In the closing seconds of the recently released “Drive West” video on her web site, Dexter’s Lisa Ritchie takes a dramatic pause that reveals all you need to know about the 24-year-old singer/songwriter. But she isn’t acting; you can see the truth in her eyes the same way you can hear the passion in her suddenly reflective voice.
“I want,” she says, pausing again. “To try.”
But the real drama and the real truth comes right after she says “to try” when Ritchie looks directly into the camera for a split second before the video ends. She doesn’t look down or look away – and by looking at the camera she is demonstrating a confidence that this trip is a one-way journey.
Let’s face it, just jumping in your car and heading west to chase a dream requires a full tank of confidence. There is a road map to get you there – that’s the easy part. But there is no blueprint or rules or to-do list once you pull into your parking spot – that’s the hard part.
The difference with Ritchie is this seems more like pursing destiny than chasing a dream.
The literal journey began in October when Ritchie packed her bags, pulled out of Dexter and turned the page on the rest of her life. She even documented the trip with the romantic video “Drive West” as Ritchie turns the key and lights the candle she hopes will burn forever.
“I decided to move to Los Angles for two main reasons,” she said recently from her new California home. “First, I need to know that I gave my all for music. That when I look back in 20 years, there is no question of “what if” or “what would have happened.” And second, I wanted to collaborate with other musicians and producers. There’s a sound I’m searching for, and I felt like I could find it in LA.”
Ritchie, 24, has been very busy in the warm sun of California dreaming.
She’s collaborating with AJ Fox, a singer-songwriter/producer, on a project called “Post Famous.”
“The complexity of instruments, the challenge of writing melodies and lyrics over something that’s already a completed work of art, the constant growth that comes with learning and the potential of what we will continue to write together – well, it’s more than I could’ve ever imagined for these first few months here,” she said.
And while it’s “more than I could’ve ever imagined,” she imagines even more.
“The best parts are yet to come,” she says, her confidence in tune with her optimism.
While she is painting small scenes at the moment, she can see the big picture hanging on the wall.
“The best part is finally knowing that I’m doing what I was made to do,” Ritchie says, again “looking” the camera in the eye with a confident focus on what’s waiting around the corner and down the road.
A 2009 graduate of Dexter High School, Ritchie lived in Dexter for 16 years before she headed west. Before her musical journey, she took a much shorter trip to Ann Arbor where she majored in marketing and Chinese at the University of Michigan.
The flip side of chasing your dream, even one with early success, is the reality of earning a living and supporting yourself financially. Studio time, instruments, etc. are not cheap and you also have to eat and sleep.
“Yeah, I’m supporting myself with a handful of part-time jobs and of course, the small dive bars that pay peanuts for three-hour sets,” she says. “My next update video will have more details on the specifics of that question.”
But there is no question that this girl can flat out sing.
In her song, “Maps,” Ritchie sings “confide, but don’t confess. Your lost and turning bitter.” Her lyrics (“The only guarantee I have is history. Now it’s clear that I’m a map you left behind.”) show maturity and insight beyond her years. Many songwriters grow and become inward in their writing as they experience the ups and downs of life, but Ritchie has moved the starting line years ahead.
In the song, “Expectations,” Ritchie sings, “breathe in, you’ve done worse in terms of bridges you have burned. Breathe in, don’t speak yet, just let the silence settle in.”
In the up-tempo “Locked,” Ritchie’s voice climbs over the driving REM-like guitars to deliver a fresh sounding tune that leans rock more than country. It’s a fresh sound and refreshingly different than what’s being offered by other young artists leaning toward the pop country sound replacing guitars with a fiddle.
The music world needs more Sarah McLachlans and Natalie Merchants and less … fill in the blank. But while she leans a certain way, Ritchie’s appeal is her unique way of delivering her message – check out “Mess You Made.” Or “Write it Down” where she is trying to deal the best she can and in her own way with lost love.
Ritchie says music didn’t “tap me on the shoulder and say come have this financially unstable life where the odds of reaching your goals are not in your favor.”
But she does admit she has always had an affinity toward music.
“Yeah, a deep admiration of the notes used to express the places words fall short, a humbling gratitude for the musicians who have written songs that honestly examine life and relationships, as well as the haunting fact that I won’t be happy doing anything else with my life,” she says. “It feels like some people are programmed for things. I was programmed for music.”
While she is still trying out different styles and finding her ideal voice, people have compared her to Colbie Caillat or Milo Greene. Others hear Sarah McLachlan or Natalie Merchant or fill in the blank. Everyone in music is compared to someone else – it’s like a scratch on a record, it’s going to happen eventually.
But who she sounds the most like is Lisa Ritchie – and that’s the point.
The first album her parents bought her was LeAnn Rimes’ “Blue,” which she listened to on repeat for at least a year.
“Then, I began to love Shania Twain,” she said. “And then in middle school, I started getting into Dashboard Confessional and Yellowcard. These artists shaped how I hear and write music with their sincere lyrics and catchy hooks.”
“Death Cab for Cutie is my favorite band, and that’s because Ben Gibbard is my favorite singer and songwriter,” she said. “The way he talks about breakups in his music is profound. It’s logical, but there’s this ghosting melancholy feel mixed with upbeat tempos. The complexity of it really gets me.”
In 2014, she was selected to play at the Ark’s annual showcase.
“There was just something special about that concert and venue,” she said. “It felt like the entire room was listening to you, feeling the notes that you wrote. People cried with the sad songs and laughed with my horrible stage banter between songs. It was the most calm/happiest I’ve ever felt on stage.”
She says her songwriting is something still evolving.
“In high school and early college, it was very emotion driven,” she said. “I could never say what I truly felt in person, but I could say it in a song. Lyrics, guitar and melody would come all together in a few days and then, I would put a title on the song and call it a day.
“As of the last two years though, I’ve spent more time with songs and thought about the details for a lot longer than a few days.”
Her future isn’t about becoming famous but expressing herself through her music.
“As a musician, I want to write really honest music and continue to perform it,” she says. “As a songwriter, I’d like to push my boundaries of what genre I’m comfortable in and experiment with new styles.”
Well, I’m goin’ out west where I belong – where the days are short and the nights are long
Well, they’re out there a-havin’ fun in the warm California sun
For more on Ritchie, check out: