Like the best folk musicians, Dave Richardson sings of love and death, joy and grief, car rides and front porches, hungry foxes and giant squids—all of which appear on the 33-year-old singer/songwriter/multi-instrumentalist’s new record, Carry Me Along. We caught up with Dave to discuss life in the Upper Valley, the folk music scene in 2018, and the process of writing and recording a new studio album with a full band. BONUS: Listen to an exclusive extended mix of “Waiting for the Sunrise.”
You’re originally from Maine but have called the Upper Valley home for a few years now. Have the landscape and culture of this region shaped your music in any significant way?
The Upper Valley definitely influences my music. I strive to create a sense of “place” in my songs. I like to describe landscapes—their flora and fauna—and the villages, woods, and wildlife we have here figure into several of my songs. One example is “Rise And Play”, about a night in the life of a fox. I look forward to writing many many more songs about our region and the people, or types of people, that inhabit it. It’s a fascinating, inspiring, and beautiful place!
Can you talk about your songwriting process?
When I’m in songwriting mode, I use different methods. I compile lists: phrases that I stumble on in conversation or that I see somewhere, ideas from brainstorming sessions, and concepts or messages that I think I have something to say about. Sometimes I’ll sit down with paper and pencil, flip through my lists, and pick something to write on. Sometimes I’ll pick up an instrument and noodle on it until I come up with a melody or chord progression that I like, record that into my phone, and then, when it’s time to write a song, I’ll pick a recording and build something out of that.
This summer you had a wall in your house completely covered in song charts. What were those all about?
The big song charts came in when I was preparing to record the album. I used them when I was determining the instruments and arrangements I wanted for the songs. Putting the charts up on the wall where I saw them all the time encouraged me to continuously think about the songs and how I wanted to present them on the album. Some things changed once we got in the studio and after we were done recording, too. But the big charts helped me organize my thoughts so I was as clear as I could be about what I wanted the final recordings to sound like.
The lyrics of “Traveling So Far” deal with some heavy issues. What’s the story behind that song?
It’s told from my mom’s point of view. The song was inspired by the trip my parents and I took from New Hampshire to Chicago to attend a funeral. I was too young to remember that trip, and I never heard very much about that part of my mother’s life. One day, when I was in high school, my mom and I were on a drive and she told me the story of her childhood and of her father’s death. I’m really thankful that she told me her story and that she allowed me to share it. This is one of those songs that I wrote all at once. I don’t really even remember the process, it’s like it just came out. That doesn’t happen often for me.
Where’d you record this new album?
Dimension Sound Studios in Jamaica Plain, MA. The studio is owned and operated by Dan Cardinal, an incredibly skilled engineer and producer. Several of my friends made albums there over the past couple of years and all had amazing things to say about their experiences. Dan knows how best to capture every sound in just the right spot with just the right equipment. He gave me ideas and suggestions for how to arrange the songs; he was incredibly efficient throughout the recording session. I still can’t believe we recorded 14 songs over the course of 6 days with 5 musicians.
You work with a full band on Carry Me Along—had you performed with these musicians before?
Almost all of the musicians I recorded with are people I met at Miles of Music camp. I’m lucky to know lots of extremely talented musicians that live in the Boston area. I reached out to friends whose singing and playing I love and who are also people I wanted to spend time with. I knew that the recording process had the potential to be stressful and it was important to surround myself with positive people who possess a good sense of humor.
Emily Mure sings with me on over half the songs on the album. I love her voice so much, and it’s a joy to get to sing with her. In addition to lending her voice, she provided guidance and support leading up to and after the recording sessions. During countless emails and FaceTime sessions we talked about arrangements, how to prepare for the studio, and suggestions on the song mixes.
Mali Obomsawin plays bass and is one of the singer/songwriters in Boston folk trio Lula Wiles. In her spare time, she’s a full-time Dartmouth student. She’s also warm, funny, and really skilled at adapting her style to fit the song she’s playing. She plays on almost every song on the album and her bass style really shaped the sound of these recordings.
Liv Baxter is a fiddler, singer, and songwriter. She’s also a horticulturist, an equestrian, a craftswoman, and one of the kindest people I’ve had the pleasure of meeting. Her harmony part on “Waiting For The Sunrise” is one of my favorite elements of the new album.
