If you turn the radio on right now chances are you would hear a young lady singing about ‘haters’ over a synthetic beat. Glossy production, auto-tune, and lyrics so surface you could guess the next line on your first listen. Of course, there’s a time a place for everything but I personally prefer my music to be a little more meaningful.
This is why I enjoy the music of Lena Rich so much. Combining elements of folk, alternative, and even jazz, Rich is building a name for herself on the indie scene with her EP and just-released album Something In Between. I recently had the opportunity to chat with Lena, to talk about who she is and what makes her tick. Check it out
Aaron Cooper: Who is Lena Rich? How would you define yourself as an artist to someone who hasn’t heard your music?
Lena Rich: I am a 20-year-old singer/songwriter, I play guitar, piano, violin, a little mandolin and I sing. It’s not easy for me to define my sound, but I would say it’s alt-folk with jazz and rock undertones, although I am influenced by many different artists and varying genres.
AC: When did you start playing music? Was there a point where you said: “I want to do this with my life!”?
LR: I have been playing music all my life, I started banging on piano keys before I could walk. I began classical Suzuki violin at around age 4 and the piano at 5, followed by guitar much later. Growing up, I was in many different bands including bluegrass, rock, pop, and jazz. Although I always loved music, I was about 14 when I knew it was what I wanted to do with my life. It was absolutely an overwhelming sense of “this is what I need to do.” Music was the perfect outlet for me to express myself, connect with others and experience a type of joy I couldn’t find anywhere else.
AC: Your music is sort of country but I hear an array of styles, from Cat Power to Ryan Adams in your songs. Who are some of your biggest influences?
LR: Country isn’t the first genre I would categorize my music in, but I suppose it makes sense given my background in bluegrass and folk music! I grew up on 1960s folk and rock classics like the Dead, Joni Mitchell, and Bob Dylan. So, at my core, I will always be influenced by those songwriting styles. I know it’s cheesy and a lot of songwriters point to Dylan and Joni Mitchell as influences, but it’s the truth for me.
However, I’ve always tried to branch out. It’s funny you mention Cat Power, she is definitely one of my favorites. Honestly, my influences change day to day, but Amy Winehouse, Aoife O’Donovan, Gregory Alan Isakov, and Healy are some current artists that come to mind right now. Bon Iver had a big impact on me when I was just beginning to write songs, as did Lake Street Dive.
AC: You’ve shared stages with some accomplished artists. How important is playing live shows in indie music?
LR: I think it’s super important. It’s also so much fun! Live shows are an opportunity to truly connect with an audience and show people on another level who you are as an artist and a person in a way that recorded music cannot. For me, seeing artists live is such a candid glimpse into who they really are. Live shows are also a great opportunity for artistic growth…it’s always a challenge deciding how I’m going to present myself or what I’m going to say between songs. Putting in the time on stage also makes a huge difference in performance quality-there will always be a little thing that goes wrong, whether it’s a wrong chord or a bad sound system. Experience performing is the only way to learn how to deal with all that comes with playing live.
AC: “Something In Between” is probably my favorite. What’s the story behind that song?
LR: “Something In Between” is super special to me because it was the first song I wrote in the batch of songs that became my new album. It was kind of the catalyst for all the songs that followed. At the time, I had just gone through a heartbreaking relationship that left me feeling lonely and confused, among other things. Writing “Something In Between” was such an empowering experience for me. Once I wrote that song, I was able to turn an experience that was initially devastating into something I could own and be proud of..that’s what’s so special about songwriting
AC: What’s the songwriting process like for you? Do you set out to write something or does it just happen?
LR: It’s very spontaneous and quick, the music and lyrics just kind of pour out of me. I’m not able to force it or work on a song over the course of weeks or months. Most of my songs I’ve written in under a day, usually under two hours. When I was working on the album, I had about four weeks to write seven of the songs. The time pressure actually helped me, given how quickly I write songs, but it also challenged me in a new way.
AC: Who are you currently listening to at the moment? Any favorites?
LR: I’m currently really enjoying Margaret Glaspy, Cat Clyde, Julian Lage and Tash Sultana.
AC: Is there any artist out there you dream of working or touring with?
LR: I would do just about anything to play a show with Gregory Alan Isakov, just because his music has had such a lasting influence on me as an artist and songwriter, it never gets old. However, touring with Lake Street Dive would be a dream.
AC: What’s next for Lena Rich?
LR: I’ll be spending the summer touring around the east coast with a small artist collective out of Portland, ME, called Block the Wind Records. It’s a great collection of artists in varying genres and I’m excited to promote the values of the collective as well as play in some new places! Beyond that, I’ll be releasing a music video that I’m really excited about in the coming months.
AC: Thank you so much for taking the time to chat with me at 50third! Any parting words!? Why should people check your album out!?
LR: Thank you! I hope people who listen to my music are able to find some kind of comfort or relatability in it. Thank you for listening!
For more information on Lena Rich and to purchase Something In Between, visit LenaRich.com
All photography by Nicholas Tenney