Richard James Simpson is the former lead guitarist and vocalist for the band Teardrain, which included bass player and co-songwriter Jill Emery (Hole, Mazzy Star and Super Heroines, Invisible Chains -featuring musician Carla Bozulich). Simpson is the brother of the late Rock Halsey from the infamous L.A. punk band Rock Bottom and The Spys (which included Ygarr Ygarrist of Zolar X), and he's the son of actress Renate Huy.
As an artist, Richard's come full circle, re-adopting his full name. Through his musical travels, he's brought back with him the sounds, colors, textures and vibes of some of his favorite artists that have influenced him and the world of music throughout the years. Collectively, the vibes of early Bowie, Iggy Pop, The Pixies, Pearl Jam, Soundgarden, and the New York Dolls, Brian Eno, and The Beatles (just to name a few) comprise his multi-color painter's palette, which is deftly brushed on vinyl to bring to life the 18 songs on his debut solo album, Sweet Birds Of Youth. Under Richard's directional goals, creative pen, guitar, vocals, and the outstanding hand picked fellow artists/musicians, the lp has taken on a fresh, new life form of its own. It features Joey Burns- (co-founder of Calexico, Giant Sand), Dustin Boyer- (John Cale, Macy Gray) and Theo Welch- (Barry White, Evelyn “Champagne” King).
It's a who's who from diverse genres. Collectively, they bring their best electric current to the studio, and created this unique, tasteful blend of layered sonics, with few samples sprinkled in the mix. 'Sweet Birds Of Youth' has an enchanted Euro-American intensity from start to finish.
"You are ultimately responsible for yourself. No one will come to your rescue except yourself."
How did you first get involved with music?
Even as a toddler, I was a music lover; however, my entry into the world of playing music was when, as a teen, I rehearsed with a band called Invisible Chains. Initially, I was only there to jam because they didn’t have a bass player. After the jam, the leader of the band, Joey 8, said, “We’re playing a show Wednesday.” I told him I would try to make it, to which he protested, “No! You are now in the band.” I was thrilled to be in a band, but I wasn’t even old enough to drive, so my friend Carla Bozulich, who had a car, drove me to the show. We put my copy Fender bass and Sears Silvertone amp into her car – whose name was Harriet - and headed off to the show way over in L.A. All us kids were in bands and we were considered the second wave of punk. We were the children who were rejected by their peers but wanted nothing to do with them or their music, style or emptiness. We instead gravitated toward David Bowie, Roxy Music, the Sex Pistols, and so many more great bands. The freshness of punk enabled us to make our own world.
I believe you mentioned somewhere that your older brother turned you on to music. Could you please give us some insight on him?
My brother was part of the first wave punk scene in Los Angeles. His birth name was Charles. He left home for about a year and the next time we saw him he introduced himself as Rock Bottom. He had adopted a punk moniker, as most did, and lived that world. After that he formed The Spys with Ygarr Ygarrist from Zolar X. He was the singer in the band. I knew how much that music and that world filled his soul and I wanted to be part of it, so when the second wave came along it was only natural it would be my first step into the music world.
Your mother worked at an internationally known movie studio. Have any life lessons she may have shared with you helped you become who you are?
Her ambition and drive got her to that position. By her example, it taught me to never let an opportunity go to waste and never give up. There can be many obstacles and let downs in both industries and you must persevere if you really wish for it to lead to something.
Can you give us a quick rundown on what equipment you currently use?
I'm still in love with my Gibson Les Paul Studio. When performing, I used a Marshall half stack with Rat and Boss chorus pedals. I always preferred a powerful sound mixed with atmospheric accents for the guitar. Some of my favorite guitar players who accomplished that power and were tremendous influences on me were Mick Ronson, Ricky Wilson, Eva O, Brian Hansen, Randy Stodola, and Billy Zoom. People should listen to their music, which is exquisite.
Your father was a lawyer and a legal rep for Native American tribes. Are you of Native American heritage?
I am not of Native American descent, but I feel a great sense that my years spent as a child with the tribes remains a lasting part of me – an experience I feel honored to have had. Mind you, I was a child when I visited tribal land, but during that time I met people who had a high level of honor, a beautiful connection to Mother Earth, and extreme elegance. Oftentimes, I would play with the kids from the Fort Mojave tribe while my dad was working, and we never saw any differences in one another, just as the children from the Agua Caliente tribe were my pals. I was welcomed by them and their families.
From your experience, what are some cultural similarities and differences between tribes?
