On May 4th of this year there is something special happening, and it isn’t Star Wars Day, although what happens may very well leave you with a real feeling that the force just may be with you. Music legend Rita Coolidge will release her first album for ten years. Her 18th studio album will be released by Blue Elan Records and has the two time Grammy winner combining her incredible song writing talents and voice with those of Graham Nash, Chris Stapleton, Stan Lynch, and Keb’Mo’ to name a few.
Rita has poured her soul into this and has said “This is the best record I’ve ever done. I’m extremely proud of it.” The album is named ‘Safe In The Arms Of Time‘ and is recorded at LAs Sunset Sound, the studio in which Rita recorded much of her early work.
Producer Ross Hogarth has brought together an incredible line up of talent to record and the results are superb. Guitarist Dave Grissom, bass player Bob Glaub, keys man John JT Thomas and drummer Brian MacLeod join Rita to bring a message of love and hope . The results remind me a little of Johnny Cash’s American series when he brought the experiences of a lifetime and poured them into a series of releases that are impossible to listen to without experiencing every emotion in his voice. Rita does the same and because of that the album just becomes deeper with every listen.
Rita has recently returned to Tallahassee with her partner, who she originally met at College, and as life has come full circle with her looking to the future with hope and love and belief I was lucky enough to chat to her and talk about her new album and her upcoming visit to London to promote it in the intimate setting of Boisdale.
EP: I’d like to chat with you about your new album.
RC: That’s the best thing we could talk about.
EP: it’s been 10 years since your last album, what motivated you to get back in the studio?
RC: About 2 1/2 years ago I started talking to my manager about wanting to make this record. I wanted to make kind of a roots record, a record that went back more to the sound of my earlier records. I wanted to go back to an honesty that I hadn’t experienced in a while. It took 2 1/2 years to make this record and it was something that was very important to me. To be able to make this record and do the very best that I could do and not just be running to the studio and laying down vocals for somebody else doing a track. I really wanted it to be my record and I think it is, more than anything I’ve done in decades.
EP: I’m completely hooked on the record and have been listening to it non stop. Was it a conscious effort to recapture more of an original sound by going back to LA Sunset Sound?
RC: I think we did wanna go back to Sunset Sounds because I did make so many records there and actually they were pretty excited to have me come back to record. So it was part of the full circle and getting back to my roots because I did the first albums there and recorded there for years. It feels kinda like my studio home!
EP: It really works. Your voice is beautiful on the record. I read that you didn’t want to use any of the production trickery like autotune. Do you think that helps to take the album back to an original sound?
RC: I do. I’ve always felt the honesty of having a vocal that’s not perfect, of course there are places I could’ve sung a word better but I think that it’s important to keep that on the record because it gives a real honest feeling. Any kind of mistakes or breaks or scratchiness in the voice; I don’t want it to be absolutely perfect because anybody can do that, anybody can go in the studio and autotune. I saw a guy on a tv show the other night talking about that and he said if you want a unique sound use autotuning but if you really want to sing go do your scales. That says it all, it’s really about singing the song and not just about making it work.
EP: I think that the great thing about Country music and Americana is the honesty in the songs and this album epitomises that. There seems to be a theme of looking forward, a message of hope. The song ‘You Can Fall in Love‘ poses the question “is this how you do freedom? Turn your back on hope?” Is this message of hope something important to you?
RC: Absolutely! And especially in that song because it’s one of the songs I co-wrote and I really wanted that particular song to speak to people of all ages, but especially to people that are older and feel like they don’t have the worth or value they had when they were younger as far as being viable partners or falling in love or finding their dreams and following their heart. You know, people all over the world, I think, are getting so youth orientated with our media and magazines and everything that people that have some life experiences feel like they are kinda shut out. It affects so many people in so many ways. It’s important to me to remind people of all ages that they don’t need to settle for anything less than being as happy as they can be and every day being the best day it can be. That’s really what I wanted to say with that song. You can fall in love, it usually is right in front of you but you don’t feel like you deserve it. Usually people don’t look forward and they just give up and that’s a mistake.
