Song Deconstructed: ‘Lord Richard’ by The Corner Laughers
Songwriter Karla Kane reveals how a famous old turkey vulture inspired a brand new song for her Californian indie-pop band
With a sound that owes as much to British groups such as The Kinks, XTC and Fairport Convention as it does the sunshine sounds of their California home, The Corner Laughers make dreamy and joyful indie pop, perfect for your summer soundtrack. Temescal Telegraph, will be released on 5 June and is the group’s first new record together since 2015’s Matilda Effect. Brought to life at member KC Bowman’s studio in Oakland, there’s an organic intimacy which comes across when listening to the record.
Here, the group’s chief songwriter and vocalist Karla Kane, reveals all about the album’s bird-inspired closing track Lord Richard…
It started with an elderly animal and evolved into a soaring folk-rock epic…
The real Lord Richard is a turkey vulture with an interesting story of his own, full of adventure, gender fluidity and local celebrity. While the song itself is about life, death and everything in between, it does take its inspiration from a real bird.
On a visit to a wildlife museum last summer, my then-five-year-old noted the blooming briars around Lord Richard’s outdoor enclosure, exclaiming, “Roses around Lord Richard!” As a fan of folklore and folk music, and with such a regal and mysterious name as Lord Richard, that phrase proved irresistible to me. I immediately began singing it and pretty much didn’t stop until an entire song fledged.
Hatched in 1974 and unable to be released into the wild due to a strong bond with humans, Lord Richard moved from San Francisco to the East Bay’s Lindsay Wildlife Experience as a juvenile and still holds court there today. The oldest turkey vulture in California, he’ll celebrate his 46th birthday this June. Believed for a while to be female, thanks to the appearance of a mysterious egg, a recent genetic test proved he’s biologically male (See? These are the stories folk ballads can be made of!)
On a more serious note, vultures are, to me, an especially important (and very underappreciated) species for the work they do cleaning up the ecosystem and keeping the life-death-regeneration cycle running smoothly. They’re one of our very favourite animals. I wrote my master’s thesis on the California condor. Thunderbird, on our sophomore album, is sung from the point of view of one.
The Latin name for turkey vultures, Cathartes aura, translates to “cleansing breeze” or “golden wind”; the same root as “catharsis.” For the verses’ lyrics, I explore themes of death, rebirth, redemption, flight, environmental destruction and the healing power of nature.
The “carrion/carry on” line following “roses around Lord Richard” in the chorus is obviously a play on words involving carrion and carrying on in terms of the circle of life, as it were, with scavengers such as vultures playing a big part in that.
The line about “come out clean from a bed of dirt” refers to the way in which death is an essential part of the life cycle, as well as the idea that connecting to the earth can help us feel refreshed and renewed. By the way, I really was voted “most likely to hug a tree” in my high school yearbook!
It was clear from the start that melodically and stylistically, this would be folky. It was also written during a time when I was watching a lot of the Ken Burns Country Music documentary, so there is a lot of country and Americana love in there, as well as love for British folk. We repeat the chorus many times to keep up the hypnotic, cyclical vibe.
IN THE STUDIO
Khoi (Huynh) played the piano in the style of a church hymn, harkening to the sacred feeling as well as the old-time folk and country influences. I played my ukulele part to sound a bit like an autoharp, another nod to The Carter Family and folk elements we love.
KC (Bowman) did a nice Celtic-rock electric guitar part, reminiscent of Fairport Convention, and Charlie (Crabtree)’s epic, floor-tom heavy drums help it all roll along. The bass, acoustic guitar, tambourine and haunting organ are joined by lots of layers of harmony vocals, to create a choir effect.
When we were setting the album order it eventually became clear that Lord Richard was meant to be the finale. An ending, but also leading the way for a new beginning?
Temescal Telegraph, the new album by The Corner Laughers, is out on 5 June. For further information, head over to cornerlaughers.bandcamp.com