A lifelong believer in the power of creative visualization and the notion that “what your heart and mind focus on” can manifest in a vibrant new reality, Risa Binder has a colorful “Dream Wall” in her home. She constantly posts clippings and images that reflect concrete career and personal goals she’s set on achieving. Since breaking through with her critically acclaimed 2014 EP Nashville – named for the Maryland native’s newly adopted hometown – the multi-talented emerging country music powerhouse and Emmy nominated songwriter has been adding to the wall nonstop, chasing down old dreams and envisioning and conquering new ones all the time.
Helmed by Grammy Award winning producer Luke Wooten, who’s worked behind the boards magic for Brad Paisley, Dierks Bentley, Dustin Lynch and Kellie Pickler, Nashville’s infectious first single “Gotta Have You” debuted at #26 on the iTunes Country Releases chart and quickly entered heavy rotation on Sirius/XM Satellite Radio’s “The Highway” channel. Risa, whose earlier song “Just Like That” was Emmy nominated for “Best Song in a Daytime Drama” after its prominent feature on “General Hospital,” is currently back in the studio with Wooten, working on fresh, explosive new tracks that reflect the fiery, sassier side of her personality.
While their original intention was to record a handful of new tunes and release an album that included previously released cuts from Nashville, the prolific singer-songwriter is excited that they may wind up with enough material to create a completely new full length project. The tracks Risa is most excited about are “Burn Baby Burn,” about an electro-charged but ultimately doomed relationship between a boy and a girl who are like “fire and gasoline”; the female self-empowerment anthem “Pretty,” which reassures even the most offbeat women that they are beautiful and should follow their own unique path; “U-Haul,” which cleverly tackles the end of a relationship; the heartfelt and slightly melancholy “I Want To Hear A Love Song”; and “You Came Along,” penned by renowned country duo LoCash and Phil Barton, who wrote “Gotta Have You.”
“Light It Up” is a new song that perfectly reflects Risa’s passion for touching people’s hearts with a positive, life changing message. She has been performing the high octane clarion call to “dare to take risks and follow your dreams” on tour opening for Ronnie Milsap throughout 2015. Milsap is the second musical legend Risa has opened for in her career. A few years back, even before recording her debut album Paper Heart, the singer – purely on a whim and urging of friends – followed her heart and cold called the booker for SunFest in West Palm Beach, Florida. She submitted her demos, and a year later, was offered the opportunity to open for one of her all time musical heroes, James Taylor. Meeting him briefly after her set and knowing he was listening to her sing was proverbial icing on the cake, all part of her ever-evolving commitment to “living my dream.”
As strong as her recordings are, Risa shines brightest when she’s onstage, bringing her infectious joy and magnetic energy to enthusiastic fans. In addition to performing shows with other breakthrough country performers Sonia Leigh and Emily West, Risa was one of the most popular new artists at Nashville’s 2014 CMA Music Festival, signing autographs at the Farm Boy/Farm Girl brands booth. The singer’s two favorite things are writing and performing music and eating dessert. To that end, after every show, she hosts a “Sweet and Greet” for fans, where she chats, signs autographs and serves her guests cupcakes or other treats procured from local businesses. It’s a sugary twist on the Zac Brown Band’s renowned “Eat and Greet” events. Risa explains that her “sweet and greet concept” evolved from the days when she was starting out as a performer, when she would reward herself for a good show with a hot fudge sundae.
Risa’s first show with Milsap was a tryout of sorts at the Nashville Songwriters Hall of Fame, after which he invited her to continue on with his multitude of dates, starting with the sixth show of his tour. She tells a story on how even Mother Nature’s worst can’t stop her visualizations from manifesting as dreams come true. “Remember, I’m a huge believer in achieving what you focus on,” she says. “I almost didn’t make one of my gigs with him because of bad weather, but I had a picture of a tour bus on my wall for nearly two years. A snowstorm caused our original tour bus from Nashville to Florida to be canceled. We tried to get a flight, but all planes were grounded as well. The sub drummer on the tour made a call, and another tour bus showed up at the Nashville Airport at midnight and we drove to Florida in 16 hours!”
