Analogue Music | Banditos


By Matt Conner

Mary Beth Richardson belongs in the center ring, even if she doesn't feel like it.

For most of the last decade, Richardson was perfectly comfortable as one of three singers in Banditos, a group with six members. The collective with original Birmingham roots grew branches toward eclectic tastes, and on the strength of their dynamic live show (and road-proven work ethic), the former Bloodshot Records band found critical acclaim and a passionate following.

Then came a global pandemic. Suddenly, line-up changes were necessary due to shifting priorities and Richardson found herself alone at the mic on the band's latest set of songs, Right On (EggHunt). Bloodshot closed its doors. A new album was shelved. Tour dates were canceled. Richardson and company found themselves asking a lot of questions with no obvious answers.

The last two years have given Richardson a chance to get used to her new place as the primary voice for Banditos, and it's also built up quite the excitement to get back on the road again. We recently sat down with her to hear more about the confusion of the last few years and the clarity of an exciting new album.

Analogue: You’re in this period where you get to exhale and suddenly everyone will get to hear what you’ve held back. How does it feel for this album to get it out there?

Mary Beth Richardson: I think this one is a little different because we held our breath but then it was two years of holding that breath. I feel like I died a couple of times, but we came back and now I feel really good about it. I’m glad we’re doing it now so that we can actually tour and have some kind of live aspect to it because we’re ultimately a live band. That’s where we thrive. So releasing just the track and not being able to perform was a terrible feeling. I’m so glad we’ve gotten to the point where we can be out in the world.

"I didn’t have a dream to be a center-stage star, but I’ve always had big energy, so it’s worked for us."

Analogue: Was it hard to figure out what to do with that time?

Mary Beth: I felt like we had to get really creative, as did most people, doing live shows via Zoom or curating a playlist so you can listen to what we’re listening to. That moment that we got back on stage was the best feeling. I feel like you’re not actively practicing your art if you’re not getting it out there. Seeing the energy of a live room is like heaven, so I’m glad to be back in there.

Analogue: I want to ask about the changes in the last couple of years because you’re front and center now. How is that for you?

Mary Beth: When I’m actually singing the song and performing the song, it’s the best place I could possibly be in the world. But there’s a completely different side of me once I’m like, ‘Okay, now I have to improv being interesting and charismatic.’ [Laughs] I get in my head about it. It’s just my normal nature to be nervous, quirky overshared most of the time. But the anxiety comes into play.

It took me a second to be comfortable with being front and center. It wasn’t the best thing in the world. I’ve always been a team player and am so happy to be a part of team projects that do well. I don’t need to be the face of the project, but the response has been worth it in the end. I didn’t have a dream to be a center-stage star, but I’ve always had big energy, so it’s worked for us. It’s a reluctant, fulfilling move for me, but everyone else has been so supportive and kind to me. It was a cool, natural move that wasn’t necessarily needed, but it was an exciting change.

I’d be very happy to have those two singing to the left and right of me again. It worked. It was great. It was comfortable. Everybody is still an equal parts songwriter. I’m not the sole songwriter still, so they write songs for me to sing. So there’s the same energy we always had, but now it’s me singing their songs or my songs, too.

Analogue: That wasn’t the only change, right?

Mary Beth: Yeah, Danny [Vines]. He got engaged and then they got pregnant and married. Now they have twins. So he went full-on dad real fast. He’s always been the dad-type of the band—quiet, stern, would just handle things and grumble. [Laughs] It was a natural move for him. Very happy for him.

Then Steve [Pierce], our banjo player, this album still has a lot of banjo, but during the live show, he wasn’t stoked to be only a banjo player on stage. He was eager to move to a core instrument, to learn and play bass for us, and he is the funkiest bass player ever. It worked like a charm. He’s definitely feeling it and bringing it. He’s bringing good ideas and a different angle than Danny had to the bass tracks. He and Randy [Wade], the drummer, really work together to hold down the rhythm section.

It’s been interesting and fun, but we had a lot of time to transition into it. Everybody in the world had plenty of time to think if they wanted to continue on their artistic path.

Analogue: Were there considerations for you in that?

Mary Beth: It really makes you think about your identity outside of being someone who likes to be on the move. We weren’t touring much the year before the pandemic, so I’d already settled in because we were writing the album. But when the pandemic hit, everyone in the world had to think about who they were when their careers were taken away. I think the self-discovery was monumental for everyone.

I struggled a bit. I think everyone did. I made it through, goddammit, depression be scorned, and when we got together to play those few shows or live things during the pandemic, it felt right and good and safe and exactly where I want to be and love to be. Everyone in the band agreed. I don’t think anyone was hesitant to get back on the train.

Right On
Right On

Analogue: Was Right On finished a couple of years ago, then?

Mary Beth: It was. We finished recording it in the winter of 2019 and it was set to release in the spring with Bloodshot. Not only did we have the pandemic but our label crumbled which was very sad. It was heartbreaking for everybody involved. We were very close to the people we worked with for years. That team ended up getting cool jobs in other music-related things, so everyone branched off and did their own thing. I think everyone is happy still.

It was a crazy time to see the world close down and the label closed down while we were saying, ‘We have this amazing album that we’re really excited about.’ It was a dark time when we didn’t know what would happen, but Adam [Henceroth] at Egghunt reached out and said, ‘We love it and we want to throw our whole energy into it.’ It was cool.

I like being on an independent label because we grew up in the DIY scene. The whole do-it-yourself idea is where we come from. When we started, we had a friend who knew the owners of all these little clubs, so we called everyone ourselves with fake names and said, ‘We know this really great band. Check ‘em out.’ We did our first run bullshitting. You gotta fake it ’til you make it, you know?

Analogue: Did you want to tinker with the songs when you have two more years with them?

Mary Beth: I think the way we play them live is different from how we recorded them in a good way, but we had a chunk of money from Bloodshot to record this. They were excited by it and we’re just a bunch of poor kids. It was like, ‘You can go back into the studio with another $5K or you can just be happy with this moment that we captured.’ We’re just really appreciating the moment we put down and not messing with it.

VISIT: Banditos