Each tribe brings their own traditions and customs to the rich tapestry that defines them. But to me, the most substantial cultural difference would be between non-tribal people and the indigenous people. The difference would be the fact that Native Americans have maintained such good will toward others despite experiencing such injustices with broken treaties, the horror of genocide, and overall abysmal treatment. I think that everyone could benefit from that kind of integrity.
If you had to enlighten people that know nothing about what Native Americans faced in the past and today, what would you tell them to open their eyes and minds?
I would suggest they listen to what Native Americans are saying, and read about their history as the original inhabitants of this land. DAPL (Dakota Access Pipeline) is a perfect example of how ignoring our Native American brothers and sisters’ knowledge can have catastrophic consequences. They were here first, so I would think they have a plethora of wisdom. One of my father’s biggest trials was for Colorado River water rights for the Native American tribes. They knew water was precious and must be guarded by those who will protect the Earth, not defile it.
Everyone hears music and comes up with a different interpretation, sometimes not what the artist wanted to convey. Could you describe what the songs are about or what they signify to you, and how they came to be?
Mostly, I would like for the listeners to interpret the album by using their own imagination, but if I had to be more specific I would say it is about a range in a person’s life in this strange physical experience, and that person is awaiting to emerge from the chrysalis of that life.
The songs, of course, are have more specific meanings, but for the sake of time I will give you an example of one song, “Never is Forever.” The first verse includes the lyrics, “Last night I felt like a feather in dirt. I fell down in disgrace. Everybody has little feelings. Can you see them?” These words have dual meanings. It can express a person’s belief that no one cares or that everyone has feelings and we should be more attune to them. The lyrics to the chorus of this song are, “You can’t hold a back that breaks and you can’t love a love that only takes.” This chorus urges the person to face the inevitable – that you are ultimately responsible for yourself. No one will come to your rescue except yourself.
You've mentioned several bands you were in since you were a youth. Tell us a bit about them and and their history.
My first band was Invisible Chains, which was a psychedelic, art, noise, punk stew. It was great. We would do 30-minute versions of “Interstellar Overdrive” by Pink Floyd to get started, then we would play hours of our own music and finish the rehearsal or show with our version of Ohio Player’s “Rollercoaster,” which sounded nothing like the original. We were creating something obscure to match our obscure lives as disillusioned teens in a dreary suburban existence. We were near the beach surrounded vicious jocks, cheerleaders, and people who listened to MOR or Top 40 radio, and slathered baby oil on their bodies to get tan. That wasn’t us. I’m telling you, it was like being in the movie Carrie, and we were all Carries. We cherished time making a racket in our parent’s darkened living rooms or our bedrooms, before we found a rehearsal space we could afford. Craig Lee of the band The Bags described us in LA Weekly as “sound sculpture.” We did one album on New Alliance, a record label founded by The Minutemen's D. Boon and Mike Watt and longtime friend and associate Martin Tamburovich (Invisible Chains). It was engineered by the late Ethan James, and the tracks I played on were produced by Don Bolles of The Germs.
Through the years, I played with many fine musicians, one being Maclovia Martel, who is one the best guitarists you will ever hear, and a voice that is divine. When she and I were playing together, we were even in touch with Kim Fowley. We wanted him to manage us, but we proved to be too much trouble for him.
In the 1993, Jill Emery had recently left Hole and was playing with Mazzy Star, but she was looking for her own project, as was I. Mark Reback, currently of Vast Asteroid, was our drummer, and we had almost-three glorious years together as Teardrain. We were lumped into the grunge category, but I don’t think we fit the label. As we grew as a band, we started to shape a new sound for ourselves, something I would compare in vibe to early Dream Syndicate and early Siouxsie and The Banshees. We were really starting to go somewhere with the band. We were featured on MTV’s Real World, Timothy Leary showed an interest in getting us to the next level, and we got the green light from the label Roadrunner to record an album for them, but it just didn’t last.
Do you have a chance to get out and see other live acts? Is there anyone that you could recommend for those that may be interested in new sonic discoveries?
I don’t get out to live shows as much as I would like because my own music keeps me very busy, but I have been to the famous Baked Potato nightclub here in Los Angeles numerous times to see Dustin Boyer perform. He was very instrumental in the creation of “Sweet Birds of Youth” and is John Cale’s longtime collaborator. He is one of the best musicians out there. I also have had the pleasure of seeing Blonde Redhead a few times. Once I complete my follow-up album, I will make it my mission to see more live shows.