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After Into Another split up some years ago, singer and songwriter Richie Birkenhead disappeared somehow from the international music scene. 2004 marks the year of his return: The Formula, Birkenhead's solo project, will release a full album entitled "Lonely Splendor" this spring on Redemption Records. Reason enough to talk to one of the most inspiring musicians ever.

Pic: Clarke Tolton.

So Richie, what have you been doing all these years since Into Another split up?

Well, in a nutshell… I spent the last few years living in Los Angeles. I got married and then divorced. I’ve been writing songs and recording them in my home, doing graphics work, spending quality time with my dog, Oliver…

Why did Into Another split up? I heard there were several problems with the record label?

Yes, the label was a nightmare. I can’t solely blame them for breaking up the band; but they were a major factor in breaking down band morale.

There's this unreleased Into Another album "Soul Control", why wasn't it released? There were stories that the record label (Hollywood Records) was quite shocked because it was so much different than the previous records...

Those stories are false. The label never expressed shock or disappointment over our sonic evolution on “Soul Control”. The record wasn’t released (or even finished) because our battles with Hollywood Records had already gotten bad before mixing was completed (which is why it never was). Our fights with Hollywood had to do with terrible distribution and promotion of “Seemless”.

Is there any chance to see an official release of "Soul Control" some day?

Yes. That would be nice. I know that some people have sold copies of this unfinished album and, while I am happy that these songs were finally heard, I am very unhappy and quite angry that others profited from our hard work, while we received nothing.

How would you describe the evolution of Into Another from "Seemless" to "Soul Control" as "Soul Control" has less guitars and more electronic sounds, beat driven electronica, drum'n bass influences etc.?

Well, it seems that you’ve just described it... But my interpretation would differ somewhat. All of the drums on “Soul Control” are real (played, as usual, by Drew). I don’t think of electronica as music with real drums. There are electronic music influences, I suppose. But, unlike a lot of that music, we were able to sit in a room and play all of those songs live, without any pre-recorded or sampled sounds.

Since you were part of Into Another for seven years, do you feel attached to it more than to your first band Underdog, which you left quite early or is it hard to say?

Well, I was with Underdog for quite a long time (the band was first called Numskuls, and then True Blue), so I feel a great affinity toward that band and have many, many fond memories. Into Another was, however, much more of a vehicle of personal expression and introspection for me. With Into Another, I never felt bound to a genre or a movement. I felt completely free artistically and it brought out a great deal of honesty in my writing.

Tony Bono, Into Another's former bass player died in May 2002 at the young age of 38, which is really sad.
How did you learn about his death, and how did it affect you? Were you still in contact after Into Another's split anyway?

I was driving across the country, from L.A. to New York. My manager, Rose, called me while I was at a rest stop in Nebraska and told me that Tony had died. It was like someone drained all of the blood from my body. It still breaks my heart to think that he is gone. We were only occasionally e-mailing each other. We were not in frequent contact. I regret that. Tony was a brilliant artist. But, more importantly, he was a very kind and very good human being.

Are you still talking to Peter Moses and Drew Thomas?

Drew and I are still very close (as we were long before Into Another existed). I very seldom hear from Peter.

Let's talk about your new project The Formula. I read on the internet you signed with Redemption Records, an independent label and that your first album "Lonely Splendor" will be released this spring. What is your story with Redemption Records? How did you get to sign with that label?

Ryan Kuper, the head and founder of Redemption, and I are old friends. One day we were having a conversation about what I was doing musically and one thing led to another. Redemption is a very cool label and Ryan is a great guy… very honest, no bullshit.

Also, how long did you work on "Lonely Splendor", and what is the sound like? Could you describe it in a few words?

On-and-off, here-and-there… for a couple of years actually (although I re-recorded each song two or three times). The album ended up with a very minimalist sound. The songs are, for the most part, somewhat slow, melodic and dark. Lots of acoustic guitar.

Would you consider The Formula an actual band or more a solo project? Who participated in the recordings?

Well, honestly, much more of a solo project. Frankie Inglese, one of my oldest friends, played some guitar and did some co-production stuff early on. Drew played some drums. I did everything else (including the writing).

Are there any live shows planned? I know many people over here would like to know if you will play any shows in Europe again?

Yes, of course. I can’t wait to play live again.

Will there be a European release of "Lonely Splendor"?

Good question. I don’t know : )
I hope so!

What are you doing (for work) besides making music? I know you worked for Revelation Records as a graphic designer for some time...

I do all sorts of graphics stuff… web site design, Flash movies, layout and design for print, photo re-touching old Beatles photos for a legendary photojournalist named Harry Benson...

You were a guest singer on Deadsy's "Brand New Love", a band led by Cher's son Elijah Blue Allman. How did that happen? Also, do you have any plans regarding future collaborations with Deadsy?

That happened because Elijah and his manager, Josh Richman are dear friends of mine. Nothing is planned, but I would love to work with Deadsy again. They are one of the very few bands who take artistic chances and are creating something truly original and important.

Do you have a favorite restaurant in New York and/or Los Angeles?

I have a lot of them... In L.A. one of my faves is Real Food Daily. In New York, I would say Gobo is my latest fave.

Alright, thanks a lot for your time. I truly appreciate it, my last question: what makes you happy, Richie?

Hmmm… Among many other things…
Love, peace, Oliver (my dog), the ocean, old movies, the Mets, Jets and Knicks.

Interview conducted by Katharina and Magnus Jaschke in January 2004.