KIM RICHEY: The Art of Layering

With every album Kim Richey has released since her 1995 self-titled country debut, anticipating what the next one will sound like has become an increasingly illusory pursuit. The only safe bet is that it will be built on a solid foundation of pop-infused songwriting, lifted by her lush, honeyed vocals. Richey would rather her sonic fluidity be seen as something to embrace than something to explain.

With every album Kim Richey has released since her 1995 self-titled country debut, anticipating what the next one will sound like has become an increasingly illusory pursuit. The only safe bet is that it will be built on a solid foundation of pop-infused songwriting, lifted by her lush, honeyed vocals. Richey would rather her sonic fluidity be seen as something to embrace than something to explain.

“It’s funny, [interviewers] will say, ‘Now, Kim, this record is really different from your last record-it seems like a shock,'” she says. “Every time I say, ‘Well, my last record was different from the one before that. I think they’re supposed to be different.’ It’s more interesting for me as a person to go in different directions and learn, and also you’re influenced by different kinds of music and times in your life and people that you collaborate with. What’s the point of making the same record over and over again?”

If Rise-the set of smoldering reveries that Richey recorded five years ago with a post-I Am Shelby Lynne Bill Botrell-were Autumn, then her latest, Chinese Boxes, would be Spring. Sonically, the new album has a lighter, sunnier timbre, sprayed with buoyant melodies, whistling and airy arrangements, though the 10 songs aren’t strictly lighthearted fare. Album opener “Jack and Jill” is a case in point; this incarnation of the nursery rhyme depicts a crumbling relationship. (Incidentally, the song’s jaunty sonic milieu-including harpsichord and horns-is one of the clearest indicators of the Beatles-esque lineage of Giles Martin, the album’s producer and the son of George Martin.)

“They’re deceptively cheery musically,” Richey observes. “Even in ‘Jack and Jill,’ which sounds really fun, things don’t quite work out. It’s more interesting that way, like those great movies like Pulp Fiction. Not that my record is like Pulp Fiction, but there’s just everything in one movie. There’s something really bad that happens, then the next minute you’re laughing and then there’s something really absurd. It’s just the whole spectrum in a little package. Those are always more interesting movies to me than when…it’s Titanic…and you know you’re going to be weeping.”

Multivalence is the album’s central metaphor. The title track describes someone with a deceptively simple exterior and many hidden layers, an image that could easily apply to several of the songs. “People, we’re not really one thing or another,” says Richey. “It’s not all, ‘Here’s a happy song.’ I have a lot of trouble with those because I think you can’t have one [quality] without the other.”

Chinese Boxes is the first album Richey has named for a song title. “I think that’s almost cheating,” she admits. “If you have a book of short stories, you don’t usually call it by one of the story names. It’s like, ‘Well, what does this collection of songs or stories have in common?’ I couldn’t for the life of me think of anything. It was almost a default title, and it turned out I’m pretty happy with it. Sometimes, it’s obvious stuff you don’t see because you’re just trying to get too arty.”

Richey’s preferences for collaborating with other songwriters and her habitual transience no doubt decrease her chances of getting stuck in a rut from album to album. “I sit down, and immediately a G-chord comes out and I think, ‘Oh my God…if I hear another freaking G-chord…you just get in your comfort zone, so it’s really nice to have somebody throw you,” she says.

In the five years since Rise-her final release for Lost Highway (she’s now with Vanguard Records)-she’s ended a relatively brief off-and-on stint living in Austin, Texas and spent more time writing and recording in the U.K. than she has at home in Nashville.

“I’ve never been one of those people who immediately puts out another record. It’s always a regrouping and to see where I’m going next. I think this time I just wanted to concentrate on writing. I ended up spending a lot of time in London. That’s kind of where the majority of my time has gone. It’s a different culture really, which is great because it’s inspiring, I think, to change your environment. It is for me anyway.”


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