Last fall, as he was plotting his year ahead, Rook Richards took an ambitious approach to how he would navigate 2023. The Alexandria, Virginia native wanted to make a statement, and he has done just that, releasing the single “Euphoric Dream” on January 20th, with plans to release a single each month of the year. True to his word, he released “Right On Time” in February, and will soon be following that up with another in March. Each song promises to be memorable and unique, with each offering something a little different from the singer-songwriter.
If you’ve gotten to know Richards in any way, you would see that he is naturally a diverse and talented songwriter. He combines an eclectic mix of musical influences, including ’90s alternative and acoustic rock, as well as classic singer-songwriter to create a unique style, complete with exquisite, narrative-driven lyrics. Richards has a close connection with his fanbase, thanks in large to the hopeful, cheerful, optimistic, and emotional tone of his songs. He is guided by his own honesty and emotional experiences, which he views as being universally relatable.
Today we are joined by Richards to learn about how he views his music, his most important influences, his latest single, “Right On Time,” and much more.
How would you describe your own music?
Rook Richards: “Based in singer-songwriter and rock with elements of pop and country. Most of my music has a lot of hopeful undertones in the lyrics, even in the bleakest of situations, and I like to think that could translate into music that could help give some people optimism about the future no matter the circumstance.”
What is the story behind the Rook Richards name?
“I’m a big hockey player and fan. When I was getting my start taking music seriously, I was playing hockey about five nights a week in some men’s (beer) leagues around the area. I was always the youngest on the team, so they called me the ‘rookie.’ After the games, when we’d head out to the bars, the bartenders started abbreviating that to ‘Rook,’ and it just kind of stuck even though I’m certainly no longer the youngest guy on the team anymore.”
Who are your biggest influences?
“The Beatles were always a huge influence. The line in Superbad where Jonah Hill’s character Seth said, ‘It’s like the first time hearing The Beatles’ hit perfectly with me. I used to listen to them nonstop and drive my family crazy, singing along in the back of the car to them on long road trips to see family in Pittsburgh. Them, John Mayer, Stevie Wonder, Incubus, Jack Johnson, and Jason Isbell. Mostly rock groups and singer-songwriters.”
Tell us about your new single “Right On Time;” what was your experience of making it? What went on behind the scenes? Any notable moments that stand out?
“‘Right on Time’ is a new direction that still touches on elements from my previous releases, but is different in many ways. I wrote the tune and took it to my producer/guitarist Buddy Speir to start re-dissecting it to find where it should land. We really got to a Morgan Wallen/Morgan Wade kind of vibe with it, where it feels a little new country, but still has more of a pop-rock vibe. This is the first time on a track where I’ve only sung on the instruments, but the impressive thing is that Buddy ended up playing every instrument on the tune other than drums which were handled by Andy Hamburger.
“This was the first time also that I decided to rewrite the song between scratch take and final vocals, and I think it landed a lot better that way. There were a lot of moving parts, but I’m pretty happy with the final result.”
If you could change anything about the music industry, what would it be?
“I would bring back record sales somehow, or increase the amount artists should be receiving on streams. In a world of short videos and the internet, music has become something people take far more for granted than before. It’s been some time since people got excited about a full new record coming out and having the anticipation of waiting to hear the full album someone wrote. These days are all about the single.
“I’d also want to take the industry back to labels being more about artist development instead of taking a major cut out of the songwriting of artists and throwing 100,000 dollars at them while throwing them to the wolves and saying, ‘Here’s your resources, good luck!’”
What do you like most about playing music?
“The vibe you can set in an environment just through a voice. It’s wild to see the way I can manipulate sound in a way that can give me chills or excitement through the sonics and to have that same feeling find its way to the people that are in the immediate vicinity. That feeling is incredibly addicting to me.”
What’s the best show you’ve ever played?
“It was actually a small house show down in Albemarle, North Carolina, last summer. The low-key house shows where you only have yourself, a guitar, the sonics, an audience, and the stories behind those sonics are honestly the best. They can be a little more nerve-racking because all eyes are on you, and everyone is focused on what’s happening, but it’s also the place where some real magic and connection happens. The folks down there are so kind-hearted and warm. It’s a wonderful time every trip I make down there.”
Who would you be most amazed to see front row at one of your shows?
“Without a doubt, Paul McCartney. The man is, hands down, in my opinion, the best songwriter living, and easily one of the only people I feel I would be star-struck seeing at one of my shows. He’s affected my songwriting in so many ways, even before I knew I would get into music. I would be stunned.”
What is your writing process like?
“It typically starts out with me sitting down and journaling for about 20 minutes a day in silence. Once I get an idea, and what I really want to say with a tune, I get to the track, pick up a guitar and lay down some type of riff or chord progression, and start plugging in some lyrics. I usually start with the chorus to get the main idea, then figure out the storyline of the tune after. Final step in the writing process for me is laying down the song in what the industry calls a ‘work tape,” which is typically just me laying down a rough take on my phone.”
When you write, do you do so with the live setting in mind, or do you write a song just for the song’s sake?
“I almost always aim to make the song with the live setting in mind. Playing live has always been my favourite form of artistry, and I think it’s very important to be able to go out and perform those songs in a way that’s in the moment and always have something a little different to add to it. Live music is literal magic happening in front of us, and to make magic is something very rare and beautiful.”
Is there anywhere you would like to go that you have not been to?
“Two places I keep hearing about constantly are Key West in Florida, and the Virgin Islands. They’re both two places with people who love live music, from what I hear, but I haven’t had an opportunity to make it out those ways yet. I would absolutely love to go anywhere I haven’t been.”
What is the music scene like where you’re based, in Washington, D.C.?
“Much different from many other places in the country. The D.C. music scene is quite politically charged, and many of the people that are here are transplants, but for government contracts, and with the military. There’s a lot of punk going on around here, but if you head slightly down south into my parts and beyond, you start to find the softer side of that, including pop, rap, reggae, country, and a lot of folk/Americana.
“Working out here is different than any other place in the country I’ve been because of the nature of the work. It’s certainly not a major hub for artists, but we’re here, and there have been plenty of us that have made an impact staying around our area, including some big names like Dave Grohl, Darius Rucker, Pharrell Williams, and Dave Matthews, but there’s also some newer guys that are only a little lesser known such as RDGLDGRN and Illiterate Light that have been out and playing big festivals all over. There’s such a vibrant scene here, that once you start exploring and seeing what’s underneath, you really begin to see the beauty of the DMV and the artistry happening here.”
How did you link up with the label for this release and what about them was attractive enough to make you sign?
“This release is still being released independently; however, the next record coming out with SSM should be coming in the next year. We just finished cutting a five-track record that we’re very excited to release, and we’re looking at some national touring with some radio play/station visits. The biggest thing with SSM was the fact that they wanted someone willing to put in some elbow grease, and wanted to take the time required to develop a new act which is just something you don’t see very often these days. They also don’t take any of my songwriting which is something that is incredible to hear these days. I was happy to get to doing some work with them and finding out what the next steps were.”