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Columbia native Binder ready for home cooking at Wine in the Woods

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Risa Binder is having a moment. Not only did the singer-songwriter deliver a recent buzzworthy performance on the popular TV show "CBS This Morning," but the Columbia native is currently recording a CD with Nashville super-producer Luke Wooten and just found out she's been nominated for an Emmy Award.

Things are happening so fast, it's easy to understand her reaction to the news that her song "Just Like That," will compete for Outstanding Original Song in a Drama at the Daytime Emmy Awards next month. "I was like, is this real? Are you kidding me?" Binder says with a laugh. "I was just beside myself."

The musician, who plays Columbia's annual Wine in the Woods Festival at 1:45 p.m. on Saturday, must feel as though her recent hot streak is validation after many years spent performing at open mic nights, in coffeehouses and auditioning for Broadway shows.

The Howard High School graduate has certainly paid her dues. After receiving a degree in Theater Arts from the University of Maryland, Binder worked a series of odd jobs in order to pay the bills while she pursued her performing career. "I was a waitress; a nanny; I walked dogs; I even taught cooking classes to kids," she says.

It wasn't always easy to hang in there, but Binder stayed clear to her vision.

"I really believe that what you put in your mind to do you can do," says the Brooklyn based musician. "I would tell anyone that has a goal, to just break it down into smaller goals so you can get something done each day. It will get you that much closer to your dream. It may take a while, but it will be worth it."

Binder's homecoming will cap off a year and a half of touring behind her debut album, "Paper Heart."

"I've been on the road for a while now, so it's going to be wonderful to come home and go to my parent's house for dinner after the show."

The musician, who grew up in Columbia's Thunder Hill neighborhood, says entertaining is a family affair.

"My mom and dad, and my sister all did Howard County Summer Theatre for years when I was a kid. Looking back on it now, I feel so lucky that I grew up in Columbia where there's such respect for the arts."

Binder also starred in her share of school musicals at Howard High and was a frequent performer at Toby's Dinner Theatre.

She still hopes to sing on Broadway one day, but for now, Binder is wholly dedicated to her own music.

"I've written songs for as long as I can remember," she says. "Even when I was a kid, I was making up songs about my friends and neighbors."

Eventually, the musician's subject matter evolved.

"Of course when I became a teenager my songs were mostly about boys that I had crushes on."

As an adult, Binder simply keeps her ears open for inspiration.

"I once wrote a song after I overheard a conversation when I was a waitress at a fish and chips shop in Brooklyn. This woman was visibly upset, and I heard her friend ask her what she was going to do next and the woman said 'I guess I'll just go where the wind takes me.' When I heard that, I said thank-you in my head, that's such a good title. I started writing the song as soon as I got off work."

National TV appearance

Binder has a penchant for penning tunes about following your heart, unrequited love and kisses in the rain, so it's fitting that her debut CD "Paper Heart," was released on Valentine's Day 2011. The disc's infectious blend of pop rock and country soul was quickly noticed by industry tastemakers. Several tracks off the disc got national radio airplay, and others were featured on TV shows like the long running soap opera "General Hospital," which garnered Binder her Daytime Emmy nomination.

The singer-songwriter's profile has quickly risen ever since her performance in March on "CBS This Morning's" popular music segment, "Second Cup Café."

"It was incredible, just as I imagined it would be," says Binder of her TV appearance.

"I have a vision board with of all the things I want to achieve, and playing on that show was one of them. I looked at that board every day for a year before it happened. When I finally got an email with the invitation, I leapt out of my chair."

The musician performed two songs on the show and managed her preshow jitters by convincing herself that playing for millions of TV viewers wasn't really a big deal.

"I had to tell myself that I was just having a morning sing along with friends. That's how I made myself calm down because I was super nervous."

The internal pep talk apparently did the trick.

"At the very end of my second song, the whole crew took off their headsets and started clapping."

In the week following her appearance, "Paper Heart" shot up on the iTunes "What's Hot" chart and remained there for three weeks.

"It was me, and Justin Timberlake and David Bowie," says Binder. "It was insane."

Now, the musician hopes to keep momentum rolling by teaming up with some Music City heavyweights.

"I've just started recording my second album in Nashville," she says.

So far the musician has cut several tracks with Wooten, whose credits include crafting hits for Brad Paisley and Kellie Pickler. The session musician who plays guitar on the record is Dan Dugmore, a member of James Taylor's band for over a decade.

"We were just talking one day, and I mentioned to Dan how much I love the song 'Strawberry Wine' by Deana Carter, and he proceeds to tell me that he's the guy that played pedal steel on the track. That's the song that made me fall in love with country music in the first place. Working on this record makes me feel like a kid in a candy store."

After her gig at Wine in the Woods, Binder will head back to Nashville to continue fine tuning some of her material. She isn't sure of the release date quite yet and says she wants to take the time to create music that resonates.

"For me, a good song tells a really good story. There has to be something about the melody and lyrics that stick. In my writing process, if I'm working on a chorus and an hour later I find myself humming it, then I know it's good. I love songs that you can't get out of your head."

Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun
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