A man, not alone
Even on his new solo record, Richie Lawrence gets by with a little help from his friends
Ask most musicians what’s on their iPod these days, and it’s likely they’ll quickly rattle off a list of artists old and new.
Not so for Richie Lawrence.
“I don’t really listen to [other] music,” the Sacramento singer-songwriter admits. “It’s kind of distracting, because when I do, I have to really listen.”
Still, music is a crucial part of his life. In addition to performing with regional bands such as the Yolos, Loose Acoustic Trio, the Poplollys and I See Hawks in L.A., Lawrence has also recorded two solo albums including Water, which was released earlier this year.
Not surprisingly, perhaps—given that unwillingness to be distracted—Lawrence’s approach is one charged with a laserlike focus. So much so, he says, that after recording his first solo album, Melancholy Waltz, he realized that he needed to broaden his perspective.
The record started as a way to explore his own voice, Lawrence says. He’d spent years playing piano and accordion in other people’s bands, but it’d come time to find his own sound.
“I was getting more comfortable with my singing voice and using it as a means of communicating and expressing what I feel,” Lawrence says.
Lawrence recorded that disc in his home studio—a fine enough solution for a simple record, but one that came with certain extras: the sound of a dog barking, the honking of a horn from a passing car, etc.
And so Lawrence elected to leave home to make Water.
“I wanted to get out of my house and out of my head,” he says.
He enlisted the help of producer Scott McChane and went into The Hangar studios to record tracks. This time, he also invited a few friends, such as acclaimed musician Keith Cary, as well as members of the Yolos, including his wife Katie Thomas on vocals and Scott Prawalsky on bass.
“The approach was to get as much of a live sound as possible,” Lawrence says. “This was recorded as a band—that was a big shift.”
The shared effort was rewarding, he says.
“It was fun to collaborate—that’s the beauty of a band, having people around you and getting their input.”
Well, to a point, anyway. In the end, Lawrence says it’s his name on the record.
“This isn’t a democracy, it’s my music, and I have the final say—blah, blah, blah.”
He laughs—after years working in the music industry, Lawrence is hardly the autocratic type. Born in Tulsa, Oklahoma, he learned to play piano on his father’s 1917 Steinway grand. His dad loved music, and Lawrence grew up listening to the likes of big band, country and Western, and rock ’n’ roll.
He studied art history in college, but while still in school shifted his attention to music. That move brought him to Los Angeles, where he played in bands, did session work (including a stint on a Little Richard record) and experimented with blurring the distinctions between his favorite sounds. Somewhere along the way, he met and fell in love with Katie Thomas, a Sacramento native, and eventually followed her to Northern California.
These days, Lawrence’s music reflects his eclectic influences. The songs on Water seem, on first listen, simple and reflective. But put them on repeat and a rich sonic tapestry emerges on cuts such as the bluesy title track, a dark, mournful cover of the Easy Riders’ “Man About Town” and the polka-inspired “Pirate Kitty.” The themes are rich, too, chronicling life’s complexities. On “Tracks of Time,” for example, Lawrence addresses death, including the suicide of his sister and his wife’s brother. Here, Thomas’ vocals lend a desolate, ghostly mood to the music.
The album, Lawrence says, marries art, influences and shared histories.
“All the songs here are … meant to come from my soul,” he says. “I’ve been around in terms of time and music, and that allows me to be eclectic and draw from my experiences.”