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On 'The Road': Grammy Nominee Cathy Richardson
by Gregg Shapiro
2004-02-04

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Cathy Richardson Band performs at Temptations, 10235 W. Grand in Franklin Park, (847) 455-0008, Friday, Feb. 13, with special guest Anne Harris. Doors open at 6 p.m., show starts at 8 p.m. Tickets are $15 at the door or in advance at www.CRBand.com .

Singer, songwriter, and most recently, actress, Cathy Richardson is a Grammy nominee in the Best Recording Package category. Externally, her CD The Road To Bliss (Cash Rich) is stunning. From the road photos on the triple gatefold cover, including the authentic Hawaiian rainbow, to the interior rendering of a vintage car dashboard in which the disc itself is depicted as the steering wheel and the glove box opens to reveal the ingenious lyric sheet and liner notes rendered as a map. One look at it and you will agree with the Grammy nominating committee. Internally, The Road To Bliss is Richardson's finest work. Every song, written between 1998 and 2003, ranks among her best, with highlights such as the cautious jubilance of 'Miracle,' the defiant 'This Town,' the radiant 'Blindsided By Love' (a duet with Indigo Girl Emily Saliers), the Lucinda Williams-like country blues of 'I Can't Forgive You' (with harmony vocals by Nicholas Tremulis), and the exhilarating 'Over Your Shoulder,' to name a few.

Gregg Shapiro: The last time we spoke, you had just started playing the role of Janis Joplin in the stage musical Love, Janis at the Royal George Theater in Chicago. You subsequently went to New York with the production. What kind of experience was Love, Janis for you?

Cathy Richardson: That's a hard one to sum up quickly (laughs). The entire experience was so incredible that I have to write a book about everything that happened and how it changed me. Being Janis (Joplin), and to what level I went with it (laughs).

GS: You're still here, so that's a good sign.

CR: Yes, I did survive, thank God. I did live through it. I'd never lived outside of Chicago before. I'd never done anything like this before and there I was in New York, totally thrust into the spotlight, starring in a hit show. It was the greatest thing and I had such great expectations. I had this idea of how it was going to be and how it was going to unfold for me, and it turned out nothing like that. September 11th occurred while I was there and our show was downtown. When it happened, they closed everything from the 14th (Street) and below, so our show was closed and we didn't know what was happening. Then there was a whole bunch of drama that happened with the investors and the producer and money being screwed up. The show was taken over by someone else, but it was a hostile takeover. I had to get out of New York. I was like, 'This is it! I'm never doing this again!' I took a few months off and I this whole other little journey during that period. The whole time I was gone, they kept calling and saying, 'Do you want to come back? Do you want to come back?' (laughs) Finally, they were like, 'We need you! It's an emergency! We need a Janis this weekend! Can you come and fill in?' I said, 'OK.' I did it and I loved it. It was like a whole different experience, coming at it without any of those expectations. Where it took me in the role and as a singer and a performer …

GS: … being a guest star in the role as opposed to being the one who does it every night …

CR: Right. It was just coming in and singing the songs and realizing what it was really about. It shouldn't have been about me going there to have this career thing that I thought it was going to be. After taking the time off … I'd gone to New Orleans for the first time. I sat in with Irma Thomas's band and we did 'Summertime.' It was the most lowdown version you have ever heard anybody throw down. I'm singing the song, and everybody in the audience is just, 'Oh, great, this chick's going to sing. Get Irma back up here!' I started crying while I was singing it; nobody in the audience knew what was happening. It was this really intense spiritual moment for me. At that moment I realized that the only reason to sing is for the feeling of it, which was what Janis was about anyway. She was an ambitious person and she had a lot to prove. But the thing that made her so singularly great was her feeling when she sang.

GS: And even if Janis was thinking about money or business, it never came through in the music. Whereas every time Britney Spears opens her mouth, you can hear a cash register ringing. There's no passion and there can't be when you're concerned about how many t-shirts are selling.

CR: And where is my name on the marquee in relation to the other girls?

GS: I also want to extend congratulations to you on your Grammy nomination in the Best Recording Package for your new CD The Road To Bliss. How did you react when you found out about the nomination?

CR: I should preface this by saying that I was sitting in Hawaii in February of 2003 and I said, 'This time next year, we are going to be at the Grammys.' That's when I started manifesting the dream (laughs). We had set our intention to make the coolest CD package that anyone has ever seen. When we hired the printing, we said, 'We're entering this into the Grammys.' The first sample they gave me, I was like, (mock angrily) 'Forget it! This isn't winning any Grammys! Get serious!' (laughs) I was so on their ass the whole time. I saw about a hundred samples. 'I don't like this paper. I don't like the way it feels. I don't like this thickness. It doesn't fold right. The corners pull here.' I had no idea how to engineer a box, but I knew that someone did (laughs). We found this company, Aspen Packaging in Elgin (Illinois) and they were able to do the whole process. Bill (Dolan) and I did the design. We were calling NARAS (National Association of Recording Arts and Sciences) every day asking about the deadline. They weren't done yet—in fact there were a lot of things wrong with the ones we turned in. The map and the CDs printed wrong the first time; little tiny details that probably no one but Bill or I would notice. We didn't even get to turn in our ultimate piece.

