The special kind of atmosphere that Portland singer-songwriter Sara Hallie Richardson creates is best captured on her newest album, “Restless,” a six-song EP released earlier this year. There’s a clear, crystalline beauty in both her voice and in the electronic soundscape that she and producer Michael Flannery conjure up.
“I have a vision of how I want to express myself in my head, and I’ll bring that to him, and he’ll somehow help create it,” said Richardson, 27. “Mike came up with a cool phrase for it, which is ‘magical realism.’ There’s this sense of hugeness and of something kind of magical that we try to do. It’s like a surrealistic painter. It’s hard to describe, but I think it works out, somehow.”
Richardson, a Waldoboro native, has the kind of unearthly soprano suited for sparkling, slightly strange electronic music, so it only makes sense she name-checks artists like Bjork, St. Vincent, Kate Bush, the Cocteau Twins and Feist as big influences. She’s been writing and performing in Maine and in the Northeast for more than seven years now, with a variety of projects while a student at the University of Maine in Orono, a stint living in New York City, and now, as a Portland resident. Her next shows are set for Wednesday, Oct. 3 at the Space Gallery in Portland, and Saturday, Oct. 6 at the Bangor Opera House, as part of a WPC Presents event with Jacob Augustine.
Richardson has learned a lot in the past few years, since returning to Maine from NYC. The maturity she’s beginning to exhibit as both a vocalist and songwriter are readily apparent on “Restless,” an album that took her nearly a year to craft. It’s also taken her a number of months to get back into the swing of performing live, something she took a nearly year-long break from. Fortunately for audiences, she’s on top of her game once again.
“Whatever you put out into the world, people will absorb it, so in that way, now, when I sing, I make sure I’m no holds barred,” she said. “I really try not to hesitate at all when I try to sing something. Even if it feels strange to me at first, I try to work with it. I’m much more aware of the technical ability I have, and using my voice as another instrument. I like to see just how high, or low, I can go.”
Besides the vocal rollercoaster, Richardson spends a great deal of time on the lyrical content of her songs. It’s about a 50/50 split for her, between which one comes first – the melody or the lyrics.
“I think the melody comes first a lot of the time. I was folding clothes the other day and an idea came to me, and I sang it into this app I have on my phone,” she said. “But then a song like ‘Oh Rita’ on my new album, about this Nobel Prize winning scientist, and those words came first. I read the story in the newspaper, and I was so inspired I wrote a song.”
Now that’s she comfortably settled in Portland, Richardson feels better equipped to write and record with more regularity. The music scene in her adopted hometown is among the most encouraging she’s ever encountered.
“I’m in love with the sense of community here,” she said. “Portland has got to have one of the most unique, tight knit musical support groups of any town in the country. Sure, New York is so constantly interesting and different and inspiring. But everyone’s out for themselves. Here, you can make friends with someone, and be playing music with them the next week. That’s amazing.”