GrrlPunch: Hey Lena, we’re so excited to finally get this interview with you on the first day of your tour! How long are you touring for and where?
Lena Rich: Hey Lucy! So excited to be featured in Grrlpunch, it is awesome! Right now, I’m doing a pretty small album release tour that is mostly based out of my home state, Maine, with one show in Connecticut and two in Bozeman, Montana. The tour began on Jan 5 and will end on the 26th.
GP: How can we keep up with this tour on social media?
LR: You can keep up with me at www.lenarich.com, or @lena_rich on insta or my Facebook!
GP: How long have you been making music? Did this love for music originate in your childhood?
LR: I have been making music basically my entire life. When I was about 3 I started playing violin followed by piano at age 5 and then guitar, mandolin, bass and singing much later, around age 14. I’ve always had a love for music. Neither of my parents are musicians, but music was still a big part of my childhood…mostly from driving around so much with CDs always playing in the car. I started composing music when I was about 7; classical music for string quartets and trios. I submitted those compositions to a contest called The Young Composers Festival in Blue Hill, ME and won a couple of awards from that.
GP: That’s an insane amount of instruments to even be familiar with as an artist nowadays. Did any one person ever inspire you to pursue music as a career?
LR: My piano teacher, an amazing woman named Jennifer McIvor, always encouraged my creativity and I’m so grateful to her for that. I wasn’t the typical piano student…I didn’t like practicing scales (who does?). Instead, I would hear a song I liked on the radio and would transpose it to piano by ear and play it that way or follow an idea I had. Jennifer supported me in following my creativity instead of the typical classical piano rigor.
GP: I know that a lot of young people trying to start out in original song writing and performance find it difficult to write their own lyrics or even guitar riffs, etc., so how do you go about writing new songs/music?
LR: For me, writing songs/music is my preferred form of expression. The music I wrote when I was really young is a totally different genre than the music I write now. I started writing music for the genre I’m in now when I was about 14. I had just moved to a totally new environment, my parents were getting divorced, my dad was struggling with alcoholism…there was a lot to write about. It happened naturally and it was surprisingly therapeutic to turn a challenging and painful situation into a song that I was proud of, and something that was also fun to play. At that point, I didn’t think at all about who would be listening, I was just writing as means of expressing myself. It isn’t always about a challenging situation, though. I’ve written songs about feeling inspired, being in love, or even just having a beautiful day. Songwriting is the most satisfying when I can turn a situation that has left me feeling weak and hopeless (like a breakup) into something empowering. In that way, music is kind of like reincarnation…I’m able to take something painful and devastating and turn it into something uplifting through making something I’m proud of and sharing it with the world. In terms of my process, I write songs very quickly. I know a song isn’t meant to be written yet if I can’t grasp the majority of it within 15 or 20 minutes. I usually sit down and the chords and the lyrics are just there. It can be frustrating when it feels like it’s there but it just isn’t…I know it’s being forced, so I just give it time and the song comes to me when the time is right.
GP: What inspires you or what do you do for inspiration when you’re in a rut?
LR: Nature has always been a big inspiration for me. I was really fortunate to have grown up in Maine, which is a stunningly beautiful place. The ocean, the mountains and the woods are very important to me and some of my biggest inspirations. I also find inspiration through switching up my scenery through travelling (it doesn’t have to be far, even just walking down the street). I’ve heard feedback from a few people who said that my music radiates a theme of traveling, which hadn’t occurred to me before. But after they mentioned it, it made sense. I’ve always loved travelling and being in a new place. A lot of my songs use travel as the constant theme or setting.
GP: Do you have special people in your life that help you in times of creative blocks?
LR: Yes, definitely. I owe so much to the people in my life who support my creativity and the challenges of creative blocks. I mentioned my piano teacher Jennifer before, she always helped me out of creative blocks. Talking with my girl friends is always helpful, especially my girl friends who are also musicians or artists. Nick Tenney, my boyfriend, is a photographer and can relate to the sensation of feeling creatively stuck, as I think all artists can. Because he knows me so well, he’s able to remind me of why I do what I do, and to just relax and be okay with not feeling inspired every second. I am super grateful to feel supported as an artist in that relationship. I have a close circle of mentors who I also can turn to when I feel stuck, that’s essential to me. For example, a man named Meeko at my school, Oberlin, is very involved with religion and spirituality, and although I don’t consider myself necessarily religious, his spiritual wisdom is always incredibly uplifting and refreshing and helpful to my creativity. I know I can always turn to him when I feel stuck. Kathryn, another mentor I have at Oberlin, also pushes me to get right back to work when I’m feeling in a rut.
GP: How would you describe your music in terms of genre?
