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Apr
24
2024
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Pioneering proto-punk singer-songwriter Jonathan Richman will take the stage at the Antioch College Foundry Theater for an intimate, acoustic performance on Tuesday, Feb. 27. Tickets can be purchased at bit.ly/3UHNQPm. (Submitted photo by DrielyS)

Jonathan Richman to perform at Foundry Theater

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The Foundry Theater at Antioch College continues its 2023–24 live performance series on Tuesday, Feb. 27, when famed singer-songwriter and cult icon Jonathan Richman takes the stage for a bare-bones, acoustic set — a departure from the high-voltage sounds of Richman’s early musical career. 

Richman, now 72, is a lifelong performer known for his enthusiastic, wide-eyed stage presence and earnest lyricism. He’s the founding member of the seminal band The Modern Lovers, which many critics say influenced the punk movement of the early 1970s. Richman’s original band included keyboardist Jerry Harrison, who later joined Talking Heads, and drummer David Robinson, who, after The Modern Lovers, joined The Cars.

Since The Modern Lovers disbanded in the late 1980s, and with his punk days largely behind him, Richman’s solo career has spanned 18 albums — each one replete with his slice-of-life, observational songwriting and multilingual rhapsodies of love, all set to the tune of his nylon-string guitar.

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Richman’s unplugged approach to making music applies elsewhere in his life: According to his publicist, Debbie Gulyas of Blue Arrow Records, Richman doesn’t own a computer and only conducts written interviews. As such, the News sent Gulyas 10 questions to pose to Richman; she transcribed his responses below.

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YS News: In the past, you’ve said you prefer smaller and more intimate venues. The Foundry Theater at historic Antioch College in Yellow Springs is just that. What do smaller venues allow you to do on stage as a musician that larger venues don’t? Likewise, what do small performances offer audiences?

Jonathan Richman: You can get closer to people that way, and the sound is often warmer.

News: Your musical palette seems like it’s always reaching across space and time. Each new album has surprising and sometimes ancient references, colors and textures. You’ve been learning and singing in Ojibwe, getting into classical music, and so much more. What compels you to grow and evolve as an artist?

Richman: Life itself! As Frank Sinatra said: “You’ve got to keep growing.” (Or words to that effect.)

News: You’re a well-known improvisor. None of your live renditions sound like the recorded versions. How intentional is that? Is it just that we change as people over time or is there something significant — maybe even sacred — to making “old” art new again?

Richman: I learned from improvisers (The Velvet Underground). To me, that’s just how you do it.

News: How do you strike the right balance of humor and sincerity in your lyrics?

Richman: It’s not quite like that. You just sing. But I do pay attention to vowel sounds. I like to end my lines with hard “A” sounds a lot of the time. For example: “In the first bar things were okay, but in this bar, things were more my way.”

News: What makes my favorite songs of yours stand out are the vivid details that meld with and play off one another like brushstrokes on impressionist paintings. My question, then, is what details in your life shine out like inspiration for your next song? What kinds of things do you pay attention to when you walk through the world?

Richman: Colors stand out for me as I walk down the street. This, for me, has always been so. But for me, all the details in the world are no good unless the singer feels something. And if that happens, all the details take care of themselves.

News: What kind of music or art has inspired you or made you happy this week?

Richman: Reading the new book “The Story of Art Without Men,” by Katy Hessel. In this book I’ve encountered fabulous painters.

News: Your two most recent albums “SA!” (2018) and “Want to Visit My Inner House?” (2021) seemed to meditate on mortality and existential themes more than the previous albums. Do you believe that those themes emerged by virtue of getting older? Is the second album a nod to the interiority we were all forced into during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic?

Richman: No, nothing to do with any of that. That’s an interesting take you have on my two recent records. From my point of view, there wasn’t much about mortality on either one! And … I’m not quite sure what an existential theme would be … at least as it applies to my stuff. I just sing and each take might have whole different words than the one before it, and I don’t know how the albums will sound or what songs will be on them until they are finished.

These recent records, like most of mine, have lots of songs on them that got made up as we recorded, and one of the great things about working with Jerry [Harrison] again is … say … take a song like “Want to Visit My Inner House.” I play the song, Jerry listens and just plays whatever he hears. I usually don’t say a thing as to what he should play. In the case of that song, playing it with Jerry changed the song: I ended up adding new sub-melodies and things. That’s partly why there are two versions on the record so the audience can hear two different approaches. If we’d have included a third take, that would have been different again.

News: What should attendees expect to see, hear and feel at your Tuesday, Feb. 27, show at Antioch College’s Foundry Theater?

Richman: Do what we do: Just show up and see what happens!

“LIVE! On Stage: Jonathan Richman featuring Tommy Larks on drums!” will be held at the Foundry Theater on Feb. 27, at 7 p.m. Tickets can be purchased on Antioch’s website at http://www.bit.ly/3UHNQPm; general admission is $30, and Antioch College student tickets are $5.

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