Lyrics for change
Richard March’s country croons toward the left
Richard March is one of few locals who plays a brand of music that’s unabashedly country, à la the Bakersfield sound. His musical background is highly varied. He has played in metal cover bands and a Blues Brothers tribute band. He was a church choir director and has performed in operas and musicals. It’s not exactly a Merle Haggard-esque biography, and even though his pop influences shine through, you could say March’s music tends to—oh, who can resist a bad pun?—march to the beat of a country drummer.
March’s first musical efforts were rooted in pop music, but the country genre seemed a more comfortable fit for his lyrical songwriting style. “The main thing with country is the songs, more often than not, are a narrative, a forthright presentation of the song,” March said in a recent interview. “That’s as opposed to indie or punk, which are wonderful genres, but which tend to focus more on the emotion or the sonic quality of the music as opposed to being a lyrical narrative.”
March has been a huge supporter of the local country and roots music movements, first hosting Nashville Nights at the Blue Lamp and, for the last year, hosting the weekly Americana Ramble at Marilyn’s on K. But although he’s generally identified as being a performer of country music, he doesn’t fit the stereotype of a Toby Keith flag-waver. March tends toward the left side of the political spectrum, and he’s not afraid to make that known through his songs.
“I think in the last couple of albums maybe one or two songs have been political,” March said. “There was probably more on the first album, where I was writing about the evangelical people who can support a military effort at the same time, the hypocrisy of that.”
His new album, Levee Road, has a song called “Libraries” that has been used as the bumper music occasionally on Air America for the Randi Rhodes and Al Franken shows. In the tune, March sarcastically protests the neocon mindset that doesn’t care if the country cuts back essential services as long as obeisance is paid to the almighty altar of cutting taxes.
“They’re rolling all the taxes back / Tearing up the high school tracks / They’re building shopping malls / Where all the kids can play / They’re closing all the libraries / You got TV, don’t complain.”
March is not a lockstep liberal, nor does he try to preach in his songs. He says he never sets out to write something overtly political, but if the narrative speaks along those lines, he goes with his muse. He stays up on issues by reading the newspaper every day and listening to National Public Radio so he can make his own informed choices.
During the SN&R interview, March shared his thoughts on the early Democratic presidential hopefuls. “Dennis Kucinich has a platform that is bulletproof, but I think that [Barack] Obama, due to his charisma and speaking ability—I like what he has to say about the war, education and health care—he’s my pick if I had to vote right now. And Hillary Clinton doesn’t have a chance! You can print that!” March said with a laugh.
As for his own aspirations, March—along with bandmates Tyler Ragle (bass), Steve Randall (guitar) and Kevin Priest (drums)—hopes to start playing out of town more to build an audience beyond Sacramento. And, of course, he’ll stay abreast of politics, knowing that after the presidential election there’s going to be a race for governor in 2010.
“I would vote for [Superintendent of Public Instruction] Jack O’Connell,” March said. “I know a lot of teachers and he seems well liked. I actually played at a Phil Angelides rally [during the last election]. Talk about your exercises in futility!” he joked.
More than likely, finding a wider audience for his music will be less frustrating for March.