LR: I would describe myself as indie-folk, indie-rock, singer-songwriter…somewhere in between those genres. I grew up influenced by many different musicians and genres…jazz, bluegrass, rock, hip-hop, classical music…I try and make an effort to be inspired by as many genres as possible and not limit myself.
GP: Okay a little more serious of a question, have you ever felt that being a woman in the music industry has held you back? Or do you feel you have had a different experience due to your gender?
LR: Good question. I’ve been really lucky to have been mentored by great female musician role models such as Anais Mitchell and Antje Duvekot. I worked one-on-one with both at a songwriting workshop and festival, and both spoke to me in-depth about their negative experiences with the male-dominated industry, particularly with having male managers and feeling silenced by them. Antje fired her manager and starting booking on her own. . .I was inspired by both of their abilities to remain genuine and be their own bosses.
That being said, I definitely feel like I’ve had a different experience in the industry because of my gender thus far. The most striking thing is just how male-dominated the experience has been so far. Although I haven’t had any negative situations emerge from working with an all-male team (on this album specifically), I looked around the studio and saw only men and that was certainly a defining aspect of recording the album. From what I’ve experienced in the industry so far, typically, men do all the booking, men play the instruments, men own the venues, men own the recording studios, men run the radio stations, men own the PR companies. . .that became clear to me early on.
As soon as I started playing gigs frequently, I had men (even men I trust) make comments to me that felt uncomfortable. It gave me a glimpse into that world and it’s just been something that has remained unchecked in the industry – it seems like awareness and change are finally being brought to that fact.
In terms of “being held back”, the biggest obstacle for me being a woman compared to a man in the music industry is the body image pressures and the image pressures in general. The most “famous” female music artists have photoshopped faces, bodies, etc. and I feel like the physical appearance of an artist is directly tied to her work whereas that matters less for men. A specific obstacle I’ve faced being a woman in the music industry is men sometimes diminishing my ability as a musician and only referring to me as a singer, which is funny because in terms of the hours I’ve put into practice through the years, I am foremost a piano player and secondly a singer. I have limited training with singing, whereas I’ve been studying piano since I was 5. It’s not a great feeling when the men I’m playing music with give a solo or a lead to male band member and don’t even want me to sing with an instrument in my hands.
Of course in a larger sense, when I think about the most massive parts of the industry like the superstars (but definitely not limited to that), I know that men with large amounts of power abuse it too often. We’re seeing that come to light week-by-week now, which is heartbreaking but also telling.
I’m glad those truths are being exposed and that people are listening, because this is not a new phenomenon. I’ve had multiple mentors I trust warn me about powerful men in the music industry, and it’s sad that female artists have to constantly be aware of their surroundings and their safety when they deserve to have their attention entirely focused on their creativity.
What I’m interested in is cultivating a creative community of women. I think that’s really important and powerful. I’m adjusting to a new environment at my college, but back home I had a strong group of female artists and it was a great community, we inspired each other and supported one another. I’ve been fortunate to get to work with a lot of super respectful and genuine guys, which shouldn’t be a rare situation, and I know most female artists haven’t had that experience. I think the key, and definitely something I’m continuing to work on, is being aware of the space you’re creating and who you’re involving because there is always a choice. One of my goals is integrating more women into the team I have right now.
GP: What’s been the most challenging part of being a young musician?
LR: The most challenging part of being a young musician for me has been navigating the pressures posed to me by society, school, family, etc to not follow a creative path. It can be really scary and daunting.
Only in recent years have I gained the courage to tell people music is what I intend to do professionally, and that I don’t have a real “backup.” I’ve felt defeated many times when adults roll their eyes at me or laugh when I tell them what I really want to do, but overall it has been a freeing experience to own it and give it everything I have.
GP: What is your goal for 2018 concerning your music and career?
LR: For 2018, I want the album release and tour to go well and hopefully have lots of people hear my music for the first time. I hope it resonates with new listeners.
I’m planning to dedicate the summer to touring as full time as possible and also to collaborate with other artists looking to do the same. I’m working with a small record label based out of Portland, ME, called Block the Wind on a multi-region tour where a group of us will tour together promoting each other and the community-oriented message of the label. Hoping to have some fun along the way!
GP: What is the ultimate goal for Lena Rich?
LR: Hmm. . .my ultimate goal. . .I hope I can help people with my music. Whenever my chords or lyrics speak to someone in my audience, it all feels worth it.
Music has changed my life, comforted me, inspired me, and helped me massively and if my music can do even a little of that for someone else, it really will feel worth it. If I’m able to support myself (more or less) through making music, that will be a dream come true. I know it won’t be easy but I can’t think of anything more liberating than living a creative life full-time.
We’d like to thank Lena Rich for taking time out of her tour to answer these questions for us. The artwork is credited to her album cover art. Be sure to follow her on the mentioned social media platforms! Personally, we will be jamming out to her new album that just dropped on Spotify!