For this new Artist Highlight (number 6 already!), meet Rich Stephenson and his music. Producer, composer for E4 Skins, multi-instrumentalist, this brilliant singer/songwriter recently released his second Ep, "I AM RICH (blue)", a very upbeat follow-up to his Ep "I AM RICH (Red)". The first Ep had some sublime melancholic songs such as "Waiting (Song For Gloria)" and, like Rich puts it, a more acoustic/folk sound. With this new release, he switches things up a little bit. The tone feels very positive and uplifting. The result is a collection of infectiously good songs that are just the perfect balance of pop, folk and rock. It is almost impossible not to bob your head along when you hear the very catchy lead single "Better Things To Do". In the midst of all the buzz surrounding the new release, I got to ask Rich a couple of questions about his music and, of course, the brand new Ep.
Congratulations for the new Ep I AM RICH (Blue)! How did you get into making music in the first place?
Thank you! I’ve been playing music since I was 13. I had some great music teachers at school. They encouraged me to explore my creative streak - and I’ve never looked back! I started on sax, playing in ska bands at school, but once I picked up the guitar, I knew I’d found my calling!
What artist/band would you say has impacted you the most musically?
The biggest musical impact I’ve had is my mum and dad’s massive record collection. They have everything: The Beatles, Van Morrison, John Coltrane, Tina Turner, The Clash, Stevie Wonder, Elvis Costello, Toots and The Maytals – the list goes on! Music was always on when I was growing up: my earliest memory is dancing to Paul Simon’s Graceland at top volume!
You have already released 2 Eps. At this point, which one of your songs would you choose to introduce your music to a new listener?
It sounds a bit cliché, but I’d say ‘Better Things To Do’. It covers all of my musical bases: acoustic folk (mandolins, strings and tight harmonies), a rockier edge (classic three piece, bass, guitar and drums leading the mix) and catchy pop hooks. The only thing you can’t hear is my bendy legs… but you’ll have to come and watch me play to see those for yourselves!
As a listener, I always have songs I love more than others. Do you have in your discography a personal favourite? Like a song that means something very special to you (not that the rest is not meaningful).
I love them all in equal measure! Ha! Each song does remind me of a certain moment in my life though. The final track on the Blue EP,‘Get What I Want’, brings back fond memories of when I worked in the studios at the Royal College of Music in Kensington. It’s a great mixture of folk, pop and classical: the string quartet is arranged RCM alumni Dan Elms and all the players were students at the college – all of them now making waves in the classical world. It was an interesting coming together of musical minds!
Some people might have found out about your music with Skins. How did that collaboration happen? And what was the best part of composing for a successful tv show?
That came about because I was the runner driver during the filming of the first series. I gave a CD of my songs to the director, he liked them and we went from there - such a stroke of luck! I really enjoyed exploring new musical avenues when I was writing for it; the ‘eastern european’ sounding tracks I wrote for the episode set in Russia were certainly a worthwhile challenge!
The most exciting part of writing for the first series was the fact that no one knew how big the show was going to be. The whole cast and crew were so down to earth – and continued to be once everything went stratospheric! It was great to be part of television history!
If you could write a song for any show on tv right now, which one would you choose?
There’s so many! I’m such a Netflix ‘Box Set Boffin’. I’d really like to have a song featured in Peaky Blinders. The choice of tunes they pick are perfect. I may have to ‘darken’ my sound a bit though!
I really liked Peter Gabriel’s classical reworking of Bowie’s ‘Heroes’ in Stranger Things too. Maybe I could adapt a similar 80s classic for the show?!
You have released 2 Eps with a cover art and a title around a colour (and your name). Where did this idea come from? Do you think you will continue this series or will there be an album down the line?
The I AM RICH idea was down to my design friend (and one-time housemate) Jo Glover. She knocked on my door one night, handed me a memory stick and said ‘Here is your logo’ – and I immediately loved it!
Being from the north, it has the tongue-in-cheek self-deprecation that I love (as a musician, I am far from loaded!) – and it definitely helps people remember me: I did a live session for on BBC London recently and one of the team took one look at my tshirt and said ‘OH! I saw you perform last week! You were great - love the logo’. Amazing!
There will definitely be at least one more I AM RICH EP (colour tbc). My band keep joking that I should compile all of the EPs together as an album and call it I AM RICH GOLD! I think ABBA beat me to that already.
Talking about the new release, the general mood feels a lot more positive and less melancholic than the previous Ep, which is quite bold when you associate it with the colour blue. Is it what you were going for? A more folk/pop sound?
Yes. The first EP had a great mellow folk/ acoustic sound – and myself and producers Nick and Emma wanted to take that foundation and push ourselves to the limits. We have everything on their: string quartet, 3 piece rock band, mandolins, mandolas – at one point, Emma had me playing vibraphone and marimba, neither of which I’ve played before!
Being from the seaside, I also associate ‘blue’ with summer, blue skies and the ocean, so I thought I’d mix it up a bit and put out a ‘blue’ record with a euphoric vibe.
What was the first song you wrote for the new release? Did the whole Ep come together naturally or were there changes until the last minute?
We started recording ‘Better Things…’ at the end of the sessions of the red EP, so had a strong (and lively) base to jump off from. Everything started to click into place from there. The main talking point once the recordings were in the bag was track listing – what song fits where? Which is the lead single? It was changing right up until the deadline for the CD artwork! I’m really happy with the finished results though. It’s only four songs, but there’s certainly a journey to be had listening to them!
Any upcoming projects you can tell us more about? Is there going to be a music video for this Ep?
Funnily enough, I’ve just been talking to the record label about releasing a single in November/ December, so watch this space! I have some live studio videos with the band in the pipeline too, so again, keep an eye on my YouTube channel.
My hometown of Hull is also City of Culture next year, so I’m definitely going to be involved with that – can’t wait to do my bit putting the city on a global stage.
Last question: what song/album do you have on repeat right now?
So many from so many genres! I’m really into Francis and The Lights at the moment – he’s a great contemporary singer/songwriter in the mold of Peter Gabriel and Talking Heads. I’ve also just found out about 80s/90s cult Liverpudlian band Shack recently. They’ve got some great Byrds/Beatlesy vibes. Ooh! And I loved the last album by Lizzo (a Hip Hop artist from Minneapolis).
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