A dream is a wish your heart makes

UW-Eau Claire alumna living in Nashville, Tenn., set to release newest album later this month


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Story by Katy Macek, Currents Editor

She didn’t know how to play guitar, had never written her own songs , but moved to Nashville, Tenn., based on a dream.

Almost eight years later UW-Eau Claire alumna Sarah Lou Richards is releasing her third album.

Though she graduated from Eau Claire in 2005 with a degree in music education, Richards said she thought about moving to Nashville, Tenn., during college and started competing in karaoke contests and teaching herself guitar.

In 2007 she made this dream a reality, packed up her things and moved to the Music City.

“Being where I am at, there’s music all day every day in every part of this city, and it’s really inspiring,” she said. “You never know where you’re going to find inspiration.”

This is exactly what she needed, she said, moving to a new city without a song to call her own. She began writing her own music and performed her first original song “Space” as her single.

“In Nashville, you can’t really get along, at least initially, all of the opportunities are original music,” she said. “Short of doing karaoke, which is great, but everybody’s good here, so it was kind of like a sink or swim thing.”

Eventually she made it into the writer’s round of an open mic contest and had to have three songs, which seemed really intimidating at the time, she said.

However, she said writing her own music has contributed to her appreciation for the craft.

“I have an added respect for artists that write their own music,” she said. “It was definitely a good hurdle to have to jump over.”

Her third album, “The Woman Behind the Curtain” is set to release on Nov. 18 and is different from her previous albums in several ways, she said, mostly because she performs with a full band instead of as a solo artist.

“You can only do so much with a guitar, so it feels a lot bigger, a pretty mature and full sound, but it still maintains the characteristics of my music,” she said. “I think that stays pretty true no matter how it’s being presented.”

Richards describes the songs in this album as “honest, kind of quirky,” and said there are a variety of genres covered in the album, including country, blues and even a little bit of fifties sock hop.

She also performed three cover songs, which was something she hadn’t recorded on an album before, she said.

“I’m in a songwriting city, so it was kind of a fun challenge to bring my twist to someone else’s music,” she said.

Overall, Richards said she thought her producers did a good job of making the album cohesive but also giving each song its own voice.

“It feels really fresh without being spastic,” she said. “It’s a good balance of a lot of different elements.”

In her free time, Richards has also gotten involved in two different organizations, Soles 4 Souls and Musicians on Call.

Soles 4 Souls, which Richards said is headquartered near her home in Nashville, collects shoes and distributes them to impoverished families. After winning a trip to distribute shoes in Haiti, Richards said she made up her mind.

“If I wasn’t 100 percent on board before, I was then,” she said.

Musicians on Call is an organization that started in New York and involves musicians singing to hospital patients. Richards said she does this a couple of times a month and enjoys it because there’s no pressure.

And for her fans back in the Midwest, Richards said she has performed in several places in Eau Claire including Acoustic Cafe and at Phoenix Park.

Though nothing is confirmed, she hopes to return, in true Midwestern fashion, this winter, possibly in January.

“I’m hoping to get into State Theatre,” she said. “But we’ll see.”