Eliza Rickman interview – talking truth and beauty
Eliza Rickman interview: What’s it like to live out of a suitcase on tour? Why does Lark of my Heart commemorate an unknown woman poet whose scrapbook was discovered in a dump after her death? Singer-songwriter Eliza Rickman talks truth, hurt and beauty (you can find out more about her music here on Mookychick).
Photo: Jill Simpson. Source: Instagram
You’re Californian. What does ‘rainbow folk’ mean to you?
I was romantically involved with an Italian man who doesn’t speak a lot of English last year, and somehow based on bits of information he read about me on the internet, he coined that term – probably by accident. It works, though. Folk with lots of sparkle and color. Unconventional but songs that are crafted in a folk style.
Your brand-new Kickstarter-funded album Footnotes in Spring sounds lighter in tone than the previous album O You Sinners…
I have been telling audiences that the two albums complement each other. A lot happened in the time between “Sinners” and “Footnotes“- a serious health scare, for one. I also fell hard for someone who turned out to be abusive, and I managed to get far away from him before there were any life-ruining consequences.
Both of these things put a lot in perspective for me – I used to be so melancholy, whereas now I am grateful to be alive. Basically, a lot of growing up and a lot of self-awareness took place. Coming of age, I suppose – I am in my 30s now. Bad things and disappointments are inevitable, but I’ve found peace from within, and I think that’s reflected on the new album.
So your new album is being produced and orchestrated by fabled accordionist Jason Webley?
Jason and I became friends years ago, and he was the single most important influence and help in regards to the path I followed (giving up my house and touring virtually full-time). But we didn’t know we were such a great match in the studio until he asked me to participate in his “Margaret” project, back in 2014…
Photo by Gigblog
We read in a Qui Que Vadis interview that your new track Lark of my heart was written to celebrate the wedding day of unknown poet Margaret Rucker whose scrapbook was found in a skip after her death. What inspired you to write?
Jason asked a handful of his favourite songwriter friends if they could each write two songs based on the life or poetry of this unknown woman. The scrapbook itself was very beautiful, and the way it came into his life was so strange and serendipitous that he wanted to pay homage to that somehow. He told me later that he thought of me partially because I love time-worn things (she was born in 1907, and much of the scrapbook was from the first three decades of her life).
Margaret Rucker experienced great tragedy in her life, so I knew I wanted to write a song about that (“Maker of My Sorrow“). And I thought it would be nice to force myself to write a light-hearted tune as well (“Lark of My Heart“). The deal was that I would be allowed to use the songs on my own album if I liked them, and they are some of my best, so both of them appear even bigger and better on “Footnotes“.
When you’re recording albums, do you stay in one place to do it? What makes you choose that place?
I do tend to stay in one place when recording, and sometimes it’s not where I initially plan or expect to be. I worked with Mark Greenberg in Chicago for “Sinners“- in the dead of winter. And I feel like you can almost hear the shimmering icicles and snowflakes in the work. While the campaign for “Footnotes” was running, I was planning to work on the new album in Portland. But shortly after it was funded, I went there and began work. It didn’t feel right. Because I had recently worked with Jason a few hours away in Seattle, I knew how magical that collaboration was. So there was a change of plans. A lot of musicians work on recording when or wherever they can from the road, but that doesn’t seem possible for the way my brain works.
Your merch rocks the joint. How important are things like merch to financial survival for indie artists?
It’s taken a while to find my way with merch – for ages, I offered nothing but CDs. But when I befriended Dame Darcy and she did some things for my Kickstarter backers, it was a match made in heaven. So most of it is suggested by me and illustrated by her.
Offering things like shirts, etc, is still new for me, and I would argue it doesn’t help the income of a musician that much, BUT the advantage of offering things like that is you then have people walking around with your name on their chest. Free advertising! I also recently sold out of a limited run of Lark of My Heart music boxes that I collaborated on with a factory in China… it was quite an ordeal! But they sold like hotcakes and are very beloved, so I would imagine I’ll offer music boxes again in the future.
Okay, your lovely wardrobe. Let’s talk!
I am admittedly a clothes horse and LOVE fashion. I have quite a pile of dresses and gowns in the closet of my old room at my parents’ house, and lately I take maybe 3 at a time with me on a tour. I’ll choose dresses that I think are appropriate for the types of venues I’ll be at, and the local climate of where I’ll be. Like when I toured with Welcome to Night Vale in the summer of 2014, I took only pink dresses with me.
This last time in October 2015, I chose fall-appropriate dresses with a more theatrical look to them – the favoirite being a short poofy purple velvet party dress with a halter neckline. Then for the holiday season, it was gold, black and white. I do love my wardrobe. Oh, and I use them to pad the inside of my suitcase with all the instruments in it. Double functionality!
How do you feel about all the touring in your life?
I do love it, but my relationship with touring is starting to change. I lived in LA about six years ago when I went on my first little two-week tour. It was so productive that it caused me to take a step back and think about how I should approach my career. I felt I had two options: I could stay in Los Angeles, and hope the industry would pay attention to me, or I could take matters into my own hands, tour a ton, and build a fan base DIY-style. I chose the latter. And it has been wonderful- I have a ton of stories as a result, and am so happy to have made a small but devoted fan base for myself. But in my wildest dreams I did not think this nomadic phase of my life would endure for so long- I’m exhausted.
It’s difficult for the brain and heart to not have a little nook or cave to go home to between tours. So I am trying to implement ways that I can tour less but more effectively. Looks like I’ll be setting up a Patreon account soon- I think in the age of Spotify and Netflix, that’s the only way I can avoid a day job, which I believe would only distract from what I’m truly meant to do with my life.
What was it like touring with She Makes War? Was it Laura Kidd who switched you onto the uke? Are you and the ukelele musical friends?
Jason actually “forced” the ukulele on me when we were in the studio. I love this story – he encouraged me to try to write as much as I could in one day. I’m not a prolific writer, so this was stressful, but based on my work on “Margaret“, we both knew I work well under pressure and deadlines. He gave me a ukulele and a chord chart, and a couple of hours later, I had “Waiting Around Again“. And now, yes, the uke and I are in a very loving relationship.
Laura is incredible! We met over a year ago online thanks to a mutual friend. It took a long time and lots of emails to figure out a way we could tour together- I was REALLY eager to get to the UK. On top of being super-helpful and friendly, she is a force of nature and SO talented. It was really cool to hang out with someone doing what I’m doing, but I would say she’s even better at it. She inspired me and gave me some new ideas. I’m grateful to her, and hope to return the favour and have her along in the US for some dates soon-ish.