Richard Edwards doesn’t sound tired anymore. His voice is still soft, but there is an optimistic vibrancy that hadn’t been there in recent years.
He is in a quiet room in his home in Indiana talking to me on the phone. I apologize for not being able to meet in person; I couldn’t afford a flight halfway across the country. He gets money woes, though. He gets health woes, too. In fact, Edwards gets most woes that come in life. They’ve all knocked him down. He’s gotten up every single time.
The Indiana-based songwriter was diagnosed with C. Diff – an infection of the intestines – and spent most of 2015 recovering from a near fatal attack that robbed him of 40 pounds, his energy, and a tour. He says the rare disease essentially forced him into retirement. He’s since recovered, but the ailment still lingers.
“My stomach issue is a pretty consistent part of my life, but I do have longer stretches where I feel really good. I’m in one of those right now.”
Though he is willing to talk about his stomach, his band leaving Epic Records one album after signing, or his tour bus breaking down time and time again, he doesn’t want to be defined by being a musician who worked through adverse conditions. He is, after all, more than a rotted gut.
Edwards spent nearly his entire twenties as the singer-songwriter fighting against odds and playing under the band name Margot and the Nuclear So and So’s. With that band, he released five albums, a few EPs, and a rarities boxset. Fervent fans will throw phrases out like “old Margot” and “new Margot” while discussing the different sonic landscapes Edwards created with the chamber pop-infused jangles of the band’s first albums compared to the raucously ambitious latter albums.
Now, he’s stepping out from behind the Margot moniker to release his first solo album under his own name. Lemon Cotton Candy Sunset was the result of a lot of those woes including his stomach ailments to the dissolution of his marriage.
Even though there is no more Margot, Edwards’ new album is still filled with what made fans flock to him for a decade: his melodic sense.
Tom DeSavia, Head of Creative Services for SONGS Publishing, who is also the friend who Edwards stayed with during his time in Los Angeles, knows why so many fans return album after album.
“Everything about his writing, from lyrics to melody, is almost unpredictable in the ride he takes you on.”
The unpredictability is always rooted in his melody first followed by his lyrical prowess.
“Richard has become quite the poet over the years,” says Tyler Watkins. “He has a unique way of combining words & painting them into a song”
Watkins would know specifically what makes Edwards’ music so enticing. He has been friends with Edwards for nearly fifteen years and Edwards calls him his “musical partner since forever.” Watkins was a member of Margot since the band’s inception and says Edwards’ sense of music is an ever-changing beast.
It was during his twenties that Edwards created a wide variety of music under one band name, but it wasn’t until recently he truly figured out what he wanted to say. He realized it was time to write a completely honest album.
“Between divorce and leaving my twenties, it felt like Margot could be just those five records. Sling Shot to Heaven was the genesis to what I’m doing now. This one doesn’t sound like that, but it seemed like a turning point. It seemed like the path I was going to go down for the foreseeable future. The minute people started hearing Cotton Candy Sunset back, they knew [this wasn’t a Margot record].”
The album became something that couldn’t be anything but a Richard Edwards album. It was so much about his internal and external woes. C. Diff was gone but his stomach pain caused him to drop dozens of pounds. His marriage was ending but he still had his daughter.
“Although he will never say this about himself,” DeSavia says, “He’s a very strong guy, and still had a lot of fight in him. I believe his daughter, Eleanor, was his biggest inspiration to stick around, more than his music or career… as it should be.”
While in Los Angeles, he did turn to music as an outlet for his pain. Lemon Cotton Candy Sunset’s producer Rob Schnapf (Elliott Smith, Cass McCombs, Beck) said you would never know he was struggling by observing him in the studio.
“He was always flowing. I knew he was going through stuff, but the recording process was always fun and creative. Even with everything going on, the studio was his sanctuary city.”
Writing the album came easily but in batches. One about illness, which includes “Fool” and “Git Paid.” Then there was a newer batch which saw “Disappeared Planets,” “Sister Wives,” “Moonwrapped” and “Rollin’ Rollin’ Rollin’” get created.
Half of the record is about a busted gut while the other is about a busted heart.
“You can’t waste a once or twice in a lifetime event that affects you physically or mentally so much. Or else you’d have no business writing music if you weren’t going to try and incorporate that.”
“It’s a little bit of a bummer that this album has turned into a divorce-y whatever. When I started it, I thought it was going to be a real up-tempo album, it just so happened that all of this stuff and whatever else happened. My intention was to make this really energetic, but that said, you can’t waste a once or twice in a lifetime event that affects you physically or mentally so much. Or else you’d have no business writing music if you weren’t going to try and incorporate that.”
The crux of the writing and recording came during a turbulent time where he spent flying back and forth from the Hoosier State and the Golden Coast to sleep on studio floors and in cheap motel rooms. A lot was happening quickly.
“I wasn’t examining anything. I was more reacting to what was happening. It’s like anything in life. You’re just riding waves and they’re doing what they want to. Your job is to just stay on top of them. That’s what it was. A lot of that stuff came out instinctually.”
The resulting album includes familiar instruments to his early work: orchestra strings and horns. He’s more confident with those now. He found a way for them to serve each song they’re on instead of piling it on and overdoing it like he felt he did in his younger days.
“Those first Margot records came out when I was just a kid. I didn’t know what I wanted; I was learning to write songs and what taste I had. I don’t feel that anymore.”
That’s a reoccurring sentiment Edwards shares over the crackle of a phone connection. His confidence in knowing what he likes and wants has translated into writing songs on a deeper level. He always wrote about typical tropes that everyone since the Beatles has written about but was able to do it creatively.
Erik Kang, a multi-instrumentalist from numerous Margot records who also served as a de facto tour manager, acknowledged that’s what probably draws in so many listeners.
“[His songwriting’s] most unique aspect is his ability to turn a phrase. I’ve always enjoyed the weird direction his lyrics can go.”
His songs were more than songs. They were literary short stories in less than five minutes of pure pop bliss. He created characters instead of singing about the generic “you” and “I.” At one point he realized, “Fuck it, you can write songs about anything. They don’t have to be about being bummed or relationships” and wrote a song about Lithuanian-born former NBA star Arvydas Sabonis. That phase about writing about whatever might be over, but his ability to churn out thought-provoking lyrics remains as strong as ever.
Throughout the decade of Margot and the Nuclear So and So’s, Edwards tried it all. He’s run the musical gamut from mellow to rowdy and back again. He tweaked everything from structure and melody and in between. He’s learned a lot as a songwriter over that decade, but one thing stands out.
“I just learned what I like more than anything. I would say since Sling Shot there’s tons and tons of revision. Like singing different melodies in different verses. Really, really revising lyrics. Maybe a lot of people get that way when they get older. I don’t think it’s unique to me. It’s about honing what you like and what you’re good at. Maybe it’s like an athlete. In the beginning of your career, you can rely on your athleticism and what comes natural. Then when you get older and you don’t have ten songs a day coming out, you can hone in what you do well and try to refine those in order to improve.”
He’s honed his writing into succinct songs on this cohesive album, but also has another ready to go. Maybe it will come out in the autumn. He’s not really sure. All he’s really sure is that this was a record he needed to get out. He needed to get out from behind the Margot and the Nuclear So and So’s name to let the world see the real him.
There never really was an old or a new Margot. There was only ever Richard Edwards trying to find his voice, his passion, and himself. Which he did under a Lemon Cotton Candy Sunset while standing in the chilly Pacific.