As the weather begins to slowly cool off, our favorite season Fall creeps in like Nosferatu sneaking up a flight of creaky stairs. One way I’ve been enhancing my own personal Autumn experience is listening to Richer For The Grief (the new EP from singer/songwriter Sheri Streeter) while enjoying my morning coffee. These songs oddly put me in a good place while preparing for whatever horseshit day I have planned ahead of me.
In a short span of 5 songs, Richer For The Grief, has quite an emotional range emanating sadness, anger and sometimes furious anger. This level of depth makes me think of that of that famous decades old quote from Jimmy Valvano: “If you laugh, think and cry, that’s a heck of a day.” My favorite song might be “What the Little Girl Wants,” an energetic swashbuckling number that sways into a nice groove complimented with organ and bongos. Listen below:
I reached out to Sheri for an interview to get better handle on the interesting history of the EP and the inspiration behind the music she makes.
Never Nervous: What can you tell us about your upcoming EP? How is it different than Birds of a Feather?
Sheri Streeter: They’re about as different as could be.
Birds of a Feather was recorded in 2005 with the late Kevin Brown, a commercial producer in Kalamazoo, Michigan where I lived at the time. I was listening to a lot of old blues and jazz and was just starting to discover the punk and indie scene there. That EP is very neat and clean and predominantly solo acoustic (Kevin played electric guitar on one track). I realized quickly I really hadn’t wanted to hire a producer so much as just a professional engineer with nice gear. I was young and didn’t have a lot of experience in the studio and was reluctant to give up control, so it wasn’t very easy or fun for me to record this until I let Kevin help me produce it. We really worked best together on “Stains” which is still my favorite track. But it wasn’t the album I wanted to make at the time, and I never released it until I went on tour in 2016 and finally realized it’s actually pretty damn good. I learned to just let my music be what it wants to be through this record.
I recorded Richer for the Grief ten years later with Zack Kouns in his home, a trailer in rural Appalachia with spotty cell service and sketchy internet connection at best. Zack’s a prolific and well-travelled multi-instrumentalist with a bunch of experimental, noise, hermetic-hillbilly, and electronic records under his belt. I gave Zack free reign on his overdubs. We tracked my guitar and vocals together and live, and most everything was done in a take or two on a Tascam Portastudio. It’s a low-fi, raw record with darker, angrier songs written between 2004 and 2014. I had started playing in seven different guitar tunings, and my music increasingly revealed the alternative, post-hardcore, post-punk, and noise rock I grew up listening to and the underground and experimental stuff I got turned onto back in college.
“Crotch Crucifix” was on the We Have a Bevin Problem Comp (the song title made a Breitbart clickbait headline) and “Seen and Not Heard” appeared on the 2016 Head Cleaner Comp. People who bought CDs from me on tour kept making sure I had recorded just me and my guitar, so last fall I released solo acoustic versions of my live set on an eponymous album including all the songs on Richer for the Grief.
“I had started playing in seven different guitar tunings, and my music increasingly revealed the alternative, post-hardcore, post-punk, and noise rock I grew up listening to.”
NN: Is there a sort of unified theme with your new EP? Or does each song stand alone with a unique message?
SS: I’ve never written songs for a specific album only because it’s never worked out that way. I recorded a handful of the songs that I was feeling at the time. But when I was coming up with a title, Richer for the Grief emerged as a clear, unifying theme.
NN: What was it like working with Zack Kouns? How much did he influence the way each song ended up as a finished product?
SS: The songs were written long before we started recording, and we hadn’t talked about him playing on the tracks until the night before. But I was familiar with Zack’s music and didn’t want to make another solo acoustic album, so I asked if he’d be willing to contribute additional instrumentation. He improvised his parts without having heard the songs before.
Zack never tried to influence or change what I had written or was playing, and he left all the guitar and vocal tracks to me. I let him try whatever he wanted and gave minimal direction on his overdubs, such as, “How about a low droning sound here?…Maybe an acoustic piano part on this?” He always let me have the final say, but I couldn’t have made this record with anyone else.
“He (Zack Kouns) always let me have the final say, but I couldn’t have made this record with anyone else.”
NN: The last time I asked you about the music you make, you told me “I write pretty songs for sad bastards and weirdos.” Could you elaborate on what exactly that means?
SS: It’s an amalgam of descriptions that have been given to me over the years. “Angry” and “angsty” are coming up more often lately, too. A lot of people are thrown off by my lyrics. They see an acoustic guitar and hear this soft, feminine voice and sweetly sad music, but then they listen more closely and realize I write songs about IUDs, bathroom graffiti, and spiritual visions and not just love and shit. On tour, another musician asserted that I listen to and write “weird music.” I took this as a compliment as an unapologetic weirdo. Let your freak flag fly, kids.
NN: Whether they be related to music or not, what artists inspire you to create the sounds you’ve been responsible for?
SS: It’s sort of strange to me that I ended up playing acoustic music because I never listened to much of it until my dad handed me his old Yamaha in high school. My guitar teacher taught me how to play old blues and folk songs which got me into alternate tunings and influenced this fingerpick/pluck/strum/slap right-hand style I have. I studied philosophy and sociology in college, and social theory and comparative religion are underlying themes in a lot of my writing. I used to attend this monthly slam poetry series in Kalamazoo when I cutting my teeth as a songwriter. I watch a lot of foreign films by directors like Ingmar Bergman, Jean-Pierre Jeunet and Marc Caro, Jean-Luc Goddard, Jan Švankmajer, and Vilgot Sjöman. I like low-budget, shitty movies a lot, too, like Troll 2.
I could list a few hundred records that have influenced me over the years, but some of my favorite musicians have been PJ Harvey, Sonic Youth, Hum, Violent Femmes, The Jesus Lizard, Tom Waits, Rex, Harvey Danger, Angel Olsen, St. Vincent, Fugazi, Mississippi John Hurt, The Breeders, early Tegan and Sara, Ani DiFranco, Skip James, The Postal Service, Björk, Nick Drake, Sleater-Kinney, The Books, Joanna Newsom, Miles Davis, Sigur Rós, early Nine Inch Nails, and whatever Arrington de Dionyso’s stuff—Old Time Relijun and Malaikat dan Singa.
I love Louisville’s local art and music scene and have been coming out to a lot of shows the last couple years after keeping to myself for a long time. The library has an impressive collection of local music. My favorites are Bonnie “Prince” Billy, Satellite Twin, Slint, Twin Limb, Pleasure Boys, Quiet Hollers, Black God, Dick Titty Blood Punch, Boner City, Coliseum, and Yoko Molotov’s art and music projects.
“It’s sort of strange to me that I ended up playing acoustic music because I never listened to much of it until my dad handed me his old Yamaha in high school.”
NN: Have you played in any bands in the past, or have you always been a solo musician?
SS: I played flute in the school band, but as a guitarist and singer-songwriter, I’ve always been a solo musician. I’m a bit a loner, so it suits me well, but I’ve started collaborating with other musicians since I’ve been off the road, though.
NN: Before you go, tell us about your favorite record from 2017 thus far. What’s so damn good about it?
SS: It’s not a new release, but I’ve listened to Painted Saint’s “No Match for Greater Minds” in the car on repeat ever since I saw Paul Fonfara play with Faun Fables at the Mammoth back in June. He’s a phenomenal songwriter and lyricist. There isn’t a bad track on that record, and I’m in love with the arrangements and instrumentation (there’s even a saw player). The final track especially is gut wrenchingly beautiful.