Risa Binder knew early on that she wanted to be a singer-songwriter, and Paper Heart, her debut album, is evidence that she had plenty of reason to believe.
The Columbia, Maryland native also understood that she'd eventually have to move to New York to realize her dream, but she has done so by way of Los Angeles—and especially Nashville.
Indeed, the songs on her album show the sense of country storytelling that she picked up in Nashville, as well as the pop melodic sensibility that comes from numerous bi-coastal excursions.
The origins of Paper Heart actually began in Nashville, where she went to attend a songwriting camp.
“Allen Shamblin, who co-wrote Bonnie Raitt’s ‘I Can't Make You Love Me,’ was a teacher there, and I went to [Nashville’s legendary songwriters’ showcase club] The Bluebird Café and cried the entire night!” relates Binder. “I love telling stories through song, and these people were doing it so beautifully. I wanted to figure out how they did it.”
“I knew when I graduated college I’d have to come to New York,” continues Risa, who moved to Brooklyn five years ago. She auditioned for Broadway shows during the day, played the open mic circuit at night—and decided to stick with whichever endeavor took off first.
Music won out. Risa has since been performing with her band for four years, playing colleges up and down the East Coast.
“Playing for the troops at West Point changed my life,” she says. “I’ve been there six times, now, and each time they make me end with ‘Sweet Home Alabama’—and I still don’t know all the words!”
But the cadets also relate to Risa’s original songs about falling in and out of love—not to mention her charming banter.
“Each song is a true story about something that happened to me or a friend,” she says. “I like writing from truth.”
Key album track "Second Time Around," for instance, derives from a real romance, as does “You Made It Rain”--which has been selected by Kodak for inclusion in music kiosks in every Target store in the U.S. “Feel Like Myself,” Risa notes, “is about coming out of a long relationship where you’ve conformed a bit to who they are—and once it’s over, how great it is to feels to be yourself again!”
Musically, the album bears the imprint of ace producer Marshall Altman, whose stellar credits include the likes of Ingrid Michaelson, Natasha Bedingfield and Matt Nathanson.
"We were recording and Alison Krauss walked in!" recalls Risa, who counts Krauss among her country influences, also including Deana Carter, Six Pence None the Richer and Martina McBride.
Sheryl Crow, of course, was also an influence, as was Loretta Lynn--whom Risa played in a college musical that taught her "the similarities between theater songs and real-life telling stories through songs," she says. She would continue to hone her songwriting skills by jumping about from New York to Nashville and Los Angeles for collaborations.
"I followed my heart," says Risa. But she also seized the moment: Seeking a performance slot a few years ago at SunFest in West Palm Beach, she cold-called the festival's booker, and was offered the opportunity to open for James Taylor!
"It was an amazing experience!" she recalls. "He listened to the end of the set from offstage and asked how it was on stage, and I panicked and said, 'It’s windy! But everyones so excited to see you!"
But the encounter was just another part of "living my dream," as Risa puts it."If you follow what's in your heart, you keep going," she concludes."The real message of Paper Heart is for you to just go out there and live what your dream is. You just have to go out and get it."
For more information, please visit www.risabinder.com