Welcome to Songwriting School, where we talk to songwriters about how they wrote one song.
Singer-songwriter Rick Colado, better known as rickoLus, has a new album coming out in March. His first single from that album, “New York,” may sound like it’s about New York City, but in a lot of ways, rickoLus really wrote it about his hometown: Jacksonville, FL.
Here’s our conversation with rickoLus about his new single.
The following interview has been condensed and edited.
It seems like you’ve been writing more songs on piano than guitar in recent years. What feels different about writing a song on the piano?
I think I’ve always been more attracted to the piano, to be honest. Like, that’s an instrument that I’ve wanted to play and get better at. When I look at a keyboard, it’s just easier to play with different harmonic and melodic structures, I think.
You’ve been making music in Jacksonville and about Jacksonville for many decades now, but this song is about New York City. Why did you decide to focus on New York for this first single?
Well, the song is kind of born in Jacksonville, because it’s about a friend of mine who moved to New York City in ‘99, right when we graduated high school. We went to high school together and we were pretty good friends in high school, but not, like, homies, you know. Like, not very close. When I started touring, I would go up there and see him, and I was kind of, like, this link back to Jacksonville. And then over the years, we became very close, because I’d see him at least once a year, and it would be this day of reminiscing and connecting. You know, catching up. I was kind of this Jacksonville diplomat or something.
He’s tied to why I have a relationship with that city. You could go to New York or any city and just go, “Oh, cool, there’s a building,” or, you know, “There’s Times Square,” or whatever. But you don’t really get a sense of it, you know what I mean?
When he left the city, I was kind of crushed a little bit. And I know it was emotional for him, too, because he had spent more time in New York than he did here. So it’s tied to Jacksonville, but it’s also about falling in love with a different city.
I think any Billy Joel fan is bound to hear parallels between this song and a song like “New York State of Mind,” for instance. I know you’re a William Joel fan yourself. How much influence did you take from his lyrics and piano style for this song?
Oh, tons. I feel like that’s what I was trying to create, or at least mimic. I put on “Just the Way You Are,” and it just sounds like that dreamy New York that I have in my head.
Yeah, I pulled a lot from Billy Joel. His use of melody and chord structure—I think always been attractive to me, even since I was a kid. I mean, I can remember being 3 or 4, when MTV just started, and I used to love that song “Uptown Girl.” I could see that line of influence go with me this whole time, up to now, 40 years later.
You recorded this song up in Athens, GA, with David Barbe, who’s well known for producing the Drive-By Truckers, among many other impressive acts. Were there any decisions you and Dave made in the studio that surprised you? Maybe something you hadn’t thought of while you were writing the song on your own?
We kind of got to it pretty quick. The other guys that played in the band had heard demos of the songs, but we had never really played it. We’d start playing a song, and if we got a good take, we’d go to the next song. By the time we got to New York, it was like, “Alright, let’s try a take.” And we did a take. We did another take, and then we were like, “That seems close.” They just kind of came up with stuff on the fly. Like, the drummer is not a jazz drummer. And he says, “Don’t tell anybody. But I think that’s the jazziest I’ve ever played.” He’s kind of a four-on-the-floor, straight-up rock drummer.
Just how fast we were able to get to it was surprising. And then, once we all started talking about the song, we were like, “What could we add?” It was really easy for us to be like, “Well, let’s just add all this stuff and make it real atmospheric.” I was giving them images. Think of New York. The sun’s going down. A train’s coming around the corner. You’re waiting. Everything’s just beautiful—all the trash and everything is beautiful. So we all kind of had the same vision.
New York is the first single you’re releasing from your new album, These Things Happen, which is coming out in March. What was it about this song that made you decide it should be the one to give a first impression of the album?
Because of how different it is compared to what I’ve done before. I like that it’s slow. Usually the first single is something real upbeat and catchy—that’s kind of what you’d want to go for. But heartfelt is what I’m going for now. And lush. And cinematic.
Stream the new rickoLus’ single, “New York” here.
Watch rickoLus perform a song from 2021’s Bones and the yet-to-be-released “Untitled” from WJCT Studios.