Oxford-born singer/songwriter, Richard Walters is naturally gifted with a voice that transcends the average, in fact, his gentle but never frail vocal register demands attention. Fraught with emotion, his songs are moving and heartfelt detailing revealing moments in life that are both relatable and deeply personal.
Upon the recent release of his fourth full-length record ‘A.M’, we decided it was the perfect time to sit down with the musician to delve deeper into the thought process behind the new material, his songwriting process, the future and more.
There’s a real depth of emotion and breadth of lived experience ingrained into each of the tracks on the record. Ultimately, I feel the lyrical maturity and deeply moving instrumental backing on ‘A.M’ really confirms that this is your greatest record to date. How do you feel about this body of work?
Thanks so much. I’m really proud of this album. Because there was a fairly long gap between this album and the last, which came out in 2012, I was able to be very selective with the songs that made the final tracklisting. Huge credit has to go to producer, and co-writer on lots of the tracks, Aidan O’Brien…I was not sure I could make another solo album, but he pushed me through and I think we’ve made something special together.
How did you want this album to move on from your last? Did you want to do things differently in the writing/recording?
I struggle to listen to work after it’s out there, I just don’t like to revisit…but this is an album I can imagine listening to again in the future. ‘A.M’ is my first album that has been recorded entirely outside of a studio setting, and I think that was quite important in setting the tone. It’s also the first time I’ve been involved in the recording process, tracking lots of the vocals at home…so again, that felt like a leap forward.
Certainly a few of the songs on the new record are based on deeply personal events in your own life. Yet, it is somewhat necessary as a songwriter to search inside and pull from everything around you for inspirational reasons, do you ever find it intrusive or maybe just a difficult task to articulate?
I do worry about the personal nature…I’ve done shows and felt the weight of what I’m actually saying and been aware it’s maybe too much. I’m a very content and happy person, I consider myself very very lucky, and that’s probably at odds with how my songs present me to the world. To a degree, I write about matters of the heart or what have you because I know it’s relatable, I know that for many, music is where they turn when they’re feeling reflective or a little lost.
What’s your songwriting process? Do you have any odd rituals or quirks that help you put that initial pen to paper?
I have to force myself to do it. I keep a notebook with title and lyric ideas, and then eventually sit myself down for an hour or so and get something out. I normally just set up one microphone, get loads of reverb going and see what happens; if I don’t get the whole song in one sitting, I tend to get the start of something. I’ve tried writing words first but it just doesn’t flow for me.
Where’s the most unusual place that a song idea or lyric has come to you?
The bath is good for songs. Great reverb and you’re in hot water, what could be better? I do find it helpful being in very small, confined and dark spaces…not sure why, but it’s easier to just pour it out when you can’t see a great deal.
In many senses, you’re a prolific songwriter, not only do you write under your own name but you dabble in many other musical projects and also write for other established artists. How do you approach writing sessions with other artists for co-writes?
Co-writes are all about the initial connection. I find it just doesn’t happen if I’m intimidated by someone or we can’t talk freely…we’ve got to have something in common to start with. And the artist needs to be comfortable just singing out and trying things. I don’t want to sit for hours trying to figure out the formula for the perfect pop lyric, and I don’t want to write a song that sounds like anything else, nothing kills a session quicker than attempting to copy whatever is number 1 on that day…it’s about just getting the best song you can. I have a 2 hour rule; if we haven’t got the start of something great within 120 minutes of meeting, it’s not going to happen.
Do you find it a fulfilling process working with other musicians on their projects – have you learned any great tips from your co-writing sessions?
I love meeting and writing with other artists most of the time. I’ve learnt it’s all about positivity and energy…people want to be made to feel comfortable and confident in what they’re doing. I’ve done sessions where I’m the 20th writer they’ve seen that month and that just never works…there has to be willing and enthusiasm from both sides, otherwise it’s a waste of time.
In the seven years since you released your first solo record, the industry has changed quite irrevocably, what are your thoughts on the new music climate?
It’s a much better environment for artists now than it was when I signed my first deal, which was…2001 (!?). Yes, there’s less money but the music makers have more control than ever before; you can record everything at home, you can be your own label, you can be your own PR…it’s a bigger community but a much tighter and more approachable industry now.
You have a voice that is very true, evocative and moving. It’s one of those voices that as a listener, lingers with you and is impossible to forget. To maintain such clarity and warmth, have you ever taken vocal lessons? Do you have a warm-up routine?
I haven’t had any lessons…I am more cautious now though. I don’t smoke, I try not to drink too much before going on stage and I do occasionally warm up…I had a scare in 2013, something called Hyoid syndrome was diagnosed and treated, and I’ve been more aware of potential problems since then. I would hate to not be able to sing.
You’re celebrating the release of the new album with a small tour around the UK, I bet over the years that you’ve been a touring musician, you’ll have seen some amazing sights. Is there a ‘wow’ moment that sticks out in your mind from touring?
Touring as a support is always great – all the bonuses without the pressure to sell any tickets! There have been a few nights on those bigger tours where I’ve looked up and told myself to remember that feeling, being on-stage in front of 6000 people at the Royal Albert Hall or the Hammersmith Apollo, it’s something that not everyone gets to do and I feel very lucky on those nights. I think my favourite touring memories are all about the bits in between the gigs, hanging out with friends and meeting people who’ve taken the time to come and watch me…those are rare moments.
What has being a professional musician taught you about yourself?
It’s taught me to be adaptable, ultimately. Very early on I found out, I was a lot more sensitive and thin-skinned than I knew, so I’ve learnt to take criticism and appreciate that I can’t please everyone all the time.
As we’re nearing the end of 2016, do you have any plans etched in for the new year?
2017 will be all about writing with other artists. There are plans to be out in the US a little bit more often on that front, which I’m excited about. I’ve also written a new album, so I’d like to get that out around my birthday in June…but I’ve decided to stay closer to family and home, so there will be less touring – I’m not sure if Travelodge will survive.
Richard Walter’s new album ‘A.M’ is out now. Buy on iTunes here.
See Richard Walters performing live at the following dates:
24th OCT – St Pancras Old Church, London
26th OCT – The Library, Oxford
27th OCT – Ort Arts Cafe, Birmingham
16th NOV – Brudenell Social Club, Leeds
17th NOV – Courtyard Theatre, London
3rd DEC – St Mary’s Church, Guildford
Photo Credit: Dmitry Serostanov
For more on Richard Walters, head to his Website.