Emily Judson feels at home in ‘Riverside’
Wichita based singer-songwriter Emily Judson has a new album out. Titled Riverside, the record covers matters that aren't just close to Judson's home but close to her heart as well.
“Riverside” is the new album from Wichita-based singer-songwriter Emily Judson.
Judson, a native of rural Kansas, began working on the collection of songs that comprise the LP before 2020. With plans on hold for recording the album, she hunkered down, wrote more, refined, and, when the time came, began recording with some of Wichita’s finest musicians.
That list includes bassist Mark Foley, drummer Steve Hatfield, guitarist Brandon Judson and keyboardist Blaine Martin. That’s in addition to string players, vocalists and the man who became something of a secret ingredient to the collection’s success, Dan Overholt.
Initially called upon to add cello, Overholt help secure a recording location, engineered and mixed the album and wound up with a co-production credit.
The 15 songs on Riverside carry listeners through a range of experiences and emotions that transcend place, and yet, when one knows the specific neighborhood about which Judson writes, find a specific resonance and meaning.
Judson, who will celebrate the release of Riverside with a live afternoon performance at R Coffee House on April 15, recently spoke with KMUW about the record’s origins, evolution and the ways in which it may speak to listeners.
The interview has been edited for clarity and length.
When did you first have the idea for making a record about the neighborhood you live in?
It really came about when my kids all went back to school [one year], I thought, “I really want to get back into daily songwriting again while I have the time.” I’ve written a lot of different types of music in the past and styles. I didn’t really know what style [of music] I wanted to write but I thought that maybe I’d just sit down and see where it went.
What happened was that I just couldn’t stop writing music about Riverside. Whether it was the neighborhood in general or just our life here or stories or experiences I’d had. I just decided to roll with that. Day after day, songs about Riverside or about the neighborhood or our life in general were what I was able to write, so I just decided at that point, “I think this would be a really neat connection tool and a great way to honor the neighborhood.”
Almost all the people who play on the record or are involved with it live in the Riverside area. At what point did you decide that you would use that as an anchor?
We recorded one song outside the neighborhood. It was “Wear Traveler.” It was produced by a good friend of ours, Josh Racchini, who has a home studio in Rose Hill. That was before COVID. We did that one song outside of Riverside and then pandemic hit, everything stopped. I thought, “This project’s dead in the water. It was a nice try!” [Laughs.]
I knew, at the time, that maybe it had happened for a reason, and I think maybe that reason was that I realized, through that time, that I wanted to record the project in our neighborhood. I wasn’t sure how I was going to do that since there aren’t any official studios [there]. I also don’t know a lot of the musicians. I have some friends in Riverside but with my previous band, everyone lived outside the neighborhood.
I wasn’t sure how we were going to go about doing it, so we just started reaching out to different musicians, “Hey, who do you think is the best guitarist in Riverside? Who can we get that you think would be interested in playing on this project?” The musicians started falling in line.
The one piece was that I really had a heart for recording it in Riverside. I had reached out to Dan Overholt at first to [have him] play cello. He had lived in the neighborhood for a long time. His church is in this neighborhood. He said, “We could probably set up a studio and record at Church of the Savior.” We reached out to them. They were on board. They said we were welcome to use the church.
We went into it not even knowing what could be recorded in that space; we went into the first drum session [with] fingers crossed. We thought we might have to move to a studio for vocals or drums if it didn’t work in that space. But we ended up recording everything in that space except for the electric guitar just because [the parts were performed by] our friend who could record it himself.
Everything else was recorded at Church of the Savior. It made it easy for the musicians because all they had to do was go around the block and play right there. That ended up being a really special part of the album.
There are probably musicians out there who think, “I’d really like to record in a church. It probably has good acoustic properties” and probably can’t find one. Serendipity, right?
Yes! They had a lot of the equipment already. Dan brought in some of his mics and some other things, but it worked out really well. It was really fun to be in the neighborhood, and I was able to have peace of mind being close to my kids while I was in the recording sessions.
How long did it actually take because I’m guessing that there was a full year where you weren’t able to gather and record with people.
We actually just started reaching out to musicians a year ago. So, it was January of this past year that we started asking around and I thought, “Maybe I actually have the courage to move forward with this project after not really being involved in music for over 10 years.” Once I built up courage and started reaching out to people … we started the actual recording at the beginning of June, this past summer, and we were able to record most of the musicians throughout the summer, and I think we finished the actual recording of their parts by early fall, early October.
In the last few months, we’ve just been editing and mixing, so it seemed like a long time to me. When I look at other peoples’ projects, it really wasn’t. But the songs were written and sitting for a long time, but I would say that although the recording process felt long to me it really wasn’t very long.
You mentioned having this prolific period when you started. How much of the writing was a continuation of that and then how much was it a matter of one song suggesting another and winding up with more material?
There are 15 songs on the album, so it already feels kind of massive to me. There were six other songs that I ended up cutting that were more about my kids. I decided that those were a little more private, but they could have been on the album, and there were a few others but the ones that are on the album felt like the most cohesive.
I’m always writing. Every day. So, there’s a lot of songs! [Laughs.] But these are the 15 that I felt fit together the best and that I felt the most confident about with their themes and such.
What was it like when you were able to sit back and listen to the record for the first time as a finished product? Did you reach a point where you were just tired of it and ready for it to be out there in the world?
We wanted to do our best and put out the most professional product we could for being nonprofessionals. We did everything ourselves but the mastering. We listened to these songs a lot and it’s weird because I thought I would have gotten sick of them sooner, but it was really just right at the end where I said, “OK, I think I’m done.”
But, when hearing the final product and when it was finally done and I could finally enjoy it, that was a totally different thing than listening for edits or anything we wanted to change. It was just a wonderful feeling. It’s been about squeezing in time with my busy life with kids and family, so it was nice to finally have a finished product.
I think this record generalizes to any neighborhood. It’s specifically about Riverside but you could listen to it anywhere.
Absolutely. I think no matter where you live, we’re sharing these same themes: We’re all experiencing the joy and pain of life and all these other [parts of life]. I really did feel like people could connect with it no matter where you live. We’re all going through struggles and joys and are celebrating a lot of parts of our lives. I would say, also, that a lot of these songs came about during [turbulent political times] and the pandemic. I hope people will connect with it no matter where they live.
You didn’t grow up in Wichita and neither did your husband, Brandon, who is an integral part of the album. But you sat down and wrote a whole record about this place.
I was raised in rural Kansas. I had a wonderful childhood on the farm. We still visit all the time. We love it. I never would have expected myself to end up in downtown Wichita. It’s surreal to me still that I’m a city person now. I’ve been here longer than I was on the farm.