An Interview with Richard Fahl

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With a long history of playing open stages around Victoria and street performing Richard Fahl is on the threshold of his first cd release. It was fun meeting up with Richard because truth be known I have actually known this singer and songwriter since back in about 2000 when he was performing and hosting the open stage at James Bay Coffee and Books. Always very friendly with an interest in politics and social reform his songs reflect the desire for things that must change. It probably helps that he is a lifetime fan of the late John Lennon whose attempts at peace are the stuff of legend.

The tracks which you can check out online speak to this connection for Richard, the spirit of togetherness and facing the problems head on which are subjects that he has a long history of being passionate about. Recorded at Electric City Sound, which some folks might know as the exciting reincarnation of Zero Gravity Studios and under engineer Brendan Marshall and with the help of long time friend Rick Salt, the ambience of the tracks both boosts Fahl’s natural backyard acoustics with the update of a sleek pro recording.

The one thing that has always stuck to me about Richard has been his fascinating style of playing which is primarily rhythmic to support the songs but also seems melodic, opening up the palette for the other instruments and vocal harmonies on his albums like wide sun-drenched canyons where supporting artists can find their voices. Songs like the very Lennon-esque “Love Will Always Be Here” stays in your head as Fahl’s songs often do, the track finishing in pure Beatles style and a touch of Pink Floyd’s David Gilmour with it’s near minimalism and the use of the Hammond organ. Fans of Nick Drake might also find something familiar in the style of recording with Richard’s guitar and vocal leading the track in it’s own path which is perfectly fine in it’s stripped down essence but then fuller and more dynamic when fleshed out in the studio.

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You can check out links to Richard’s music after the interview clip posted below.

And now, the interview with Richard Fahl!

WM So one thing I remember from some of our previous conversations is that you are a decendant of…

RF    Buffalo Bill Cody, and my cousin is Donald Sutherland.

WM Wow, no way!

RF   Well, second cousin. He’s my Mom’s cousin so yeah.

WM Talented family! So what was your first instrument?

RF    My first instrument…they call it the squawk box, the accordion.

WM That’s surprising…I naturally would have assumed the guitar…

RF     No, no it was the squawk box and I was more interested in learning the piano. But I started with that when I was seven years old and then it went in the closet when I picked up guitar.

WM Did you have a mentor when you were getting going?

RF   Well, my best friend Rick Salt who’s now working with me and this album and some things have been changing and it looks like the two of us are going to be a songwriting team. Just because of the magic. When I talk about the two songs that are on Soundcloud…I’ll tell you a little bit about each one but Rick have been friends since we were about eleven years old and this guy is just a master when it comes to guitar playing. He’s also had about thirty years of being an engineer and producer. He’s won awards for it. He’s done David Gogo. He’s done the Irish Rovers…other bands that go into his studio in Nanaimo. I always recommend people to go to him because he knows…he knows his stuff. He is the one I’ve always looked up to but he was the one who actually started me writing my first song. We were thirteen or fourteen. It was kind of funny, actually. I collected all these posters in my room like you do when your teenagers, right?

WM   Yeah.

RF     Well, this one had a love poem and I wrote the words out and when I went to school the next day I handed it to Rick, cause we were in a band together in high school…and I said “look Rick, I wrote my first song.” He looks at it and goes “Oh, my God we have to put some music to it!” Then of course we go to my parent’s place and they were away so we rolled a little green there and went into the room and listened to some music. He’s looking at the posters and he sees this poster and he looks at me and he’s like “you son of a bitch!” and I just laughed and he said “ok, I challenge you to write your first actual song,” which I did and that was a real challenge. I just happened to be babysitting for a family and they had some records out including Led Zeppelin. So I started playing the albums which included Stairway to Heaven. In the last verse or so it goes “to be a rock and not to roll” which just came out at me and I said “wow, there’s a song title!” I wrote that down but Rick was challenging me to write a folk song, and I didn’t know anything about them so I went to the library and did some research which brought me to Tom Dooley. I noticed how it how so many verses and I proceeded to write the song with the “be a rock and not to roll” title. I handed that to Rick and for that moment the rest is history.

So he got me starting to write and my mother was a writer for a local newspaper so I got that in me. That’s my strong point. The music I can’t really explain.

