When Bill Ricchini lost his dot com job, he simply picked up his guitar and made a record.
The dot com meltdown and subsequent layoffs have created a new leisure class of young people. And while many in this jilted demographic may spend their days shuffling freshly updated resumes like a Vegas card dealer, a precious few see unemployment as a gift.
"I welcomed it as an opportunity to do something with my life that I really wanted," says Bill Ricchini, who lost his job at verticalnet.com in Horsham over the summer.
What Ricchini really wanted was to be the next Brian Wilson, or at least Elliott Smith. And Ricchini's debut disc, Ordinary Time--a beatific, hushed-pop song cycle that details a history of amazing letdowns--finds him in the right neighborhood. (PW's Joey Sweeney recently declared Ordinary Time one of the best albums of the year in a 2001 pop music wrap-up for Salon.)
A self-described "heart-on-my-sleeve guy going through some shit," Ricchini says he lost his girl, his job and ultimately, his way, in the space of just a few short months.
"The album is about being 27 and asking yourself, 'Where do I go from here?'" he says.
Ordinary Time will be properly released in the spring on the Red Square label, but copies of the album are now available at retailers like Spaceboy, DotDash and AKA Music.
Ricchini had sent his album out to just about anyone he could think of with a label, including Jason DeMilio, the ex-Azusa Plane guitarist currently with local band Mazarin, who put out that group's debut on his now-defunct Victoria label.
"He called me the next day, telling me he loved my record, loved my voice," says Ricchini. "The next thing I know I'm being asked to join Mazarin for a tour as a keyboard player and a back-up singer. The tour was kind of rough. When we weren't playing with Black Rebel Motorcycle Club, we were pretty much playing to empty bars. There were nights when we didn't get paid."
The gig with Mazarin ended, but Ricchini doesn't dwell on that. He prefers to talk of Ordinary Time, and how he came home after losing his dot com gig and picked up his guitar. He spent hours with it, humming along to the sound of his fingers sliding up and down the neck until the strumming turned into chord changes and the humming evolved into lyrics. He would record song fragments on his answering machine, often in the middle of the night, when the inspiration hit. The next morning he would shuffle over to the answering machine to see what was there.
"It got to the point where I was writing a new song every day," he says.
He started recording them onto his trusty Dell PC using a software package called Vegas that enabled him to move sounds around like chess pieces.
"I had done the four-track thing for years, but I was able to do so much more with the computer," says Ricchini. "Some songs have like 30 tracks on them."
Ricchini did all the vocals and acoustic guitar parts, overdubbing rich harmonies, cheap synthesizers, hand claps, tambourine and a toy xylophone he bought at Toys 'R' Us. Then he called in some friends to help create a lo-fi version of Phil Spector's Wall of Sound: Ben Bakshi on cello, Nate Slaybaugh on trumpet, Rob Warner and Joey Aquavivi on drums, Brian Christinzio on piano and organ, and John Corkri on bass.
By September he began to realize that his home recording project had become a song cycle. "I sequenced the songs so that they answered each other's questions," he says. "I wanted it to start with someone whispering a little prayer in your ear that you could carry in your pocket and I wanted it to end on a happy note, that if you looked closely, was maybe not that happy."
In between, there are songs about fake edens, rained-on parades, a snowman that falls in love with the little girl that made him, a "fun break-up song," a space-rock bossa nova and enough whispery chamber pop to make Belle and Sebastian fans swoon in their sweaters. A recovering Catholic, Ricchini decided to call it Ordinary Time, referring to the non-holiday periods on the church calendar. "If there was a sub-title, it would be 'The Big Letdown,'" says Ricchini. "I think the worst thing that can happen is to have an ordinary life."
Bill Ricchini plays with S-Process, the Holy Fallout + Deadly, Thurs., Jan. 10, 9pm, $6. The Khyber, 56 S. Second St. 215.238.5888; with Honeychurch + The Trouble With Sweeney, Sat., Jan. 19, 8pm, $6. The Balcony, 10th and Arch sts. 215.922.LIVE
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