A Conversation With Kim Richey

The fact that Kim Richey felt impelled to completely rework 2000’s Glimmer would imply that she was never happy with it in the first place. But that’s simply not the case—for the most part. Richey has always maintained that she loved working with Grammy-winning producer Hugh Padgham, who added a glossy commercial finish to what remains some of the Nashville-based singer/songwriter’s best work.

Twenty years later, Richey has just released A Long Way Back: The Songs Of Glimmer (Yep Roc), a stripped-down interpretation of the original 14 tracks. Recorded by Grammy-nominated producer Doug Lancio (John Hiatt, Patty Griffin), who also played most of the instruments, this version was originally issued in 2019 as a limited-edition vinyl release. The 300 copies sold out so quickly that Yep Roc has now reissued it in CD and digital formats.

MAGNET checked in with Richey as she was prepping for a tour that has since been bumped to August for obvious reasons. She had plenty to say about Glimmer and its less conspicuous counterpart.

Was it the label’s decision to go in a more commercial direction with Glimmer?
Nope. Every decision I made with Mercury I made on my own. I didn’t have a manager at the time, so I was trying to figure it all out by myself. I thought, “Well, I love (the Police’s) Synchronicity, and Hugh Padgham did Split Enz and a lot of other cool stuff.” Still, everybody kept saying it was the label that made me change my sound.

What were some of the challenges of re-recording the songs for A Long Way Back?
Starting out, we put too many restrictions on ourselves. It was just going to be me on acoustic guitar playing the songs, but doing that was easier on some songs than on others. “Strength In You,” for example, was harder because it’s more of a rock song.

So things just sort of evolved in the studio?
Yes. Doug plays everything beautifully. He started putting more things on the tracks, and I basically said, “I don’t even want to play guitar if you’re here.” So it started to get a little bigger. In the last phase, we had a few songs that really needed more than just acoustic instruments. Living right next door to Doug was Aaron Smith, the drummer who played on “Papa Was A Rolling Stone”—he was on a couple tracks. And one of my favorite moments is Dan Mitchell playing flugelhorn on “A Long Way Back.” 

What were some of the misperceptions that arose after the release of Glimmer?
What always bothered me was that people didn’t really give the songs a chance, and that’s partly why I wanted to record them again. Everybody seemed to be so concerned about the production of the record because it was so pop, and I was supposed to be country and Americana—I wasn’t allowed to do something different. At the same time, I got all my hair cut off … Remember, I had that giant ’90s hair? [Laughs] My feelings were hurt by the reviews in Nashville, because they seemed so centered on the production and the way I looked. I got a haircut and I started running. Why was that news?

How about the recording process?
At first, making that record was really stressful because I didn’t know anyone. I went from more of a “making a record in the basement” vibe with Angelo (Petraglia) for (1997’s) Bittersweet to a New York studio with well-heeled musicians and Hugh Padgham. One thing that was so much fun with Hugh was doing background vocals. I think of them as another instrument, and he was really open to anything musically. Once we got going, it was a blast.

—Hobart Rowland