Jefferson Hamer currently plays guitar and sings in the folk/roots/rock super group Session Americana, and he’s also in the trad folk duo The Murphy Beds. He made one of my favorite albums of all time with Anais Mitchell, called “Child Ballads,” that features eight traditional folk ballads from Sir Francis Child’s collection. That album inspired me to dig into traditional songs and ballads, and that led to three traditional works being included on my album. He’s an extremely busy guy and wasn’t able to be with us in the studio when we recorded, so I sent him the digital files for four songs and he recorded his parts at a studio in New York. Even after hundreds of listens, his guitar, mandolin, and vocal parts on the album still move me.
What’s the Miles of Music camp?
Four years ago I took a chance and attended Miles of Music. It’s a magical week-long experience on an island in New Hampshire’s Lake Winnipesaukee. Musicians from all over the world lead classes on songwriting, performance technique, traditional dance, etc. I went not knowing a single person in attendance, which is pretty major for me since I’m really introverted and generally pretty risk-averse. I just wanted to see what it was like to immerse myself in music for a week with no distractions. I came away with new skills, tons of inspiration and motivation, and new friends. Miles of Music has a huge network, and now I have these amazing people in my life! We help each other out with finding gigs or providing a bed (or couch) while on tour. We write, record, tour, and party with each other. It gave me the push I needed to take the next steps in my career and the support to feel like I COULD do it. The last song on the new album, “Turtle Rock”, is about my experience at Miles of Music.
What does the landscape for folk musicians look like in 2018?
Folk music is community. It’s meant to bring people together. Traditional folk clubs and coffeehouses / listening rooms certainly maintain their importance in the folk landscape, and I love to play and visit these venues. And, of course, there are folk festivals, which so effectively integrate community and music. They’ve been a huge part of folk music for over 50 years. The big festivals are really fun and provide amazing opportunities for musicians who are at that level in their career.
I love the smaller, more regional, endeavors. A festival that books nationally-touring artists and puts them alongside local acts is a great chance for musicians to learn from each other and for the community to get exposed to the artists who live among them. And—even more grassroots—there are house concerts that literally drop a performer into your home. All types of people can have access to the music when it’s down the street in their neighbor’s living room. For the listener, it feels accessible and comfortable. For the performer, it’s a pretty great deal, too! The musician is often offered a place to sleep and a good meal.
It’s encouraging, frustrating, exhilarating, and heartbreaking to try to support myself financially through music. I’m constantly learning about the opportunities and challenges. As a solo performer, I can be versatile in terms of venues: I can set up in nontraditional spaces like art galleries and living rooms, and I can play shows without having to worry about other instruments drowning me out. I love house concerts, and I love outdoor venues, like festivals, but my ideal venue is a small, supportive listening space, like a folk club. Small spaces are pretty hard to come by, and there are A LOT of acts competing for slots. I’m working these days to be a little more thoughtful about the venues I play so that it’s a good fit for me and the venue.
Besides live performances, how are folk musicians reaching listeners these days?
Folk music has a home in radio. There’s a really amazing, supportive, and passionate network of folk DJs throughout the U.S. and globally that are committed to sharing new folk music with listeners. My album has been played on stations all over North America, and it’s so exciting that my music is being presented to those people! I also have two “in-studio” performances coming up with New Hampshire and Vermont folk radio shows this month. In addition to radio, music blogs really help to get the word out, and Spotify playlists…there are so many people out there who are curating and promoting songs, and they’re essential for sustaining the vibrancy of folk music.
Did you have to cut any songs from the final mix?
I had a lot of fun bringing “Waiting For The Sunrise” to life in the studio. It’s a song that lends itself well to a more intricate, textured arrangement. When it came time to mix the recording, there was a lot of back and forth about where the harmony vocals should go and when the song should end. I had always intended the song to fade out, which is what we ended up doing, but the song came to a really nice natural conclusion when we recorded it. This extended mix includes the full song with no fade, different harmony vocals, and some lovely piano from Ariel that didn’t make it to the final mix.
James Napoli is the founder of Junction Magazine. James has since moved to Minnesota and all content is managed by a collective of artists. Read more about them here.