Asked how her former Hudson classmates might remember her when she was a 9-year-old at E.P. Rock Elementary School, Nashville singer and song writer Sarah Lou Richards jokes, “I was that girl who sang too much.”
Years later, Richards is still singing.
And after a series of well-calculated career risks since 2007, she’s now making big strides in the Nashville music scene with her unique folk/country/pop, “Americana” style.
“It’s amazing to be in Music City,” she says in a telephone interview shortly after the Nov. 18 release of her third album, “The Woman Behind the Curtain.”
“It’s so inspiring here. Every day, it seems, I run into folks all over town who are so creative. … I feel like my personal, music and home lives are all pretty close together here.”
“The Woman Behind the Curtain,” produced by Gary Nichols, best known as the guitarist and lead singer for the Grammy-nominated bluegrass group, the Steel Drivers, follows Richards’s 2009 debut album, “Emerald City,” and 2010’s “Ruby Red Shoes.”
All three follow a “Wizard of Oz” theme that’s also an appropriate metaphor for Richards’ adventurous spirit, both in her music and in her career.
“When I write, I sort of throw it all against the wall and see if it sticks –- kind of like spaghetti,” she laughs.
Richards moved from Hudson to Connecticut when she was nine, and later, after a one-year stint at Hartford’s Hartt School of music, dance and theater, she graduated with a music degree from the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire.
“My brother and mom had moved back to Wisconsin, and my dad’s in Iowa, so it made sense financially to come back for school,” Richards notes.
After that, she moved back to Connecticut and tried teaching, which she assumed was her best career option and gave her a steady income. Still, it didn’t sit quite right.
“I had this sneaking suspicion that I wouldn’t like teaching. I just loved, loved, loved being on stage,” Richards explains. “So I thought about it, asked myself, ‘What would that look like?’ and started making some plans. That was my first and only year of teaching.”
Instead, after a visit in 2007, she decided to move to Nashville and go all-in with writing and performing, initially taking odd jobs here and there to pay the bills while she put together a step-by-step career plan.
“I didn’t know anybody here,” she recalls. “I went to a lot of shows and sort of took the temperature of my competition. I thought a lot about what I did and didn’t want to do. At first, I planned to be like Shania Twain as a performer. I thought a voice like that would open doors.
“Then one day a person I knew at a restaurant asked me about my tastes in music and I realized that my tastes weren’t really like that, and he mentioned a whole bunch of folks whose names I didn’t even know.”
Richards adds: “That’s when I realized that maybe I should decide what my voice as a performer should really be. … My voice at its most natural is more in the vein of folk. … When I started playing, I realized how inspiring and cool it is to not only sing great songs, but when the songs are mine, it’s pretty powerful.”
She never looked back –- or stopped trying new things and reaching out for kindred spirits.
“The whole time I’ve been here, I’ve tried to set reasonable goals, and I’ve reached out to people who seemed maybe out of reach,” Richards says.
“I’ve put myself in situations where other people might say, ‘I’m not ready for that yet.’ I was like, ‘Oh, that seems fun, let me make a list of favorite people to sing with.’”
One person was “The Woman Behind the Mirror” producer and performer Gary Nichols, who responded to Richards’ overture with, “Okay, let’s talk.”
The album, put together at Nashville’s legendary Muscle Shoals’ Nutthouse Recording Studio, marks her first with a full band, including guitars, pianos, a fiddle, a Wurlitzer organ and an occasional banjo.
She still plays with her regular back-up band, The Handsome Devils, at live Nashville dates. Richards estimates that she plays 80-100 shows a year, mainly in Music City, but also in the Northeast and Midwest.
Another of Richards’ passions: Her work with two nonprofit groups -– Musicians On Call, in which artists perform bedside concerts at hospitals and health-care facilities, and Soles 4 Souls, which collects and distributes clothing and shoes for the needy.
“It’s nice to be involved with some things that are not about me,” she says.
Richards also is a frequent visitor to Hudson –- “I have extended family all over the area,” she notes –- and performs locally whenever she can.
She’s currently setting up January dates in Minneapolis, Eau Claire and, hopefully, Hudson, where she has performed in the past at American Sky Brewery and other locations.
“If not this time, next time for sure,” Richards says of a possible Hudson performance.
She adds with a slight chuckle: “I love Hudson, although I like it a little better during the summer. I often find myself there in my largest winter jacket, knee-deep in snow.”
The find out more about Sarah Lou Richards, check out her website at http://sarahlourichards.com.