[in San Francisco], the main industry is tech, so everyone you meet is like, ‘I work at Facebook,’ ‘I work at Google,’ ‘I work at YouTube,’” says Richardson. “In Nashville, it [the main industry] really is the music industry. Everyone’s like, “I am a songwriter. I’m a producer. I’m a backup singer. I teach guitar lessons, but I’m also in this band.”
Her music has grown with that kind of focus. Her latest album, We Are Gathered Here, is a deep and rich collection of songs. From the elecro-influenced opener “Wanted” to the soft and emotive “Before the Chorus,” it is an album that invites you in for a fireside chat and creates moments to disappear into.
At Amado’s she performs solo, and it is a fitting complement to the rustic decor of the venue. The distortion of the guitars adds a layer of soulfulness to the sound, which is as raw as it is beautiful.
I ask about the cultural differences she sees in Nashville compared to the Bay Area, and she tells a story about an experience at Nashville Flea Market during the beginning of the election cycle. “I saw a bumper sticker,” she explains, “It said, ‘Hillary Clinton is just a white Obama with PMS!’ I was like — ‘Alright. We’re not in San Francisco anymore’…that’s racist and sexist, and it’s like 10 words — that’s quite an accomplishment,” she says, only half-jokingly.
“It’s definitely different…[there are] some benefits to not being in my liberal bubble anymore. My thoughts are challenged a lot more. I have to think about what I believe in,” she says. “I think that’s changed me as an artist and a person.”
“I have people on the street that I live on, in Tennessee, that have Confederate flags in their yard,” she says when I ask about whether or not she ever feels unsafe. “Being face-to-face with it, it challenges you a lot more to [ask], ‘OK. Where is this coming from?’” she says. “You really do start to question things more…Being a woman of color and seeing a big pickup truck that’s jacked up and some young dude driving it with two Confederate flags flying in the back. That’s immediately making me tense up,” she says.
A lot of this went into her music; it is one of the reasons We Are Gathered Here feels cathartic to listen to. “I’m a deeply personal writer. My songs are generally just meditations on things that I’m feeling or going through,” she explains. “I went through the whole emotional period of thinking Donald Trump is a joke…to the outcome [of the election], which was devastating. The album was made through that whole time period,” she says. “After we finished it, when I was trying to think of a title for it, I was just ruminating on our whole process. It was a very collaborative record. I made it with two producers in Nashville and wrote some of the songs with them as well. That’s why it’s called ‘We Are Gathered Here,’ because I just felt we’re in this moment where we just are with each other. That’s what we have,” she says.
We’re gathered here because that is what we have. It is a statement that lingers in my mind for much of the evening. A raw statement on the situation many people in this country find themselves in. Using experiences and safe spaces, we have to make sense of what is happening around us. Thursday very much felt like a shared experience. When Richardson joked about “talking to someone you don’t know” while she was tuning her guitar, conversations and laughter almost immediately filled the room.
Opening the night were Al Harper, playing their first show, and Debbie Neigher’s new project, Lapel. With a Julie Indelicato on sound, it felt like the show was doubling as a celebration of Bay Area women in music, ahead of Saturday’s march!
At the end of our interview, Richardson reminisces about the city — and its changes — one last time. “When I left San Francisco, the scary thing to me was seeing all the places that I had played starting out, starting to close,” she says. “It just really saddened me because I think the culture of the Bay, especially in San Francisco with the amount of money that’s here with the tech thing, it seems, in a sense, the art was getting lost.
“What is a culture in a city without the art? That really is what makes people love this place, even if they don’t realize it. [What] makes a city vibrant, is the artists,” she says. “That’s why it’s really special for me to be playing here again, because I thought this place was lost forever, but when I heard that it had a new name and they were still doing shows here, I was like, ‘That would be perfect to come back here and play again.’”