The Milsap tour has been a life changing experience for Risa, and the response of her audiences has inspired exciting new dreams to put on her wall. “I learn more about myself as an artist with every performance,” she says. “Every time I feel a love connection with the crowd, I feel that my artistry gets stronger. I just want to make people happy through music, and have them leave the show feeling really good about themselves, like they can tackle tomorrow. I take ‘mental photos’ for myself at each show and carry those memories on to the next to motivate me. Every show I open is like a lesson legends for me. Everyone from his band down to the guy who sells his T-shirts has been with him 25 years. That’s my dream, to be a road warrior for years to come, with the same great musical family, bringing a thankful heart every time I get onstage.”
A city girl with a soul heaven bent for country, Risa grew up in suburban Columbia, Maryland, but remembers running through farmlands and deserted barns out in the country every chance she got. Though she found herself drawn to the rural life, her grandmother is a painter and she grew up in the theatre with her family in a town that was very supportive of the arts. When she saw her first Broadway show at age five, she thought the actors were waving directly at her during the curtain call. Starting to sing not long after she learned to talk, she used to entertain in the family room using an ear of corn as her mic.
The first songs Risa wrote were about boys she had crushes on. “But I was too shy to tell them,” she says, “so I’d sit down at the piano and tell my folks, ‘Listen to this!’ And my parents would wonder who it was about.” Her budding passions for theater and country music came together when she played Loretta Lynn in a college production. “I fell in love with her story and the great stories in her songs,” she says. “Her music helped me understand how powerful a song can truly be.”
Although she originally moved to Brooklyn to pursue a dual career in music and acting, Risa soon found herself saving all of her money from waitressing to finance trips to Nashville, where she attended songwriter nights at the legendary Bluebird Cafe. She considers Music City as her “grad school” where her dreams began developing into reality. In addition to meeting country greats like Alison Krauss, she attended a songwriting camp where she hooked up creatively with Allen Shamblin, who co-wrote Bonnie Raitt’s ‘I Can’t Make You Love Me.’” This connection led to the opportunity to record her debut album, produced by Marshall Altman.
Along with her dream board, Risa is a firm believer in signs. While still living in New York, the boutique label, Warehouse Records, helped her make demos in Nashville and encouraged her to move and live there full time. She was on the fence, hopeful but fearful about such a commitment until a serendipitous encounter on a flight two years ago with renowned artist and hit country songwriter Beth Nielsen Chapman (Trisha Yearwood, Martina McBride, Willie Nelson) sealed the deal.
“I was really excited about working in Nashville,” Risa says, “but was still looking for a sign that would tell me that moving there was the right course for me. I was in the middle seat on the plane and looked to my right and thought I recognized her. The name on her screen said ‘Beth Chapman.’ I asked her if she was THE Beth Nielsen Chapman, and we got to talking. She told me about her song ‘This Kiss’, which became a huge hit for Faith Hill. Everyone passed on it and it took two years to get anywhere with it, but Beth knew in her heart it would be a hit. When Beth got up after we landed, I noticed that the guitar case she slung over her shoulder said ‘Faith.’ I took that as a sign to trust myself and give everything I had to pursuing my dreams as a country singer and songwriter.”
Risa kept in touch with Chapman and had the opportunity to sing with Chapman at the Bluebird Café her first week as an official resident of Nashville. Risa sang her songs and Chapman did harmonies – all confirmation for Risa that he had made the right choice. “Then fast forward and the following summer I have an EP out and ‘Gotta Have You’ is all over XM Radio,” she says. “And then came the opportunity to tour with Ronnie, and now I’m back in the studio with Luke working on this amazing new material. I’m excited about finishing this record and putting that next ‘piece of me’ out there. It’s inspiring to have the opportunity to make a positive impact on so many people. I’m on a mission to bring my own style of happiness to the world via my songs. I’m a person who does what her heart tells her to do, and my ultimate goal is the make music that will get people pumped to follow their dreams the way I continue to follow mine.”