After five years working on fishing boats and traveling the world, singer/songwriter Clayton England came home to a very different Richmond earlier this year. Much had changed for the better as the scene grew and his friends honed their crafts, but he missed one specific part of the Richmond he left: The Listening Room concert series.
For four years The Listening Room hosted star-studded evenings of music at venues across Richmond, eventually landing a permanent spot at The Firehouse Theater. Starting in late 2009 the series hosted almost 50 shows including standout performances by local and national acts, holding a special place in the hearts of many performers and audience members who revered the attentive audiences and careful curation of the events.
To help fill the void after the series ended in 2014, England organized a pop-up gig in July at Rosewood Clothing featuring himself and Allie Smith of Blush Face. The intimate performance became the first event of Hearwell, a new listening room-style series hosted in local businesses across the city.
The series combines elements of The Listening Room, Live at Ipanema, Sofar Sounds and a host of other performance series, but at the same time feels uniquely Richmond and hyper-local. Artists trade off song by song as opposed to playing two separate sets, which creates an atmosphere of mutual appreciation and spontaneity that you don’t see at many traditional shows. A different business hosts each event, with an emphasis placed on community and environment as much as the performances.
Following the inaugural event, we briefly spoke to England about growing up in Richmond, the creation of Hearwell and the importance of community in local art.
How has Richmond shaped your impression of live music and community?
Clayton England: I grew up in the Richmond area but have been gone for about 5 years working in Alaska for the commercial fishing industry and then traveling internationally in my off time. I grew up going to house shows in the city, mostly punk and hardcore, and it had a very big impression on me as well as my love for local music.
Why do you feel the listening room format is the ideal way to experience your music?
England: My music stems from a very personal place. Most of my songs are pretty sad, but writing them and playing them is something very cathartic for me and something I find helps me process my internal thoughts, especially with relationships, family, depression and self direction. I find that sometimes I think my songs might be cheesy and the lyrics played out, but I remind myself the cheesiest things said about life are often the truest and have just been said so many times they lose their conviction.
What inspired you to start Hearwell?
England: Upon returning to Richmond, I’ve noticed a big change in growth and community involvement. A lot of my friends are stepping up to the plate to curate this community by opening their own businesses, booking shows, playing music and creating art/working spaces and volunteer programs. Each of theses facets of community had a little bit of overlap, but for the most part weren’t nearly as integrated as I thought they could be. So the idea behind Hearwell is not only to create a more intimate platform for musicians to engage with the audience, but also to showcase local businesses and connect those different scenes within the city.
What sorts of artists/businesses are you looking to showcase, and how often do you plan on hosting Hearwell events?
England: I’m really hoping to keep the artists local! And since the format is a song for song instead of sets, I hope that creates something personal and unique for the artists as well as the audience. I’m even encouraging artists in the future that normally wouldn’t play together to collaborate on a few of each other’s songs. Ideally Hearwell events would be at least once a month, but it seems like I, as well as everybody else these days, have a million things going on. So flexibility is going to be necessary. Plus I like the idea of it being a bit serendipitous!
In a perfect world, where do you hope to take Hearwell?
England: I’m hoping to get a variety of local business to host the shows so it creates a different energy every time. I think that it’ll keep things fresh. Besides the goal of continuing to build community and connect people, we are filming and recording audio at every session. In the very near future, you’ll be able to download the live recording and be able to see an edited video of the evening. I’m hoping that it will be another way of at archiving what’s going on creatively in the city.
The second Hearwell show is Friday, September 22nd, in the lot next to Yesterday’s Heroes on Addison Street featuring My Son Cool, Pete Curry’s new vaporwave project FM Skyline and Ian Wayne from New York.