abundance of creative people and makers. Free Verse Fest is a great example of that. Free Verse is celebrating 5 years, and thanking the community that supports them. They are doing this by showcasing local food, drink, musicians, and poets.

RLR: How about the music community either here in Vermont or in greater New England (Cambridge, etc)?

DR: It is really important for me to support the music in my community, for me to support my community with my music, and that my community supports me and my music. Folk music is alive and happening in New England. We have people who want to hear great music and musicians who want to play in their communities. There are so many opportunities for performances: large festivals, small festivals, independent venues, summer series, coffeehouses, and house concerts.

RLR: You have a new record coming soon that is a prime example of that community as well. What was that experience like for you? Taking your songs to people and letting them impart their own artistry or meaning into their parts on the album?

DR: Making this record was an amazing experience. I accumulated a batch of new songs over the past couple of years. When I thought about how I wanted to present them to the world, I felt really strongly that they needed more instruments and voices than just me. I reached out to some of my favorite musicians, people who’s work I love and who I like spending time with. The musicians, co-producer/engineer Dan Cardinal, and I all approached the album with a collaborative spirit. I didn’t write out song arrangements for any of the musicians; we all got together and worked out the parts, and then when we got into the studio, the sound of the songs developed further. It was a really magical environment of openness, trust, and collaboration. I am so lucky to have gotten to work with such a gifted crew, and I am so happy with how the record came out.

Here is the absurdly great line up:

    • Liv Baxter: fiddle, vocals
    • Ariel Bernstein: drums, piano, organ  
    • Jefferson Hamer: guitar, mandolin, vocals
    • Emily Mure: vocals  
    • Mali Obomsawin: bass, vocals   

RLR: What else can folks expect from this new album? What are you particularly excited about? 

DR: The new album touches on many genres: singer/songwriter, country, trad…there are elements of ‘60s pop. That being said, it is without a doubt a folk album. There are some common themes that run through many of these songs: letting go, jumping in, and getting over yourself. And, true to the folk tradition, life and death. I am particularly excited about the super sweet harmonies throughout the album. I am kind of obsessed with harmony singing, and working out 2 and 3 part harmonies for my songs was lots of fun. Having some of my absolute favorite singers join me on the record is a dream come true.

RLR: Tell me a little about how your songwriting process works? Are you a “sit down and complete a song start to finish type” or more of a collector of ideas, scraps of paper with scribbles of lyrics and compile later type? Or somewhere in the middle?

DR: I collect words, phrases, ideas, concepts, and observations. I record chord progressions, riffs, and melody ideas into my phone when they come to me. I have to set aside time to write, it’s very rare for a song to come to me when I’m doing something other than writing. I have all the fragments I have collected available when I write and sometimes I’ll use them to make a song but sometimes I’ll start something completely new and go with that.

RLR: What New England based artists are you listening to/excited about/wishing to share a bill with these days?

DR: There are so many amazing New England artists that I love. Here are a few: Aurora Birch is an incredibly powerful songwriter. Her voice, words, and guitar playing are haunting and beautiful, and she is a captivating live performer. Dietrich Strause put out a stellar recording this year with The Blue Ribbons. I really admire the rich, complex poetry that fills his songs, and I love the fun, laid-back vibe this new album has. Elise Leavy is a California native attending school in Cambridge, so that counts as New England based to me! Elise has such a sweet, smooth voice, she is a killer accordion player, and her songs consistently move me to tears. I get chills just thinking about them. Liv and Let Liv are a duo made up of Liv Baxter and Liv Greene. They both write excellent songs, play the guitar, banjo, and fiddle, and have great chemistry on stage.

RLR: So, anything else you want to push? Shameless self promotion…go!

DR: I am running a Kickstarter campaign through October 1 to raise funds for the release of my new album. In addition to pre-ordering the record, I have some really fun incentives for those who contribute, including a limited edition art print, a custom-made mix tape, cd or playlist. I’ll take you record shopping! I’ll play a concert at your house! I’ll write you a song based on a topic of your choosing!

I do a monthly house concert that is also broadcast live through Concert Window. It’s called the Branch & Thorn Gathering. Every month we choose a theme and construct a setlist around it.

If you’re not following Junction Magazine, you should be. James Napoli runs it and his stories and pictures are amazing! Everybody should check out the website.