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Someone pretty smart once pointed out, “There are no shortcuts to any place worth going.” No one knows that to be truer than Richard Schroder.
As a musician, Schroder demands a lot of himself. In fact, he’d rather do things the hard way if that means it’s the right way. One of his colleagues, songwriting coach Steve Seskin, a hit songwriter who’s written for many of Nashville’s biggest names, describes him as the real deal. “His willingness to rewrite till it’s right sets him apart from many other singer/songwriters who settle for good rather than going for greatness.”
One thing’s for sure, Schroder never settles. His aptly titled new album, Drive, two years in the making, has been written and rewritten more than a Hollywood script, with the sort of fanatical dedication only a diehard songwriter like Schroder can muster.
“Rich is an excellent writer and singer,” says his producer Brian Charles, who worked on the album at his own red-hot Zippah Recording Studios in Boston. “But it’s his ‘don’t quit till it’s as good as it can be’ attitude that really shines through the whole project.”
Schroder has always had the tools. He’s written, rehearsed, toured and played plenty, with a stockpile of legit songs and a great band to play them with. Then… he started having second thoughts.
After stepping back and taking an honest look at where he was going, he realized he’d become a rock and roll stereotype: “Earnest, hardworking musician has a blast, spins his wheels.” Despite giving a persistent effort, his career never got the traction he sought. “Nothing was happening,” he recalls. “When I realized that, I stopped having fun.” Schroder packed up his guitar and walked away.
In retrospect, he has a pretty good idea what happened. “I was just too young,” he says. “Early on, I didn’t know what I was talking about. I didn’t have much insight. I believe I had the right idea, but I wasn’t writing good lyrics and my approach to songwriting was all wrong.”
He took some time to absorb the change. A growing family, a rewarding business and a book publishing deal led him down a very different, rewarding path. But even then, the flame of making it in music never died. “That goal never faded,” he says. “I knew I wasn’t done.”
Energized by hope and driven by his dream, Schroder rededicated himself to improving his skills and reinvigorating his repertoire. To help him achieve that, he turned to where else? the epi-center of song, Nashville, Tennessee.
With a bunch of demos and a renewed focus, Schroder joined the Nashville Songwriter’s Association and enlisted expert tutelage from some of Music City’s best tradesmen. They coached him, tweaked his songs and set him on the path to making great music. Schroder’s songs benefited enormously from the expertise and enhanced his grasp on songwriting.
Following the old adage, “nothing worth doing is ever easy,” Schroder rewrote and revised, edited and revised, rerecorded and revised. Producer Brian Charles notes, “Making great records requires hard work, and Rich is one of the most committed and inspired people I've ever worked with. His enthusiasm and his quest to make great music is infectious.”
What started out as rough tracks began morphing into gems, with bristling verses, spot on bridges and gleaming choruses. Schroder’s new MO became about putting the time in, doing the work, attending to details, crafting his songs into miniature masterpieces. Each of his eleven tracks became a workshop, where themes, lyrics, hooks and melodies were altered and refined. “I went to school,” says Schroder, about his time in a Nashville state of mind. “I learned something new every time they opened their mouths. With songwriters like that, it’s not about ego. It’s about how you take a song and make it the very best it can be.”
Drive, with its many meanings and connotations, is the result.
The opener, “Backseat Love,” inspired and jubilant, not to mention sexy, kicks things off with a soaring melody. “Nashville Girl,” is endearing and sweet, and highlights Schroder’s sublime lyrical simplicity “One song and I was hooked/She sang as pretty as she looked.” Elsewhere, “Pray for You,” starts out as a pretty acoustic tune then blossoms beautifully, with a simmering organ, gospel singing and sassy horns. “Someone Else” features a poignant lyric about a lost love, adorned by a melancholy cello and driven home with a sad, soaring chorus. Every one of the songs here is worth talking about. Drive is an expertly crafted, accessible work that is immediate even as it reveals enchanting layers with repeated listens.
It also helps that the record stars the best musicians Schroder could get his hands on, including guitarist Duke Levine (Peter Wolf, Aimee Mann, Roseanne Cash, Mary Chapin Carpenter), keyboard player Jamie Edwards (Sara Bareilles, Michael Bublé, Lori McKenna), bassist Annie Hoffman (the Field Effect) and drummer Steve Chaggaris (Amy Fairchild, Ken Clark Organ Trio). There were also a number of additional musicians and back-up singers to round out the recording. “Everybody on this album is a better musician than me,” Schroder laughs. “I had to work way harder than everybody I was with. They have natural talent and they still work their asses off.”
The finished tracks traveled to Portland, Maine, where Bob Ludwig put on the finishing touches. If anyone knows how to derive top quality sound from a recording, it’s the Grammy-laden sound engineer, who has worked with Springsteen, McCartney, Hendrix and Zeppelin, along with names of a younger generation: Beyonce, Beck and Carrie Underwood.
“The reward has been in the journey,” Schroder says, finally content to take a step back and appreciate this accomplishment after an incredible period of reconstruction and rebirth. Schroder wanted to write great songs and he now hopes that these new creations will simply take on a life of their own, not to mention get to work on a follow-up. “If you don’t have great songs in this business,” he says, “Nothing else matters.”