[Thanks to Leader-Telegram! — article by Jocelyn Syrstad Leader-Telegram staff]
Dreams Come True For UW-EC Grad Who Gave Up Teaching For Music Career In summer 2007 Sarah Lou Richards took a risk. She gave up her career as a teacher, her steady income and her life in Connecticut to move to Nashville, Tenn., to pursue her dream to be a musician.
Now, more than seven years after she picked up her life and started fresh, Richards released her third album, “The Woman Behind the Curtain,” this week. After six and a half years of having to nanny on top of performing to pay the bills, Richards, a UW-Eau Claire graduate and Hudson native, has finally made music her sole source of income — something she always aspired to do.
“I think I knew in college that I wanted to pursue music and that I didn’t want to teach, but I put a lot of time into that (teaching) career path and the seeds had already been planted,” Richards said. “I moved after college to Connecticut to teach and went on a trip to Nashville in 2007. Once I visited Nashville, it was a no-brainer. I knew I didn’t want to teach and do music, so I gave up my teaching career.”
“I do believe people are meant to do certain things, and it’s been cool uncovering this career, which I think I was meant to do, piece by piece. There’s nothing else I’d rather do.”
Richards described “The Woman Behind the Curtain,” which is a reference to “The Wizard of Oz” just like her previous two albums “Emerald City” (2009) and “Ruby Red Shoes” (2010), as a “really great catchall.” She said her style is mainly Americana, but the album has touches of traditional country and folk-rock as well.
“It’s pretty eclectic without feeling spastic,” Richards said. “It melds really well together. It’s really a mixed bag of my life over the past three years.”
This album also is the first album Richards has released that contains a full band. “Emerald City” was just Richards and her guitar, and “Ruby Red Shoes” was “still pretty stripped down,” Richards said.
Although Richards usually plays on her own when she is on the road, she almost always plays with her band, The Handsome Devils, when she is in Nashville.
“When I first started, everything I did was just me on guitar and singing,” Richards said. “It was all I could see. I liked the intimacy that gave me. But slowly I got comfortable adding others to the mix, and over the years I built up a band. It’s such a different vibe. Although my music has stayed pretty consistent over the years, the songs just take on a new life with a band. I feel like a rock star when I’m on stage with them!”
Richards guessed she probably plays 80 to 100 shows per year. She mostly stays in the Nashville area, but she also travels frequently to the Northeast and Midwest to perform.
She said she plays in Eau Claire a lot, with a gig at Acoustic Cafe usually twice a year — including a performance loosely scheduled at the venue for January. Because the singer went to school in town and grew up in Hudson, one of Richards’ biggest goals is to play at The State Theatre.
“That is on my bucket list,” Richards said.
“But I think people keep coming to my shows because my music is really honest and relatable. It’s new, which at the same time feeling like something you’ve known forever. People who know me said my music mirrors who I am. There are no surprises to how I sound.”
Richards songs can be heard on her website, sarahlourichards.com, or on iTunes, Spotify, Amazon and Pandora. Her albums also are sold at The Local Store and Revival Records.
Because Richards got a “late” start to her career by not pursuing music until she was 25, the Wisconsin woman still feels like she has a lot to show, although she has come a long way. Now she’s comfortable enough on stage that she no longer shakes when she performs. She also takes more risks in her song-writing and performing. But there is still plenty Richards wants to accomplish.
“I make a comfortable living now by just doing music, and music is finally my main focus,” Richards said. “The income could be more, but I still have no reason to quit or to turn this into a hobby. Doors keep opening for me, and I am still hopeful to have an established career. This is what I’m supposed to do, and I want to keep doing it as long as I am able.”
Syrstad can be reached at 715-833-9206, 800-236-7077 or firstname.lastname@example.org.