Your Kind Words
All true artists are builders. Brick by brick, they assemble a career, building their craft, amassing their stories, growing their fan base. Talented Boston songwriter Rich Schroder is himself a builder. He's been honing his craft since age 14, when he initially set out on his rock and roll apprenticeship. Today, his band experience on hold, Schroder has moved into the next phase of his career. 'I'd been playing in rock bands for the last ten years," he explains, "but after my last go around I needed a change." After taking a breather from performing to build a successful business, Schroder returned to his first love, this time as a singer-songwriter. He found a great sounding acoustic guitar and began writing anew. "Originally, I was looking for a stripped-down way to express myself, and found it in the singer-songwriter tradition. I set out to write this record with that tradition in mind, creating characters and story lines that expressed my experiences." On Your Kind Words, his debut album as a solo artist, Schroder demonstrates a flair for evocative entertainment as he makes his way through a generous handful of literate and colorful stories. It is this flair and his enthusiasm for songwriting that have served as two critical building blocks of his burgeoning career. Over the past year Schroder has been sharpening his trade every Friday night at a neighborhood bar in South Boston, working the crowd as he works on his songs. They've come to know him, mainly through his songs-they're all on a first name basis-and they love his material. "It's great to have a connection with people," Schroder says, acknowledging the impact this residency has had on his career. "It means everything to me to have a receptive audience." Your Kind Words emerges from this intimate connection, as well as the artist's outsized songwriting ambition. The recording comes primarily from the classic storytelling traditions of the great songwriters: Guthrie, Young, Dylan, Springsteen, and most recently reflected in contemporary writers like Ellis Paul and Ryan Adams. "Father Jones," for example, fixes a cold gaze on the sex abuse scandals of the Catholic Church. "Never Happen Again" explores domestic violence, while "Me and Cousin Willy" is a careening getaway car of a tune, marked by violence and murder. Not to be too monochromatic, Schroder proves he can write with humor and pathos as well. "Retail Therapy" is biting social commentary on American consumer culture, (Key lyric: "Are you happy or do you want more? Can you find what you are looking for?") "Hillbilly Makeover" riffs on the country's obsession with reality TV, and "(Sorry That I'm Not) The Home Depot Type" is a candid ode to the common man. "We worked really hard on the lyrics to these songs," says Schroder, the "we" referring to he and his musical collaborator/producer Ross Adams (Vance Gilbert, Bo Diddley, Mark Sandman). "We focused on character development and rewrote the lyrics to most of these songs dozens of times." * * * * * Due mainly to his father's career, Schroder has not led a conventional life. Born in New York City the youngest of three children, Schroder's family moved to the Middle East when he was 4. For the next six years, led by his father, an international banker, he moved from one war-torn region to another, living in Beirut, Teheran, and Cameroon. For the young Schroder fun came in unusual ways. "In Beirut I used to collect gun shell casings and make cassette recordings of gunfire outside," he recalls. He also began writing plays and stories. Eventually, that way of life became too violent for the family. They moved to Boston, where Schroder found himself lagging both socially and academically. "I've always had to overcome things and try to catch up," he admits. When he was just 14, Schroder became interested in music and formed a rock band in the Boston area with some high school friends. They started out with the classics-Zeppelin, Beatles, the Stones-and then moved on to original material. While that band broke up, as did the next handful of bands, Schroder's dream kept growing, and so did his abilities as a guitarist and singer. He played music through college and grad school, eventually forming, Zen Lunatic, his first recording act. They'd go on to make a couple of CDs and tour nationally, nearly breaking through to the big time. But no one wanted it as badly as Schroder. "I don't want to make it sound disappointing, I learned a lot in that band," he says. "But like many bands that break up, in the end, everyone wanted something different out of the music." Rich then took a temporary leave of absence from the music business to make use of his MBA. "It was the first time in 10 years that I didn't have a band to make music with," he says. "I really had to take stock and decide what I wanted to do." When his business ran it's course, he found a Santa Cruz acoustic guitar and started putting pen to musical paper. It was at that time he called upon his mentor and former music teacher Adams for motivation. "When I got together with Ross everything really clicked. He convinced me to work on developing strong story lines, then editing the hell out of the lyrics," he says. At the same time he began studying with Ross' wife, Diana Thompson, a vocal coach. At their urging Rich launched his career as an acoustic singer-songwriter. It didn't take long to get off the ground. In 2005, he won finalist positions in both VH-1's "Song of the Year" songwriting competition and 'The UNISONG International Songwriting Contest," both prizes an indication of Schroder's natural gifts. Your Kind Words is Schroder's impressive introduction to a national audience, and a new cornerstone of his artistry. "I'm happy to say that this album is my best work both musically and lyrically," says Schroder, driven and amiable. That's something the folks in South Boston would have to agree with. And it's what Schroder's been building towards since his first steps as a musician. Much has happened in his lifetime-travels, tribulations, hurdles, and success. But in that time Schroder has also transformed himself into an important and noteworthy songwriter, something a single listen to Your Kind Words will prove.