GS: You have long had a hand in the design of your CDs. I remember the wonderful packaging for 1998's Snake Camp, and of course, The Road To Bliss is truly amazing. Is that level of involvement essential to you?

CR: It is for me. I'm visual as well as auditory. I'm like a Mac computer geek. Pro-tools, Photo-shop—I'm all over it. Basically, I'm sitting in front of a computer most of the time (laughs).

GS: The songs on Road To Bliss were written over a five-year period. So, I would imagine that there was probably more than the dozen songs we hear on the CD from which to choose. What was the process of selecting and recording the material?

CR: Out of the body of work that I had collected, I tried to pick the most musically cohesive songs. I also wanted to keep them within a theme. Not that it's a concept album, but I wanted the music to work with the package and the experience. There was another song, 'Ballerina,' that we had cut a long time ago, that was great. Musically, it would have worked well, but I thought it was too depressing (laughs). I just made it available as a bonus track on the Internet for people who buy the CD because it's a good song that deserves to be heard. It kind of bummed out the record.

GS: You didn't want the ballerina dancing on the bliss.

CR: Right. Exactly!

GS: In the opening track, 'Miracle,' you sing about waiting for your miracle to come. What would that miracle be for you?

CR: I really think the Grammy nomination is a miracle. I count that. I feel like I've had so many miracles over and over and over again. I'm not really waiting for a miracle, because they happen to me all the time (laughs). I think they happen to everybody all the time; people just may not be as tuned in. Even with all the horrible and tragic things that happen; there is always a blessing, but it's sometimes difficult to see. I might not necessarily be that girl (in the song) anymore that I was at the time. Not that it was a really autobiographical song anyway. But I do understand that feeling of, 'Why me? Why does everything happen to me?' Or 'Why does nothing happen to me?' (laughs)

GS: You also have a gift for expressing career frustration in song. You did it in 'Less Than Dead' from the Buzzed EP and you also do it in 'Has Been' on The Road To Bliss. Do you think having the ability to do that has aided in your perseverance?

CR: Yeah, you go through periods of frustration, that 'why me?' Then you go through those periods of, 'Wow!' When I look at my career as a whole, I've done all right. 'Has Been' is, I think, less about a career than about a life and wanting your life to mean something and not let your life pass you by . ... I've certainly had times like that where I've taken for granted all the great things that have happened for me because it's not my grand vision of where I imagined myself to be. You miss all the fun because you're worrying about all this stuff that doesn't really matter.

GS: You also focus your attention on Chicago in 'This Town'…

CR: (Laughs)

GS: …which ends with the line 'I'm waving one finger goodbye.' What was the impetus for that song, and the response?

CR: I've not received one negative response to that song. In fact, it's given me this huge sort of vindication that that's the song that's ended up on the radio, although now they've started playing 'Miracle.' Joel (Hoekstra) and I wrote that song. It was like, 'Let's write a song about all of the critics that put us down' (laughs). Not only us, but all of our friends that we've read about. A lot of times I've felt like, why should some of these larger newspapers in the city go and take a potshot at a local band? How about just saying nothing, instead of going out of your way (to say something negative)? There is one paper in particular that I really think they go out of their way, any time that they mention me, to put a weird twist on it. It doesn't matter and you shouldn't care, but it still bothers you. Because you know that the only people who are going to read it is everybody that knows you (laughs). ... It's not a comment on Chicago as a city. It is about a handful of thorn in my side—and thorns in a lot of people's sides—critics (laughs).

GS: Emily Saliers provides the duet vocal on the lovely 'Blindsided By Love.'

CR: Kristen Hall and I wrote that song. It was the first song that we wrote together. We met on a gig in Florida. She was like, 'Hey, you're really good! I want to write with you.' I was like, 'Holy shit! Cool! Because she's Kristen Hall' (laughs). She came up to Chicago and stayed at our house. We went downstairs and I started playing her all these unfinished song ideas. I played her the chorus of 'Blindsided By Love' and I said, 'I've got this chorus that I love, but I cannot write a verse to save my life.' She was like boom, 'Give me a guitar!' Then all of a sudden we had this great song. The way the lines in the chorus go, I had visions of Emmylou Harris and Linda Ronstadt. Kristen suggested that if Emily sang the demo it might help to get them to listen to it. I had opened for Indigo Girls and sung with them a couple times and Kristen is an old friend so she convinced Emily to do it. Of course, it turned out so beautifully and Emily was supportive of putting our version on my record. ... We cut the song and then she asked me come up (during their concert) to sing 'Closer To Fine' with them and Lisa Loeb. What an awesome day that was.

GS: That was one of those miracles.

CR: Exactly! (laughs)


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