Unique…Soulful…Superbly Crafted…A Stunning Debut
Keep this in your car – you’ll never be stuck in traffic again
This is a new and exciting development. A debut self-titled release from Lizanne Richards.
First up, a little background. Lizanne grew up with missionary parents on the edge of the Sahara in Niger, Africa. Here she joined local women at church, singing gospel songs and playing traditional clay drum rhythms as accompaniment.
Living in the UK for a few years teaching wise-cracking London kids required the cultivation of a thick skin, but led to music opportunities. She played violin in a Glasgow-based outfit Oldsolar and got her first taste of being in a band, recording and performing. Most notably, Oldsolar played a support gig for The Reindeer Section, a coming together of musicians from Snow Patrol, Arab Strap and others for a Christmas fundraiser gig to purchase sleeping bags for homeless people. This first band experience gave Lizanne a thirst to head her own music project.
On returning to Melbourne, Lizanne sought out double bass player Andy Ross and recorded a demo of her jazz and blues-inspired folk songs with Johnny Hi-Fi. The demo got distributed amongst friends and led to the formation of Lady Grey. That outfit’s self-titled first EP placed it in the 2006 PBS FM Festival of Song Competition in which Lady Grey became a grand finalist. Lizanne continued writing songs and penned “Of Wifely Constitution” which went on to win the Good Folk Club Song Competition in 2007. The prizes assisted in the recording of Lady Grey’s second EP Of Wifely Constitution, which was released independently in 2008.
In 2011, Push Songs selected Lizanne for a song-writing mentorship which consisted of three sessions with established artists. When she independently asked each mentor if they could recommend a producer for her debut solo album, the answer each time was, “Shane O’Mara.”
The result is a self-titled debut album heralding an exciting new direction for Richards. Her bluesy rhythmic alt-folk songs sparkle, and are delivered with intensity and soul. Ralf Rehak’s (Machine Translations) foundational percussion is snappy and murky all at once. Lizanne’s own contributions are part Joni Mitchell, part Joan As Police Woman. The result is a little hard to classify or pigeon-hole (not a bad thing at all). But whatever you want to call it, what you have is a highly impressive concoction. Most captivating about the listening experience is the distinctiveness and quality of the songs themselves.
Here is a clip of a track from the album – “Awkward Smile”
Lizanne was kind enough to answer some questions…
Congratulations on the album. It is very impressive. Could you explain the transition from two EPs with Lady Grey to such a mature full collection of material? When did you decide to embark on such a major project and how long did the whole process take?
Thank you very much. In the summer of 2010/11 I began working towards creating material for my debut album. Prior to this, me as Lady Grey had run out of steam and I guess I was using the downtime to assess whether I wanted to take this next step, weighing up what that would entail. Given that I’d never done an album on this scale, I could only guess. I knew it would be costly, time consuming and require me to dig deep and work hard, at money jobs and at my music and songwriting. I initially starting saving for an electric guitar, and on reaching the goal, I was motivated to keep saving so I could record a full length album and work with a producer. Having previously applied for a grant to do exactly this, I had a figure in mind.
Having sorted out the money coming in and saving part of the equation, I realised working full time wasn’t allowing me adequate time to create and work on songs. So I made what felt like a risky decision at the time. I gave up a day of work per week, Tuesday in fact, and that was my day to be at home, guitar in hand, alone. I knew full well that the income from that day for the year could have funded the album. Putting my time on the line like this required me to use that Tuesday to the best of my ability, because I knew its value.
When the connection with Shane O’Mara came about in April or so of 2011, I was set the task of having sixteen complete songs to bring to pre-production with him by around October. This was after he’d heard two demo songs and said he’d work with me. The process of having someone to send demo tracks who would provide me with an opinion that really mattered to me, took my songwriting to another level. Pre-production happened in November. We began recording the drums in December. The album’s final mixes were complete in April 2012. I got pregnant around this time, which may explain why it took another year and a half to officially release it.
During your interview with Brian Wise on his Off The Record program (RRR 102.7) he was commenting on the brilliant production values. The album’s arrangements are indeed crisp and compelling. How did you decide on Shane O’Mara as producer?
