30 October 2019

Lisa Richards' Music Made Her


Lisa Richards’ life so far has been kind of a whirlwind of experiences. Now a successful recording artist, music teacher, and by her own assessment “a relatively well-adjusted human,” Richards lays out some of the formative events that have taken place in her life because of her desire to make singing her career.

“Music has given me everything, everything that I have. And everything that I am has come about through music.”

The jazz and blues style singer tells me about the different cities she has lived in, how each new place shaped her into the musician and the person she is today, and why she has chosen to settle in Canberra.

Originally from Townsville, Richards had a difficult childhood, encountering sexual violence and becoming prone to substance abuse from a young age. While living in Townsville she says she was never encouraged to think about music as a viable career, and she was also too shy to perform.

“I could only sing in public if I was so drunk that I couldn’t sing in tune.”

At the age of 20 her first move was motivated by a desire to reinvent herself.

“The answer for me was to go somewhere where nobody knew me so I could just arrive and be who I wanted to be. Just be the singer.”

Richards tells me that a band called The Naturals was on tour in North Queensland and one of the members whose name she can’t quite recall advised her that Canberra was a great place to start a band. “So I came to Canberra first,” she says.

After an 18-month stint here getting her name as a singer out around the city, Richards moved on to Sydney where, she explains, “I attempted to make music, but it never really happened because I was too high all the time.” Her wellbeing and music career both suffered while in Sydney, before by chance, a group of musicians heard her sing and she became part of a band with them called The Cavers.

Photo: Geoffrey Dunn

The Cavers would eventually lead Richards to New York where she spent seven years. Her time there was eye-opening as she “never expected it to be such an inviting place full of creative people”. She was suddenly surrounded by people telling her to go for it, rather than to play it safe. “In New York I got a feeling like anything is possible.”

Richards explains that in New York she started becoming the musician and the person she really wanted to be. “Before coming to the United States I had never held down a job, I was really quite lost as a human being.” But soon after arriving she says, “I grew up and I became my own person.”

Parting ways with The Cavers in pursuit of a solo career Richards found her way to Austin, Texas to play a showcase at SXSW but ended up staying there for 14 years. “Austin was an incredibly creatively rich place,” she says. During her time in the United States she released a total of five albums, and has released a sixth while in Canberra in 2017.

Now Richards has been back in Canberra for five years. She tells me “I moved back for love, even though I never thought I would come back to Australia.” And of Canberra she says, “I love Canberra, it’s a cool little city, and it’s very underappreciated.”

Richards says she is still finding her feet back in Australia, but she aims to become more involved in the local music scene here over time.

She will play a show at Smith’s Alternative on Sunday March 17th showcasing some brand new music. Richards will be joined at Smith’s by three of her music students, Finn Burton, Erin Pierlot and Grace Martin.

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