Third-year College student Luke Richard Powers is a rising star in the Charlottesville music scene, coming off not only a recent performance at The Southern Cafe & Music Hall but also the release of his new single “Red/Blue.” On a particularly windy April evening, Powers sat down to talk more about his long-held love of music, his writing process and his biggest inspirations.
Hailing from Herndon, Va., Powers said that he has been performing since the age of 13. Along with being a part of his middle school choir, he would sing along to tunes his older brother played on his guitar in his bedroom. After his older brother left to attend the University in 2016, Powers began picking up guitar himself, tinkering with new melodies and eventually writing his own songs as a way to push himself to become better at guitar.
Around this time, music and songwriting also became a creative outlet for him as he experienced health issues that hindered other parts of his life, taking away his ability to engage in sports and other activities.
“As for a lot of artists, that puts you in the emotional space for expression,” Powers said. “You’re dealing with a lot of things, and that needs to go somewhere.”
Powers described his music as a blend of “bluegrass, country, folk and Americana.” Some of his biggest musical influences include folk Americana band “The Avett Brothers” and alternative indie band “The Head and the Heart,” often covering the latter in his performances in high school.
Powers also touched on how his childhood influences his music today, recalling fond memories of how his family’s music tastes greatly shaped his own.
“I remember going to my grandma’s house, and she lives in New Jersey, and we’d drive up there and listen to James Taylor CDs,” Powers said. “That was very influential for me, because I know a lot of people grew up listen[ing] to pop music, and I grew up listening to my parents' James Taylor CDs.”
However, Powers said he is continuing to find his voice and sound as he lets life and his experiences shape his creative process. He described his first year of college as “waffling on what he wanted sound-wise,” releasing an initial first EP that he said did not align with his creative vision at the time, leaning too heavily into the pop genre.
Powers said he feels more confident in his sound in his 2022 EP “As I Am,” an amalgamation of the folk, country and classic rock music he grew up on and continues to listen to.
Over the years, Powers said his songwriting process has also greatly shifted from being inspired by largely his own life to seeking ideas from other avenues. Powers said he now often lets songs find him, getting inspiration from the unexpected. He shared stories of finding lyrics in conversations with friends and those around him, even deriving the lyrics “forges from the earth with a soul of loam” from an email exchange with a professor.
With his songwriting, Powers said he sometimes takes a more realistic approach, gathering experiences from his life. In these situations, he rarely puts pen to paper, humming and strumming his guitar until a song is conceptualized. He also utilizes storytelling to take a more abstract approach to songwriting, hashing out stories on a notepad or a computer before he picks up a guitar.
One of the most interesting ways Powers said he goes about songwriting is through seeking out different sonics and tones in his music. Though he said he now has a guitar he primarily uses for songwriting, he used to purchase and sell different types of guitars often to test out new sounds. When he felt a guitar had run its course in one of his songs, he said he would obtain a new one and continue.
“I would write a bunch of songs on a guitar, run out of steam, and then get something that had a slightly different sound, just tonally a bit different and then I’d get inspiration again,” Powers said.
Powers said that coming to the University has allowed him to take advantage of the burgeoning Charlottesville music scene to expand his own career, performing at local breweries and wineries. While he said that he noticed that few college bands delved into the folk or Americana genre, he found that space has been well-received in the area.
Charlottesville has provided a plethora of new opportunities for collaboration and inspiration. On his last EP “As I Am”, Powers got the chance to work with the Earlysville Bluegrass Boys on tracks “As I Am” and “Michael Palermo.”
He also said that he wants to continue to explore his sound and is open to it evolving. Powers said that while his most recent song, “Red/Blue” leans more folk, other songs of his lean more country. While he is unsure where his sound will go in the future, he said that hopes to continue to explore both genres and find a good blend.
Powers will be taking the stage May 14 at Child’s Peach Orchard. In the meantime, his newest singles “Red/Blue,” “Humble Way” and “Redwood” are available to stream on Spotify.