How did you become Rich Experience? was it a choice or just an occupational hazard? I developed a love for the synthesizer listening to Emerson Lake & Palmer and Electric Light Orchestra as a kid. Specifically Keith Emerson is my music hero. I traded in my High School Band clarinet for my first synth a Korg Poly 61M when was 16 and started recording music with my friend Derek Wu (of Recent Photo) under the band name “Food”. 15 years later in 2002 we were roommates in Wicker Park, Chicago and I was bored out of my mind constantly watching him perform the Open Mic at Innertown Pub. I started shooting my mouth off about performing the open mic on a keytar because I said that playing keyboard behind a stand would be “lame” and finally set a date to do it. I wanted to do something that I would like to see and was completely different from the standard open mic fair.
Procrastinating until a few hours before the show, I ripped the guts out of an old electric guitar and velcroed a small keyboard to it creating a make-shift Keytar – connected to a massive Yamaha EX5 keyboard/synth for sound. (I still to this day use the rack mount version, Yamaha EX5R as a sound source)
After hanging out at the Open Mics for so long, I knew that the best songs come from deep in your soul, from truths you know and love. I also wanted songs to be short and to the point to avoid what I would consider being “boring”. I quickly wrote “Happy Cheese” and “Skateboarding” then rushed to the open mic. I signed in as “Rich X” which evolved into “Rich Experience” because I continued to write songs about my experiences.
What was your first concert experience and what about it is most vivid to you today? I never went to see shows when I was young. Most bands I liked were prog rock from the 70’s and no longer touring. I saw Yes for the first time “in the round” at the Rosemont Horizon for the “Union” tour in 1991, that blew me away, they had 8 band members on stage.
I saw Midnight Oil in their final US tour at the House of Blues. Peter Garrett was one of the greatest frontmen of Rock in my opinion. The guy sweats profusely looking like he is covered in oil. His stage energy was off the chart.
What instrument did you start on and which one do you today feel most comfortable playing? I started playing clarinet in High School band, I never really liked that instrument. I started playing keyboard specifically synthesizer when I was 16 and started writing songs with my long time friend Derek Wu in a 2 person band called “Food” which much later became “Mant”. Mant played a few gigs, notably we had a great show at Lounge Ax in 2000 a week before it closed. In Mant I had 3 keyboards, a drum machine and a sequencer on stage (very Keith Emerson like), with Derek on Bass and vocals. We were playing electronic alternative before it became cool.
When I started playing Keytar and singing as Rich Experience I was done with sequencing and drums machines. The additional electronics seemed to be more limiting than without. If I could not play it with my fingers I did not want it on stage, I wanted to be a minimalist. Not locked into a drum machine or a band, I found I could use “time” to accentuate the songs. Being able to slow, speed up, or pause on stage at will, was very freeing and connected me with the audience.
I love playing keytar. Keytar has obvious disadvantages over a horizontal keyboard like stability, maximizing playing with both hands, and easily looking at the keys while playing. Advantages of keytar are mobility, and easy access to pitch ribbon and modulation controls. Mobility is huge for me. When I perform in my other project “Lisa Lightning Band” I run all over the stage and even jump on a trampoline while playing.
Additionally in 2005 I saw the flute scene in the movie “Anchorman” and thought “I can do that!” So I bought a flute and taught myself to play. I dig the all metal construction and the fact I can put it in a backpack to bring to parties. I play flute in the “Flabby Hoffman Trio” occasionally.
Lie detector test in play: where would you say your musical heart truly lies? BZZZZT BZZZT Ouch! You would think from my music I was into “They Might Be Giants” or something similar. But I’m a 70’s prog guy at heart which is kind of the opposite of minimalist.
What is your philosophy on life and how does inform your music? I performed gymnastics in college as a pommel horse specialist. I trained for the olympics for a while, working out 8 hours a day. I loved competing, but there were a lot a sacrifices. After it ended, I never wanted to put that much of myself into anything ever again. I just wanted to take it easy and enjoy life with as little effort as possible and focus on my friends. I’m currently re-evaluating “taking it easy”.
What advice would you give to a young artist struggling to pen their first song or two? The best songs come from deep in your soul, from truths you know and love. Find and take that then distill it to its bare essence. Add a catchy tune then smack the audience over the head with it relentlessly with no fear or mercy.
For me it’s cats, cheese, reptiles, science, crawl spaces, work and skateboarding. I try to see myself from the audience’s point of view and don’t be boring. ;)
Who are your 5 favorite ‘hard rock’ bands of all-time, and why? Emerson Lake & Palmer – 1970’s Keith Emerson, my keyboard hero, attacks the instrument without fear, literally with Knives and Fire. I love his style and attitude. My dad bought “Pictures at an Exhibition” on 8 track cassette at a garage sale. That album scared the hell out of me. I could not stop listening to it.
Electric Light Orchestra – Jeff Lynn songs with Richard Tandy on keyboard making some really out there sounds.
Yes – A collection of some of the best technical musicians ever. Proof that there is no time travel that all their shows were not sold out.
Midnight Oil – Their early stuff was really hardcore in your face with Peter Garrett’s clean politically charged vocals. Their later stuff became more melodic and pushed the envelope in many ways. The local band “Depravos De La Mour” reminds me of them.
Underworld – Hey I dig techno also.
Your #50 on Reverb Nation for Chicago Artists; that’s saying something: Is that a function of effort, sheer staying power or the cream just naturally rising to the top? Ha! It helps to be in the “Folk” category. ;) Although I did get a really cool letter from a cancer center that stumbled on my music by accident: “Dear Rich, I just wanted to Thank You for the experience. We are Case Managers at City of Hope National Research Cancer Center here in California. We work directly with Leukemia Cancer patients and arrange for their Bone Marrow Transplants and needs for when the come in and go home. Anyway, we just wanted to Thank You. One day, we were totally having a stressed out day, and for some reason, I typed in “Happy Cheese” into my URL. I don’t know if it is because we are a Research facility or what, but up you came, and off we listened. The rest is history. I forward your link to as many cancer patients as I can that I think can handle the humor of it all. My co-workers needed to have a bit of humor, , too. Thank you, Rich.
M’lissa Buckles RN”
If you had a slick agent working the illuminati fringes for the ‘big break’, what might their Rich X pitch be? “This guy is like nothing else. I’ve had this “Happy Cheese” song stuck in my head for 3 months now. I wake up in the middle of the night and I can still hear it. I think I may be going insane. The audience either love his music or their brains explode trying to figure out why he is allowed on stage. This “Maybe I Step on You” song makes me giggle like a little school girl and I don’t even know why. It’s not even really funny. And that “Happy Cheese” is about him losing his job and turning to drugs to ease the pain. Why are they laughing and singing along?
There must be some kind of mind control device hidden in that crazy keytar. All I know is if we can tap into whatever this is for product sales we will make billions! We have our best men working on it.”
In an alternate universe, you are oft portrayed as a beloved sub-plot character on the Jetsons, arriving in a shimmering hovercraft to great aplomb …what did the producers choose as your theme song? Dude, how much hobbit leaf did you smoke when you thought up this question? ;)