“Don’t wait” DMV-based musician Richie Gomez notes toward the end of our interview, “Just get in there and do it.” Apt advice from the Peruvian-born alternative rocker, who sat on a collection of songs for 10 years, waiting for a magic moment of alignment to record his music and share it with the world. “Work through the kinks” he urges, “There’s never a perfect moment. There will be things that you will learn while you are recording, which are just as valuable as the thing you walk into the studio with. Put the songs out and move forward.”
Richie started playing music at 12 years when he still lived in Peru. Another student at his school piqued his interest for being known as the school musician: the guy who always brought his guitar to school and played in the hallway. As the two became friends, Richie was gradually introduced to alternative rock and metal mainstays like Nirvana, Red Hot Chili Peppers, and Metallica. This would pave the way for the high-octane alternative drive of his music and, eventually, his debut album.
Since leaving Peru and immigrating to the United States, Richie still finds himself drawn to this style of music but noted a slight change in his experience of listening to, and being influenced by, music outside of that canon.
“In Peru, you get exposed to different kinds of music a little more than here,” he explained. “You walk to school, and there’s music everywhere, but it’s not always the kind of music that you like. But you just hear it, and you gradually find some positive aspects of music you didn’t like. So, when I came here, I listened to the same music that I really loved, and I was not influenced as much by all the music that I hadn’t heard before.”
Moving to a country where pop charts reign supreme, it can be difficult for the average consumer to break out of listening habits when it comes to music, especially because so much of it sounds so similar. Finding music that exists outside of the mainstream is much more difficult. “It’s strange,” Richie concedes, “In Peru, you get exposed to many things. Here, you are a little more isolated musically.”
So, when Richie finally set his mind to releasing his own original music after arriving in the U.S., he was determined to write songs that didn’t sound like everything else he was hearing, and his debut album, The Light We Needed, is all the better for it. Relying heavily on a strong sense of feel, he recalled that most of his songs started with a stable chord progression or riff before working to decipher what the music wants to say. “Like the song is trying to tell you something,” he says.
The album swings broadly between the concepts of sifting through trauma and a persistent, stubborn sense of hope. Songs like the titular track focus on Richie’s optimistic perseverance while others like “The Damage You Have Done” focus on darker topics like betrayal and abandonment. “It was already what these songs sounded like,” he notes about the underlying instrumentation, and you can feel him leaning into that sense of feel; almost conversing with the music, itself, as he attempts to bring forward the lyrical messaging that is already there.
It’s worth noting that, alongside the journey of writing his lyrics, he was also began developing a new skill as the album was being recorded. “I started singing when I started recording the album,” he admits, “Before that, I just played guitar.” When it comes to ironing out the kinks of an album’s sound, it’s a marvel that he was able to both learn and execute this new skill simultaneously.
“Vocals feel important, and after working with a bunch of vocalists that didn’t work out for a bunch of different reasons, I started taking lessons and working on my voice,” which ultimately informed the songwriting process while he was in the studio.
“The style of the music was oriented to something that I could sing. If you listen to the record, you can almost tell that its someone who is trying to find a home with his vocal abilities. So, I didn’t want to make the music too heavy because I would need to make my voice raspier, which I’m still trying to learn.”
Richie went with something grungy that could still support his clean vocals, which have turned out to be a highlight of the album. “With the next record, I want to do heavier music, but it depends on my vocal abilities when I get into the studio.”
Despite his desire to embrace the heavier side of his music, Richie’s most recent release is a heel turn, acoustic reworking of his song “Broken,” which originally appeared on The Light We Needed. Released as a music video, it breathes new life into a song that was originally recorded as a funky, punky kind of ballad with punchy rhythms overtop more ethereal synthesizers and piano.
“’Broken’ was one of the first songs that I released, and the reason I wanted to release this acoustic version is because I once tried the vocal melody with only an acoustic guitar to make sure that it fit, and it always stuck with me.”
This compositional trick has become a mainstay of Richie’s creative toolbox since then allowing him to hear his music from a variety of different angles. “If you strip down the song to a vocal melody and acoustic guitar, and it sounds good, then you can accommodate that song easily and make other arrangements.”
Inspired by other the work of other artists who have done alternative renditions of music they previously recorded (he specifically cites “Comeback” by Depeche Mode as inspiration), Richie displays an aptitude for versatility as he works to constantly shift his musical perspective, and while the original version of “Broken” is quite good, the acoustic version does hit in a very different and fulfilling way. It leaves more space for you to sit with the lyrics, which now feel like the heart of the song. Where the original had a clear sense of musical drive and feel, this one is more focused on the effect of the poetry.
At the end of the day, when Richie looks back on his journey thus far, his only regret seems to be that he didn’t begin the journey sooner, and his direct advice to up-and-coming musicians remains sound: “If you can do it, do it as soon as possible.” His story is a timely reminder that there is no need to wait for the stars to align with bandmates, schedules, or anything else. Readiness is a state of mind, not a moment in time. Get in there and get to work.
Charlie Maybee is a dancer, musician, educator, and writer based in Winchester, Virginia who currently teaches in the Dance Division of the Shenandoah Conservatory. His primary work as an artist is with his performing collective, Polymath Performance Project, through which he makes interdisciplinary performance art that centers tap dance as the primary medium of expression. He also currently fronts local hard rock band, The Aftershakes, and releases music as a solo artist under the name Nox Eterna.
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