EP: Absolutely. it’s an important message. I understand you wrote 3 songs on the album. What were the other two songs?
EP: What was it like working with the incredible Keb’Mo’?
RC: I’ve been a fan of Kevin’s for 25 years. I’ve probably known him since the seventies because when I was signed for A&M Records Kevin worked there and he was always on the A&M lot but he wasn’t the successful artist then that he is today. For many years music was a side thing, he was doing regular jobs to take care of his family and at some point he came to that crossroads and had to choose whether he was gonna be a full time musician and thank God he did, and a wonderful one. I love his songs, I love his attitude, it’s so positive; he makes the world a better place because of his music. I don’t think he is very aware of his celebrity, of the influence he can have on people so he doesn’t commiserate with people; he says you’re wonderful, you’re beautiful and so am I and so are we all…Love yourself. It’s great! He’s so positive and wonderful to work with.
EP: That must have been just what you wanted on the new album. How did you go about choosing the other songs you would record? Was it a long process?
RC: The first song that we chose was ‘Doing Fine Without You‘ written by Graham Nash and Russ Kunkel and that’s been probably 2 1/2 years ago. That was the first song chosen before I connected with my producer and we have literally worked on songs for probably a year and a half almost until the time we went into the studio. We went into the studio in May last year. We started recording May 22nd and we finished September 22nd but we were literally choosing and eliminating songs probably up to a month before we went into the studio and as the word got out we got in touch with writers. People like Stan Lynch and Kevin and a lot of friends because a lot of times if you’re not selling a million records every time you put one out, the songwriters don’t want to give up their good songs. They want to save them for what they call, in this country, the big bullets, the people that are gonna sell a million out of the gates. But we did manage to get the good songs, we found some writers in Nashville who were just spectacular and they gave us some songs. We chose one song, ‘Spirit World‘, because the writer Steven Burton was a mutual friend of my producer Ross and I’ve know Steven since Kris & I played music together, he was in our band. So it was a process of choosing the right songs. We probably had a list of originally 200 songs, we were literally listening to thousands and we eliminated it down to these 12 songs.
EP: I have to say that the work has paid off, there really isn’t a weak song on the album. It gets better for me with every listen and every time I have a new favourite. At the moment it’s ‘We Are Blood‘. Speaking of favourites, I love Chris Stapleton. I understand he wrote one of your songs?
RC: Yes he wrote one of the songs, the first one on the album, ‘Satisfied‘, which he wrote with Dave Grissom, who is a renowned guitarist everywhere I think.
EP: I read that you had relocated to Tallahassee, was that to help with the music as it was a place that you found inspiration when you began singing?
RC: No, I actually came back to Tallahassee with my partner and the love of my life since we were in college. We went our separate ways at the end of college and then when we reunited two years ago we made a choice. I was in California and he was in Wyoming and we decided that we wanted to come back to Tallahassee because it is one of the most beautiful places in the country, maybe in the world. It’s a unique place. It’s so alive with wildlife, and birds and trees and I don’t know anywhere else like this.
EP: it sounds like life really has come full circle for you?
RC: Absolutely, real full circle.
EP: I’m thrilled that you are coming to London to play a four night residency at Boisdale in London.
EP: The first time I saw you play live was in 1985 at Wembley at the Silk Cut Country Music Festival.
RC: That’s right, with Kenny Rogers.
EP: Yes. Are you looking forward to playing a smaller intimate venue rather than somewhere as big as Wembley Arena?
RC: I’m absolutely looking forward to it. I’ve always liked small venues where I can actually see people and it’s a more intimate setting. It could be my living room, it’s closer, I can see their faces. I’ll probably know everyone’s name by the end of the show!
EP: I’m sure it will be wonderful. I do wish you luck with ‘Safe In The Arms Of Time’, it’s an incredible album and I hope we don’t have to wait 10 years for a follow up.
RC: Thank you so much.
EP: Thank you it’s been a pleasure to talk to you.