The song “To Be One” which is on the Soundcloud and headed to be on the album, that one came about at six o’clock in the morning I had this song just in me so I just wrote it out and I played it a couple times at Serious Coffee in Cook St Village. It went over very well but inside I knew a whole bunch of stuff was missing because the dream I had it had all these other instruments and I didn’t think I was doing it the full justice. So when Rick took the song from Matt…I recorded everything at Electric City Sound here and the result was unreal. All we did was lay down the guitar and vocals he and then Rick took it. When he finished with it the way he described how it came to him how to fill it out…he felt like he was being guided to certain instruments. When I listened to it the first time I just had shivers. Then I walked into the kitchen and I had tears and I couldn’t figure out why. I called my old friend Rhonda to come have a listen as well so we met for coffee and she listened and she was like “holy smokes!” I had forgotten how I wrote the song. A couple days later she comes down to visit and I was watching a Youtube interview with Frost and Paul McCartney where Frost asked McCartney how Yesterday came about and how for this one song he dreamed about it, woke up and wrote it all out. Rhonda just looked at me and said “that’s exactly what happened with “To Be One.” You woke up and wrote it all out and I realized that’s why hearing it had such an effect with me. But with most of them I get a feeling and then within three or so minutes it’s there. But yeah I give the pieces to Rick and he adds whatever he thinks would go with the song, so with “Love Will Always Be Here” he gave it this Beatle-esque sound at the end. He added the organ which made it sound like Pink Floyd so that was pretty exciting.

I’ve been playing that song more and more lately just listening to what Rick did and I am liking it more and more. I was up in Courtney as I’m moving there and I was at this Christmas Party and I went out onto the deck they had to phone Rick just to see how thinks were going. Now Rick and I have known each other for forty-four years, we grew up together…we’re like brothers. I have a lot of respect for him and love him like a brother and I called him up and was like “did you get a hold of a guitar player for that song?” He said “no, no we agreed it would be no more guitars on it” and I say ok and he said “Oh, by the way I talked to George Miller of the Irish Rovers and he listened to the song and said that the song was going to become big once it’s on the air. George has like fifty or sixty years experience in the business and I have a lot of respect for him so when Rick told me that I was like oh my gosh. Rick told me to keep my ego in check and I was like “I don’t have an ego, I’m just a little shocked here…you know…George said that!” Then Rick’s voice went soft and he said that George had suggested that Rick and I need to sign a contract and he waited for a response from me because we argue like friends do sometimes. I was just like “I agree with George.” We might be friends of fourty four years but this is a business venue that you and I are going in on and what he had done to the first two songs so far was just unreal. It was exactly what I needed. He’s had thirty year’s experience. And me, except for the odd coffee house I really haven’t performed as much since about thirty-five years ago.

WM Wow, that’s amazing. So do you come from a musicial family as well?

RF     Yeah, my mom sang. I met my real dad and he played guitar. I sang all my life, since I was a kid.

WM   Is there any albums you are drawn to?

RF     (laughing) Yeah…I remember, I said to Rick if I ever put an album together it’s got to be compete with Sergeant Pepper by the Beatles. He just started laughing and he said “why?” and I just said “Well, look how big it is. I want to outdo that one.” He just laughed and thought it was funny.   So Sergeant Pepper, Rubber Soul, Led Zepplin. I remember when the Beatles first came on Ed Sullivan. I was living on Joseph Street here in Victoria. My dad was in the military and I just looked at my mom and I said that it was going to be no more shaved heads. My hair was going to get long. My dad didn’t like that (laughs). My aunt knew how much I liked the Beatles and she liked to embarrass me so if she was having a little house party she would be like “Hey Ricky…sing us some Beatles songs” and I would just tense up.

WM   What do you like doing outside of playing music?

RF     Gardening. I use to do landscaping. I love that. It’s creativity. I get a piece of property that hasn’t been finished being developed and I look at it and I just go “I know what needs to be done.” At the beginning when I was getting started I would design it and show it to the customer but after a while I could just see something and they would allow me to just go for it.   They would ask if that’s why I saw and I’d say yes and they’d be like impressed. So it’s creation and yeah, that’s what I like doing.

WM   Great. Tell us a little about your songwriting method. Like one thing I’ve noticed is that you have a very melodic style of playing rhythm.

