The Herethereafter and the Return of the Ladder
To get to know Miranda Lee Richards, leave your stereotypes behind and embrace the idea that a beautiful young woman can also have tremendous strength, intelligence, talent, and a clear idea of who she is and what she wants.
Miranda’s world is one of dichotomies; the underground and the under-your-nose, old ideals and new visions, traditional sounds and modern sensibilities. It is best likened to north and south and the two cities where Miranda Lee Richards has lived her entire life — San Francisco and Los Angeles.
Miranda was born in San Francisco to comic book artists Ted and Teresa Richards. She spent her childhood immersed in the underground comic book scene surrounded by the likes of R. Crumb, Bill Griffith, Gilbert Shelton, and S. Clay Wilson. Crumb even became her de-facto godfather because she spent so much time with him during her youth. “It was a pretty crazy lifestyle to be exposed to at such a young age,” according to Miranda, but one that helped plant the seed of creativity that grows in her today.
At one point the idea of having R. Crumb draw her bio was batted around, but her father and mother reminded Miranda she would probably end up being drawn with a chicken head, gigantic tits, huge legs & a big ass. As far as Miranda’s view on R. Crumb’s controversial drawings, she simply states, “Where do you draw the line on censoring your own damn self?”
Miranda found her voice at McAteer High School of the Arts. While there, she was involved in a group called the Urban Pioneers who organized guerilla-type charity work and seminars. In a “Pursuing Your Dreams” workshop, Miranda realized that if she could do anything in life, she would sing. “I love the expression of it, and the opportunity to contribute to society.”
Throughout high school Miranda modeled on the side. It provided money, but posed a conflict within her. “As a model, you are a vehicle for someone else’s creativity.”
After graduating from high school, Miranda bought her first acoustic guitar and a harmonica and immediately started writing songs. She traveled to Paris, where she tried her hand at modeling full time and thoroughly hated it. She returned to San Francisco and enrolled at San Francisco City College.
During college, a friend introduced Miranda to Kirk Hammett from Metallica who provided her first hand exposure to the music industry and some guitar lessons on the side. In Kirk’s basement studio, Miranda recorded for the very first time.
A copy of that recording found its way to the manager of Brian Jonestown Massacre who then invited Miranda to sing with the band. Her first experience performing live was with BJM at the Great American Music Hall in San Francisco in 1995. She sang with them, on and off, for about six months, but decided not to tour with them. “I love this sort-of psychedelic-bass-like-Velvet Underground-folky stuff, but these guys are so fucking crazy. It was just going to be a rock ‘n roll circus, but in the worst way.”
Living in San Francisco had already offered innumerable lessons on the perils of excessive drug use. “We’d walk by a homeless person on the street and my parents would point and say, ‘Too much acid.’ I mean we had pot and acid, but we knew what could happen if you did too much of it. We saw the stories. Some of our parents’ friends died.”
Miranda was determined to find an aesthetic that more closely followed her heart. So, she decided to ditch the drug-infested San Francisco scene and move to the drug-infested Los Angeles scene to find people who shared her point of view. She figured she could model to pay the rent and spend the rest of her time meeting musicians and putting a band together. So, she and her then boyfriend, Hiawatha, moved to Los Angeles.
In 1995, she met musicians Charles Mehling and Randy Billings, both of whom would eventually play on her record. At the time, however, they did not have their sights set on a female lead vocalist for their Gram Parsons-inspired country-rock.
Adding to her dilemma was that Miranda was living in a tent in Charles Mehling’s back yard. She and her boyfriend were looking for a place, but no one would take them because of Hiawatha’s pit bulls. “I was so pissed because I would be in a tent trying to get ready for castings.” Charles’s backyard, called “The Compound,” was centrally located in between other back houses and apartments. Eager, as always, for more stimulation, Miranda continued to venture forth. “There was a ladder in between these two backyards and I would go over the ladder every day to have coffee. One day my boyfriend picked me up, kicking and screaming, literally on his shoulders and said, ‘no more ladder’ and took the ladder and broke it in half. It was so symbolic — that was my lifeline to the other world.”
Miranda promptly ditched the overbearing Hiawatha and returned to the other side of the ladder. There, she found friend and producer, Rick Parker. Rick offered up time in his studio and over the course of the next few months, Miranda completed her new demos, which landed her management.
For the next few years, Miranda continued to write and play music and search for a band. “It was extremely hard to get taken seriously because they knew I modeled. It was a constant battle of how I wanted to be perceived versus how I felt I was being perceived.”
She kept her connection with Brian Jonestown Massacre and did some studio work with them, contributing on vocals and flute. In addition, she wrote “Reign On” on their album Bringing It All Back Home Again and co-wrote “(You Better Love Me) Before I Am Gone” on the album Give It Back. Those recordings helped her gain exposure with the local L.A. indie scene (Beachwood Sparks, The Tide, The Warlocks, Bell Aisle) that she was trying to connect with.
Miranda also had an understanding of the need for music to be accessible. She wondered how her heroes like Neil Young, John Lennon, Bob Dylan, Beck, Chrissie Hynde, The Verve, and even Blondie at her most “vibey”, reached as many people as they had. “The balance that I was looking for was where you can be in that underground world but still do great music that reaches more people.”
On The Herethereafter, Miranda reflects her own aesthetic perfectly. The songs are well crafted, full of memorable lyrics, melodies and harmonies, and accessible, like her 60’s heroes (“Beginner,” “I Know What It’s Like,” “The Long Goodbye, ” and a cover of The Rolling Stones’ “Dandelion”). But, she also stays true to her alternative sensibilities (“Last Solstice of the 70’s,” “Landscape,” “Seven Hours,” and “Ella”).
A congregation of talents collide and collaborate on The Herethereafter. In addition to her vocals, Miranda played acoustic and electric guitar, piano, keyboards, harmonica, percussion, and did some of the string arrangements. Contributing musicians on the record include: Jon Brion (who co-produced “I Know What It’s Like” and played bass, chamberlin), Joey Waronker (drums), Matt Chamberlin (drums), Patrick Warren (chamberlin, keyboards), David Campbell (string arrangements), Brook Clayman (guitar), Beachwood Sparks members, Dave Sher (lap steel) and Brent Rademaker (bass and keyboards), and Mike Prosenko (who co-wrote “Seven Hours”and designed her artwork!).
When asked to put together the ultimate group of musicians either alive or dead, she harkens back again to 60’s legends and opts for Keith Richards or Brian Jones on guitar, Ray Manzarek on keyboards, John Densmore on drums, Dusty Springfield on back-ups, all performing a song co-written by Miranda and John Lennon. When asked where her first record should be filed in a record store, if alphabetical filing were abandoned, she’ll stick with alphabetical. “It’s cooler that way because I’m so close to the Rolling Stones.”