Risa Binder is effervescent.
That’s the thought that keeps running through my head during our interview in early June at the offices of Nashville Music Guide. She’s fizzy like a bottle of soda pop.
Thoroughly shaken soda pop.
And who doesn’t enjoy that?
“Country music is such a community that I have a crush on,” says Binder with sugary sweetness. “Every Time I come out here, the experiences just get more and more rich for me.”
The up-and-coming pop singer is based in New York City, but Nashville has become her home away from home.
“My first time out here was right after college,” she says. “I would go to the Bluebird Cafe and sit in the back and cry to the wonderful writers that were in the room. I saw Kim Williams sing ‘The Dance.’ Hearing him sing the lyrics, hearing the songwriter sing the lyrics changed my life. I was like, ‘I want to get better. How do I do this?’ So, I would just come out to Nashville.”
Binder grew up in Maryland doing musical theatre, but country music wasn’t really on her radar until playing Loretta Lynn in a show when she was in college.
“I started to really research her, and found that this woman is really amazing,” says Binder. “When I got to be her, I realized, Wow, country music tells stories the same way theatre songs tell stories, but the country music ones make me cry. And I love a good lyric that makes me drive and cry at the same time.”
So, she started coming to Nashville and making connections with people like Allen Shamblin and Marshall Altman, who produced her current record, Paper Heart.
“Marshall kicked my butt, which I completely appreciated. I really wanted to get my butt kicked by professionals, and he’s amazing. The session band that played my album, literally, they would go in and play, and then they would come out and say, “What’d you think?” I tried to be calm, and I’d say, ‘That was good,’ and I’d go to my rental car and just be like, ‘YES!’ ”
The record, which was recorded in Nashville, is much like Binder: pop with a huge crush on country.
“I made a pop record that has storytelling like country music,” she says. “Every song tells a story. I am somewhere in between. I always say there’s a place for me between New York and Nashville.”
At the time of our conversation she’s in the midst of an 8-month radio tour, bringing what’s quickly becoming her trademark around the country: the Sweet ‘n’ Greet.
“My two favorite things are music and chocolate,” she says, laughing. “When I do shows, I do something called a Sweet ‘n’ Greet. The way that Zac Brown does an Eat ‘n’ Greet, I’m like the opposite of that. I think like, let’s have a show and then let’s eat sugar together, basically. Then we can all crash at the same time.”
(When she was first starting out, she sold pumpkin chocolate-chip cakes — her Nana’s recipe — to help make ends meet, and she tells a wonderful anecdote about being threatened by a boutique bakery when they found out she was selling them to a chain (“You sold to Bagel World?”). When the time came to decide if she was going to focus on music or baking, she picked music, but didn’t abandon her second love. Thus, the Sweet ‘n’ Greet.)
This month, she’ll be releasing a music video, and a major tour will begin this fall.
“We have a fun video that’s coming out in July that I worked on with some of the Saturday Night Live writers. It’s exclusively with YouTube. I haven’t even seen it. It’s kind of hilarious, so I’m looking forward to that. It’s called ‘Meow Meow Music.’ I’m a part of some crazy cat lady’s apartment. And we’re building a tour right now, starting in September. We have some dates right now for the summer, but we’re building a tour for September that I’m psyched about. I just feel like every single time we go out, it just becomes a tighter and tighter show.”
For music, tour dates and more about Risa Binder, check out her website at www.RisaBinder.com
Story by Andrew Miller | Photos by Jeremy Cowart