Hippies may be a dying breed, but not if singer Miranda Lee Richards has anything to do with it. The musician’s breathy vocals, trippy guitar licks and piano melodies, which Richards herself dubbed “psychedelic chamber folk rock,” have garnered her comparisons with Joni Mitchell, Emmylou Harris and Lucinda Williams.
It’s not just her music. With her straight, middle-parted hair, wide eyes and penchant for long, lacy dresses, she looks like a waif who wandered straight out of the Seventies. And then there’s the matter of her pedigree: The San Francisco native is the daughter of subversive comic artists Ted and Tessa Richards and goddaughter of legendary illustrator Robert “R” Crumb.
Nostalgia aside, her stylings have won her a cult of followers, including Spoon lead singer Britt Daniels and producer Daniel Lanois. Both caught her first show last week at Los Angeles venue Spaceland, where Richards is the artist in residence this month. An album, “Light of X,” also hits stores tomorrow — the second after a 2001 release that was well received but little heard.
“Light of X” is full of soulful ballads Richards composed on the piano, including the classically influenced “The Last Days of Summer,” a Velvet Underground-meets-Blondie track called “Early November” and the acoustic “Hidden Treasure.” One of her favorite tracks, “Here by the Window,” she says, is “sort of like my definitive self-realization ballad. I have got a million of those. They are very peaceful. That’s how I like to calm myself down.”
Richards, who learned to play guitar from Metallica’s Kirk Hammett, a family friend, studied music in high school before embarking on a teen modeling career in New York. (She credits Kate Moss for any success: “I’m shorter [than most models], so her career made my career possible,” she says.) The money she earned supported the determined Richards as she trekked between open mikes.
Now based in Los Angeles full time, Richards says she usually takes a highly personal approach to songwriting. “I do tend to stay in the self-discovery subject,” she admits. But she’s quick to point out that her wistful ballads aren’t breakup songs, or even about romantic relationships. “There is other stuff going on in the world. It’s not always about a guy,” she insists.
When it comes to choosing her performance outfits, she tries not to overthink things. “I went to see Patti Smith recently, and she was just in jeans and a T-shirt, and it was so real and raw, but she has probably been wearing the same thing for three weeks. But if she was all glamour princessed out, it wouldn’t work,” says Richards, who favors simple attire, herself. “Sometimes when I put on makeup or glitter I’m like, ‘What are you doing?’”
So far, her slow-but-steady approach to making music is paying off, though she’s still getting used to the growing level of attention. “I was putting a little love into my Facebook profile a while ago and I invited a few fans from my mailing list. All of a sudden my in-box had triple the messages. I can’t believe that people want to know that much about me,” she says.