The music of Carly Ritter is ensconced in a world in-between. It's folksy, but not quite folk. It's brushed with Western nuance, but lacks the twang that's omnipresent in big-business, commercial country music. This is California music, the kind nurtured and harvested at the foothills, looking seaward as the marine layer dissolves into the Santa Ana winds.
Ritter's music is distinct, her lithe voice wafts over guitar strums, and stories. Her lyrics are hopeful, but realist, mixing insights on love with ruminations on existential philosophy. Music is in her blood. Her grandfather was Tex Ritter, one of the innovators of early country music in the first half of the 20th century, and her father was actor John Ritter. She grew up in Los Angeles, went to high school in Santa Monica, then left it all behind for New York. When she returned to Los Angeles years later, she rediscovered her home again and reconnected with old friends. Together again, after years apart, they made music. Her high school friend, Joachim Cooder, son of legendary Ry Cooder, had forged a music career of his own, and reunited with Ritter; he helped to shape the sound with his own brand globally-minded rock. Vanguard Records label mate, folkster Robert Francis and his sister Juliette Commagere (from synth-outfit Hello Stranger) joined them too. Joachim's father Ry, even accompanied them on a few tracks that will appear on Ritter's self-titled debut album, which comes out in August. The album sounds, and feels like California; a breezy listen with a mind for country with a heart of folk.
Carly Ritter recently stopped by the Artbound studios to share a couple of songs from her upcoming album, and to tell a few stories too.
Tell us about the new album. How did it come about?
The album is self-titled and will be coming out August 6 on Vanguard Records. A couple years ago, I quit my day job to really pursue music. I was really focused on trying to write as much as I could. So I started writing some demos with a group of friends and then Joachim Cooder and Juliette Commagere, who I'd done to high school with, and were friends with my older brother, found out and offered to see if they could help. I sent them a few songs, and from there they offered to do a demo and then a whole album, so it's been quite an adventure.
Your music has touchstones of sounds from the late 1960's. Were you influenced by the Laurel Canyon '60s-70s movement?
It's funny because I think I've been stuck a little bit earlier, and with a lot of early country and folk and blues music. And so with the '60s and '70s, I feel like I've been exposed to more of that through Juliette and Joachim, who are like "You need to listen to this." They introduced me to a lot of new sounds and feels, which is great, so they added that amazing sound to the songs
What do you mean by "early country and folk"?
I did my junior year abroad in Scotland where I was exposed to these old ballads, which have this energy that's dark and heartbreaking and beautiful and it really spoke to me at that time in my life. And when I came back and finished my last year of college, I was trying to learn more about American music and where those old ballads had influenced the music of this country. So I was spending all of this time in the old music library at my college, xeroxing the old sheet music. And because of my family background, it was a nice connection to learn more about my family which I didn't know that much about, especially the role that my grandfather played in country music. And my dad hadn't really played that much of that music for us growing up. So it was a very exciting discovery. And that's when I first started to feel that great desire to do it. I loved it so much, so I wanted to do it.
Tell us about how discovering that music reconnected a bridge to your family?
After being exposed to so much country music as a kid, when my dad discovered Rock & Roll, he just never looked back. When I started digging into American music, I discovered my grandpa really for the first time. I knew maybe two or three of his songs and so then to uncover his voice -- which is such a comfort to me -- and this old Western cowboy, the folklore, it really resonated on a deep level. So that was nice to connect with my family history through music.
How was the collaboration with Joachim and Juliette significant in maturing your sound and building the album?
Well, when I was first thinking of recording these songs, I just had my guitar and that's really all. Joachim and Juliette have such rich musical influences and they added all of these sounds that I just would have never come up with on my own. They would really think about that particular song and what would best bring out the spirit in each individual song, so it felt very personal and cared for.
What are some of the themes you wanted to communicate on this album?
When I think through the songs, there's always a thread of personal experience. So there's always a bit of me in almost all of the songs. But then, there are a few where it was really the story of someone I know and that's one of the wonderful things about creating. When you're living life and meeting people, everyone just has an amazing story to share. Not that the goal is to use it for something, but to be touched by someone, maybe with what they struggled with or how they've overcome something. But I hope there's a thread of love and tenderness through all of the songs. Because, I think in human relationships there's so much brokenness that also has a beauty to it, when there's love.
"It Is Love" was influenced by Kierkegaard. Can you describe how he influenced the song?
I'd wanted to write a bit more of an uplifting song because there were quite a few that were sad or melancholy and so I found a passage from Soren Kierkegaard, this great philosopher, and he asks all these questions and after each one he answers with- "It is Love." There's a great rhythm to that. So I changed the questions and put the imagery that I respond to.
Tell us about "It Don't Come Easy."
"It Don't Come Easy" was the first thing that I collaborated on. Juliette was working on a song and she asked if I could add some lyrics to it, which was great because I had never started with music and tried to get the feel of someone else's words and fit with that. So it was a very exciting process and a huge honor, because it was a song that Juliette and Joachim both worked on and they're two of my heroes. So, just to have a collaboration with the two of them was very exciting.
Has L.A. influenced you and your songwriting?
Absolutely and I lived in New York for eight years, with college and after college, so I've really just begun to get to know L.A. in a different way, where I've been exposed to so much music and art; the mountains and ocean. There's so much to be inspired by here. I think some of the challenges of growing up as a teenager in Los Angeles are those feelings of insecurity or that I should dress a certain way or be a certain way. I think that trying to figure out came back in some of my songs.
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