Archbishop Ryan and LaSalle alum Bill Ricchini has earned praise from Rolling Stone to NPR’s World Café to Vogue for his brand of wistful, thoughtful pop. With this week’s release of Himalaya, his second record under the moniker Summer Fiction, Ricchini says his material is “more fully realized and ballsier, not afraid to be eccentric.” We caught up in advance of his record-release show this Saturday at Boot & Saddle to discuss the new tracks, recording in England and stalking Morrissey.
What have you been up to since the first—and last—Summer Fiction release in 2010?
I moved to Brooklyn. I wrote these songs really quickly, got into a good groove and looked up a few months later and had this album written. So I thought it would be a cool experience to try to do something new. I wound up going to Manchester and recording it there in the English countryside, up in Smiths/Morrissey territory in the north of England. I lived there in this creepy country mansion with tons of vintage gear and echo chambers and old recording equipment, and that two weeks was the record. It was really exciting to make those judgments in the moment and not second guess and just feel inspired. It was very fly by the seat of your pants. I really do think it’s my best record and I’m super excited to get it out.
What impact did recording in England have on the record, given you had the material written in advance?
I went in with more songs than I needed. I’m pretty old school—I like for an album to hang together thematically. So a couple good songs didn’t feel right. England definitely affected the songs we chose, but more than that, the way the songs sound. There’s something to be said for absorbing yourself like we did—like for the next two weeks, it’s all we’re going to do. We’re going to eat together, we’re living in this house and these walls have character. I think you can hear the house in the record and hear the air in the room. It’s a cool thing—it’s a record but it’s almost a travelogue.
Did you have any time to escape the studio?
I didn’t even get to London. We got out to some pubs and stuff and certainly had a little bit of time for fun. But it was really head-down. We were joking about the Stones making Exile On Main St., but certainly no hard drugs or models or Graham Parsons were there. [laughs] And I had a bit of foil, which was a positive thing. This was the first time I had a co-producer: Brian Christinzio, he plays under the name BC Camplight, a Philly expat who lives in Manchester. He and I would push each other to make a left when we could make a right—this song could have violins on it, but we’re going to put ambient guitar on it instead. A little bit of unexpected ear candy.
How has the sound of your music changed since the early days in your house in South Philly?
My first record, Ordinary Time, came out in 2001, and that has a very sort of Elliot Smith/early Belle and Sebastian vibe. My next record was more of a chamber pop record, like Nick Drake. With Summer Fiction, it feels like I went from black and white to color. I’ve just gotten better and these are more my personality. This feels like more of a rock record—less folky, you’ll hear electric guitar and organs and a hard-hitting drummer. It’s sort of the dangerous cousin to the first Summer Fiction record. There’s a swagger to it that we’re all pretty excited about.
Have you connected with any of your musical idols?
One funny story—I think we got the new record to Morrissey. I’m not sure if he likes it, but I sent him a little note, like “Hey Morrissey, I know you’re playing in Philly the same night as us [at the Academy of Music]” and kind of joked that I’m going to allow that to happen and I wish him the best. I got a note back yesterday from his management that said, “We are in possession of the record.” [laughs] So we’ll see what happens. I think the fact that we did the record in Manchester helps our case. But if somewhere right now, Morrissey is listening to it, it’s a nice little victory. Tough break that he’s playing simultaneously on Saturday. But you never know. Maybe he’ll cancel and come to our show.
What’s in store for the Boot & Saddle show? Is there a newfound live energy with this swagger on Himalaya?
You’re going to hear some really great guitar-driven stuff. The band sounds kinda like Big Star—like a 70s, really good rock/power-pop band. There’s a great rock jangle going on. I think people are going to be dancing. The songs really swing. Bring your dancing shoes to the Boot.