For today’s interview, we have Joe Richter, a local Milwaukee Musician who recently played a show at the Backroom at Colectivo. As put on his website, “Richter’s songs are personal yet hold broader meaning.”
I spoke to him over the phone briefly before he went to the Christkindlmarket, an annual Chicago event that’s recently come to Milwaukee as of this year.
GMAT: How’d you get started? Have you always been doing music?
Joe: Yeah, pretty much since I was a kid. I really got attached to it as a kid as far back as I remember. I was an Elvis Presley fan as a kid. I can’t tell you exactly how I became attached to his music. I just loved music always as a kid. My family, my aunt specifically, was very inspirational for me because she always took me to see concerts and she always had a bunch of different music playing when I visited her.
GMAT: Very cool! What kind of concerts did she have you listen to?
Joe: This was probably back in the mid to late 80’s. I was born in ’82 so I’m 36 now, so this was probably back in the late ‘80s, so it was like the singer songwriters of the 70’s - Billy Joel, Elton John, Van Morrison, Jackson Brown, those guys from the early 70’s. And then obviously in the mid ‘80s, like Phil Collins was very inspirational for me. All the male vocalists like Michael Bolton and Jon Secada. A lot of people were listening to the hard rock like Soundgarden – I love Soundgarden – but I just love stuff a little bit more melodic and soulful, y’know? I really when I was a kid started singing and that was my main thing. I always played piano as a kid too. But yeah it was the early songwriters mainly.
GMAT: Cool, I know you’re more of a singer-songwriter yourself and then you have the band you have coming when you’ll be playing Colectivo at the end of November. I saw too you had an album out called Revival and, on your website, you described as “it’s more about his musical transformation, improvement and growth.” Would you be able to tell me a little more about that?
Joe: Yeah, initially I was going to have a gospel revival on the record - we were going to do it for the single “Happy Tears”, which is the 1st song on the record - but we just didn’t have the means to get it done. And I was thinking about the term revival and I looked it up in the dictionary and it talked about like improvement and growth and transformation and that pretty much summed it up for me. Like when I think about my last record which I came out with in 2012. It was just solo acoustic and I didn’t know any musicians prior to that. I started playing with professional musicians about 6 years ago and it just really changed the course of how I play music, how I think about music, how I view music, how I perceive the world, and when I look back, 10 years ago compared to me now is a completely different person. Revival’s just a cool word, y’know. A lot of people think it’s meant to be religious, but it’s not at all. It’s meant to be more like a spiritual awakening.
GMAT: Yeah, I know with your last album Grace you’re definitely sporting a different look. I mean they’re both nice, just different. I kind of thought that was interesting to see that change.
Joe: Yeah, I agree, it’s definitely a change. The way I kind of view it, is there’s kind of an intimidation factor when I’m playing with these guys. It feels like I need to bring it, and in the studio, I got to work together with just how they brought forth their ideas in working together and collaborating, which was fairly new to me as well. I’ve been doing that now with them for about the past 6 years. There’s just a lot that goes into it.
GMAT: Yeah, how does that music making process go? Do you write the lyrics and then maybe just have a small idea and then share it with the band, or how does it work?
Joe: You know, actually what I do is kind of vice versa. Normally I’ll write the music first. An idea will pop into my head, sometimes if I’m working or at the gym or in the morning. Or something tragically happens to myself or a really good friend of mine. It has to be something worth writing about. I have to be emotionally connected to it. Normally I’ll sit down at a piano or a guitar, or for instance a piano here. I’ll just sit and start playing. I’ll just go into as I just want to write today. So, I’ll just start playing and something will happen where a melody just catches my ear and I will start writing lyrics down. Usually it’s melody first and then the lyric.
GMAT: Very cool! What would you consider your genre to be? I know sometimes that can be a hard question since people don’t always fit into one genre.
Joe: It is a really hard question ‘cause a lot of people ask me that. Somebody from the Shepard wrote a pretty good brief synopsis from it. It was like a touch of Americana, Folk-rock, gospel, country, and blues.
So, I don’t know, maybe adult contemporary might be a good way to categorize it? There’s a lot Americana and a lot of Rock pop influence in it. There’s actually very little folk in it, so Americana Rock maybe? This record is at least, not to say that my next one will necessarily sound like that.
GMAT: OK cool! I noticed on your profile that you were a factory worker before and now you’re a respiratory therapist. How does that work balancing that? Doing music and then respiratory therapy – I imagine it’s really fulfilling doing respiratory therapy too.
Joe: It is, that it is! I’m very fortunate to work for a facility that supports what I do. If there are times that I need off or a gig comes up, they usually will help me to work around it. The good thing is that in healthcare I work long shifts, like 12-hour days, but I only work a few days a week, so I have a few days off during the week that I can pretty much dedicate to music. The hardest part about balancing it really is my family life.
Just balancing my family, my music which I’m so passionate about, my work, and then of course I need to have a personal life too. But to be honest with you, music means so much to me and I just want to share it with people, hopefully on a higher level than I am now. I hope when people hear my music they think, “I really love that song and I connect with that.” I hope to do my music on a bigger level with a lot more people than just 50 or 100, maybe just a couple more.
But I’m grateful for what I do have and I’m grateful that I’ve gotten it to this point. I think I’m in a good spot right now because of the album, and now I just gotta do another one.
GMAT: Yeah it definitely sounds like things are going well! I know recently you did a live session with 88Nine Radio Milwaukee. How did that come about?
Joe: To be honest with you, I’ve been trying to get in there for a long time. It’s not very easy to get in there, at least for me. But when I got this gig at the Backroom at Colectivo, people just started reaching out to me which is really neat. And so, Piet Levy from the Journal Sentinel did an article on me. Pretty much mostly anyone that plays at the Backroom, 88Nine pretty much supports it. So, they have a package of what they do to support the artist, like give away tickets to my show and then have me on the 414 Live.
GMAT: Oh cool! So, the Backroom was the springboard for that all?
Joe: Yeah, it was.
GMAT: Nice so how did that gig come up, did you approach them?
Joe: I did! I contact the backroom to book a show 6 months after the release of my album. Just told them I would love to come back and headline there and they said they’d love to have me back. And so, we launched it.
GMAT: I’m glad it was helpful with getting things rolling. The other question I had was what are some of your hobbies outside of music when you have the free time?
Joe: Well, I always try to give as much time to my family as I can, but aside from that, spending time with my wife and getting out of the house, like the Christkindlmarket, and forget about music and work for a little while. I just love to do that. I’m just like anybody, I like movies, and once in a while I play some video games, though I hate to admit that.
I’m a big sports fanatic so I’m a big Milwaukee Brewers fan, Green Bay Packer fan, big Milwaukee Bucks fan, so I’m always paying attention to the sports world. I’m pretty adventurous and won’t say no to anything with an adventure.
To learn more about Joe Richter, feel free to check out his website at www.joerichtermusic.com and see what other events he has coming up.