RF   Rick Salt said to me, I was in the studio doing that one song…doing the voice track for “Love Will Always Be Here” and he said “start channelling John Lennon.” I said ok and then all of a sudden it just starts to flow. My favorite song of John’s is “Watching the Wheels” and it’s because of the lyrics but my guitar playing is unique…like Rick said to me “your guitar playing people need to just watch because you change when you shouldn’t be changing but you change it anyways and the way you do it those changes fit.” So for me when I’m writing I just go into a guitar store like Long and McQuade. For me when I buy a guitar is usually at the end of a relationship so I go and buy a new guitar. I wouldn’t go by the name. I would just pick up different guitars that feel connected. I’d pick it up and play and also start singing. If I feel like it’s harmonizing with me then I buy it. Same thing with the music. It’s really hard to explain how it all goes. I just get a feeling and sort of close my eyes and just think “ok, God…or John…I’m open to whatever you’re putting through me.” And within three minutes the lyrics and the melody comes which is really freaky. I’ve always had faith…I’m not religious…the song “To Be One” will tell you that basically. Religion causes wars, spirituality doesn’t. I had a friend who insisted that I was the spiritual soul-mate of John Lennon and I think it’s more that I’ve listened to John for so long and in the same way…I’m a man of truth. I just say what I feel and it rattles people’s cages. But later they see what I’ve said and they come back and say that “hey, you were right about that.” I’m very political. When I’m writing something it’s about truth. You can take it or leave it is how I look at it.

There’s something that Yoko said which was “There is a wind that will never die” which I actually turned into a song that I played last year at Serious Coffee in James Bay when I was hosting the open stage there. I mean, I write love songs but I want to write about what life is all about…the future…experiences that I’ve gone through like my brother’s passing. I could feel him guiding me with that one and it became the song “Soul Warrior.” That was the first recording I did at Rick’s studio twelve years ago and people said it was good but I didn’t think it was.

I am bi-polar and I was diagnosed with it when I was forty-two and it took me years to get to the point where I’m off medication and I’m stabilized and it’s connected to the fact that I stopped performing for a while with the death of John Lennon. I thought “is that what happens to an artist when they are singing about love and peace…like you’re gonna pop somebody for that?” So I thought there was no way and that was my choice. The only problem is when you’re given a gift it’s given by God and I can’t shut that off. So I just kept writing and putting music together but no-one would see me play. I’d have friends that would come over and see me play and they would be like “why are you landscaping? Why aren’t you just doing this?” And I would be like no, no. But so much of my political stances do find their way into my music…feelings about anything from my community to some of the atrocities with ISIS. I have to write about it and speak about it.

WM   Is there any live music playing experiences that have stuck with you?

RF     Yes. I have to come back to that song “Love Will Always Be Here.” It was weird…I come back to how the song came about. I was on my Facebook and there is this guy from Syria…unfortunately he’s passed away but he would download a bunch a bunch of pictures called “What We See” and there was a photograph he showed and it was a father holding his son who was around three years old and the child was killed in the battle that was going on. And looking at that image it just radiated through me. I was just asking God to help me with writing this one. And three minutes later the lyrics and the melody came. I had a friend come over and I said to her “I need you to listen to this song,” and she told me that it was a universal song. So I sat on it like I always do and then a month later I came down to the Moka House over here and there was this young guy that was hosting an open stage that was populated primarily by people nineteen to about twenty-four. The adults were in the back and the young people were in the front. So I played my normal set with “Soul Warrior” and “To Be One” if I recall…and then I told everybody “Ok, you’re gonna hear a brand new song I wrote called “Love Will Always Be Here” and I would love to hear your response” When I played the song and it was complete I had a total shock because instead of the usual open stage response it was people standing up and applauding.   Like a standing ovation. I had to go outside after that because I was just shaking and my friend asked if I was ok and I asked her if she had seen the people, like how the people had reacted and she said yes and said it was such a great song. I had another guy come out and say how he could compare it to Lennon’s “Give Peace a Chance” and I was just thinking…wow, what have I got here? (laughs)

So yeah, that was definitely my greatest experience.

To hear that great song “Love Will Always Be Here” and “To Be One”  right now so…

Click Here for Richard Fahl!

Enjoy and thank you for supporting independent local artists!

Cheers,

Tom Pogson

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