Steev Richter’s Journey from Sleeping in Memorial Park to Recording with the Greats
You know right away, just from the quirky way he spells his first name, that Nyack singer-songwriter Steev Richter is an unconventional person.
“I’m Steven with a v,” Richter says in a conversation that begins outside of Nyack’s Art Café under a gray sky before a sudden downpour forces a hasty retreat indoors. “But I started spelling it this way when I was younger, and by the time I would have grown out of it, everybody spelled it that way. It kinda stuck.”
Richter had an itinerant “preacher’s kid” upbringing: his family moved around a lot as his father, a pastor in the Christian and Missionary Alliance denomination, moved from one congregation to the next.
Richter’s family moved from his native Buffalo to Ohio for a while before winding up in Syracuse when he was in high school. There was even a short stay in Nyack along the way–-in part because his father’s denomination was headquartered there for many years and still has a presence with Nyack College and Alliance Seminary.
Although the self-taught pianist had fallen in love with music as a child, just about everybody in Richter’s family went into the ministry. “I thought you had to,” he says.
But his attempt to follow in the family tradition was derailed by “disillusionment,” and Richter “went all the way the other way. I started a band and kind of got into everything I hadn’t done, all at once right away: drugs and alcohol and women.” He even rejected his Christian faith, he says.
Struggles and Substance Abuse
His deep dive into substance abuse, along with his struggle with depression and bipolar disorder, resulted in periods of hardcore homelessness.
In fact, when he arrived in Nyack—where his parents, and his grandparents, met while attending Nyack College—about eight years ago, he says he was about as down and out as he’d ever been.
“I was sleeping in Memorial Park, trying to work two jobs,” the bearded, bear-like Richter explains. “I was working at Barnes & Noble for the least amount of money I had ever made in my life. And then I was bartending, and I would make more in a night than I did the whole week at Barnes & Noble.”
Through all his struggles, he kept making music, and emerged late last year with Beloved, a remarkable collection of 10 piano-driven songs filled with hooky melodies and quirky lyrics.
His songwriting and performance style is reminiscent of Randy Newman, the piano-playing songwriter known for his soundtrack work on movies since the 1990s, including Toy Story.
While Richter is little known outside the local music scene, he recruited an all-star lineup to help him make the album.
The album was produced by Woodstock’s Danny Blume, who spent a decade playing with Kid Creole and the Coconuts, and features performances by Tin Hat ensemble co-founder Mark Orton, Wilco guitar whiz Nels Cline, organist John Medeski of Medeski, Martin and Wood, drummer Jerry Marotta (Peter Gabriel and Paul McCartney), horn player Ralph Carney (Tom Waits), harmonica player Mickey Raphael (Willie Nelson), and Tess Wiley (Sixpence None the Richer) on vocals.
Songs began emerging, Richter says, after he took a trip to South America to experiment with ayahuasca—a hallucinogenic herbal tea considered sacramental in some South American cultures and used as a creative tool by some American musicians, writers, and artists.
“I went to Peru and was in the jungle for a couple of weeks and I was there doing ayahuasca, and living in solitude otherwise,” he says. “Every other day we had a ceremony, but the rest of the time you’re in this little hut by yourself.”
Ayahusaca “changed everything,” he says. It helped him find his faith again, he says. He adds: “It’s why these songs are the way they are. I was blocked and ayahuasca was like Drano.”
The effects weren’t immediate, though. After returning from Peru, Richter says he went through am acrimonious breakup with his band and fell into a deep depression.
“I just kind of sat in a chair for six months,” Richter explains. “I’m bipolar, so the lows are very low.”
During that time, he watched a lot of movies. One of them was Nebraska, whose score, written by Orton, blew him away.
On the advice of a friend, who urged him to “find the people who do what you like and reach out,” Richter took a wild guess at the Orton’s email address and sent him a note.
Orton “got back to me and said let’s figure out how to make this happen,” Richter says.
The demo recordings Richter included in his email sealed the deal.
“I was involved early in the process–having heard Steev’s songs when they were in their demo form: just piano and voice,” Orton says. “I was immediately drawn to his songwriting—tuneful, great lyrics, and deeply soulful…I was so happy to hear those same qualities come through in the final production.”
Having Orton on board gave Richter a way to reach out to others he admired, including Blume and Cline.
“I wasn’t aware of Steev and his talents until Danny Blume lured me into his world of song,” says Cline. “And a compelling world it is—attractive and groovy in many ways while also possessing an almost troubling current of raw insight and emotion. I am certainly better for having heard his music. I hope many others can find him and find time to listen.”
Nyack gets its next chance to do some listening listen later this month, when Richter and his latest band, the Cosmic Wondernauts—a core group that consists of Joel Newton, Frank Colonnato, Scott Hogan, and Will Burgaleta, sometimes joined by singers Natasha DeMarco and Dan Rappaport—perform at Hudson House, and then in August at Maureen’s Jazz Cellar.
Performances at Hudson House, 134 Main St., are at 7p and 8:45p on Friday, July 21. Tickets are $12 and available online: http://steevrichter.weebly.com/ Check Facebook for more details: https://www.facebook.com/events/315286012239489/
Richter and his band also are doing two shows at Maureen’s Jazz Cellar, 2 North Broadway, on Wednesday, at Aug. 23, at 7 p.m. and 9 p.m. Tickets are $15 and available online: http://steevrichter.weebly.com/maureens.html
New City-based journalist Steven P. Marsh’s writing about music and the performing arts can be found at www.willyoumissme.com.