As I became more attuned to the role producers played in albums that I loved, I became receptive to producers who I might like to work with one day. Shane’s production on The Audreys albums impressed me. It was alt-country folk in style but it was refined and sleek. This as an approach appealed to me. In early 2011, I had the good fortune of being selected by Charles Jenkins from Push Songs for a songwriting mentorship. This was timely. I’d decided I wanted to go ahead with a debut album, but I needed some direction. Armed with a handful of the new songs I’d been working on, I had my sessions with Charles Jenkins, Ashley Naylor and Rebecca Barnard. When I asked each of them who I should approach to record my debut, they individually replied “Shane O’Mara”. They provided me with his contact details, and on one courageous evening, I gave him a call.
I recall our initial conversations were a lot about what we were each cooking for dinner. I also recall that when he’d agreed to working with me, I went around to meeting him and took a 2-sided page of questions. We would later laugh about this, me essentially “interviewing” him for the job. I suppose I was. I assure him that he obviously passed with flying colours.
The song arrangements have a really distinctive percussive feel – there’s even a mini drum solo. Is this something that evolved in the studio?
Rhythm is of paramount importance to me. Marrying a vocal line with a guitar riff holds many possibilities and I love the problem solving aspect of finding the way that feels best for the song. I loved seeing the process of how Shane would take one of my songs which existed simply as rhythm guitar with a vocal line, then give Ralf Rehak (drummer) directions, trying different things until the song was sitting where it worked best. Of course, the success of this process relied on the incredible ability of Ralf as a drummer and him being able to absorb the directions given and respond.
The drum solo which is at the end of Hands Up came about when Shane told Ralf to play the song out and just “see what happens”. Shane and I were on the edges of our seats, aware that we were witnessing a masterful performance. When it was over, there was much cheer.
Ralf Rehak gets prominence on the album artwork, is that a reflection of the importance of his percussion to the project?
Yes. I’d been playing with Ralf for a few years as Lady Grey in the lead up to recording the debut so it’s also a reflection of his role in my life as a musician and friend. I wanted to include that close up image of Ralf and Shane as a visual snapshot of the magic that ended up happening at our sessions together. There was a lot of joy and I feel the image captures that. It was taken by Hanh Tran. You can’t know how these artistic projects are going to pan out. So when the efforts of those involved (namely Shane, Ralf and I) combine and culminate in a successful marriage, the build of that is exciting.
All thirteen songs on the album are penned by you. How long did you work on this material to get the songs to the point of recording?
Three songs date back to my days as Lady Grey. Of The Sea ended up being recorded as it has always existed. Good Man was originally written in the style of a slow country waltz which is how I sang it to my husband on our wedding day. The Awkward Smile lyrics finally found the existing musical melody and chords having had two previous lives. All of the other songs were written from scratch in 2011 which involved re-working and refining up to the point to recording.
Any clues as to who Nancy is in “Yours Truly Nancy S.”
Nancy Sinatra Senior. I stepped into her shoes and wrote this song to Frank. Prior to writing this song, I hadn’t realised that Nancy Junior was in fact named after her mother. I explore what I imagine to be Nancy Senior’s experience; marrying a struggling artist who then shoots to fame.
The album’s distinctive cover is striking. How did that eventuate?
The final artwork was actually “take two”. I employed the expertise of Anne-Sophie Poirier. We completed the artwork for me as Lady Grey which consisted of me in a vintage red and white swimming costume posing as the letters of “LADY GREY”. It was fun and really hard to let go of. But after much thought and discussion, it was evident that this album was a good time to turn over a new leaf and begin using my own name to represent my music. So we started back at the drawing board and eventually came up with the concept of tattoo-like nature imagery being imposed onto my bare back. I’m attracted to nature and I like that the end result references this.
Are you planning on touring to promote the album and if so do you have any dates locked in?
Not at this stage however I’m organising a few dates for next year. Locked in so far are
Sun 22 December at The Mount Macedon Hotel (from 2pm)
Sun 12 January at the Maldon Market
Sat 1 March 2014 Kyneton Music Festival
My website gig’s page will post all upcoming gigs as they are confirmed.
So if you see this album, I suggest you buy it. If you don’t see it, look harder. It will be worth it.
Thanks to Brian Wise (Off The Record Triple R 102.7) Saturdays 9 to noon