January 2010

Tête-à-Tête Damien Rice

Plus, The Voluntary Butler Scheme, Inara George, Tahiti 80 and more

Damien Rice, turn it up Photo by Robbie Fry

Irishman Damien Rice’s 2002 debut album, O, garnered raves for its mix of earnest lyrics and soulful acoustics. Tracks “Cannonball” and “The Blower’s Daughter” found their way to radio playlists on both sides of the Atlantic and a number of key movie placements.

With the release of 9 in 2006, Rice’s reputation was cemented. He recorded the track “Lonely Soldier” for Raise Hope for the Congo, due out this spring. The disc, which includes contributions from Norah Jones and Rodrigo y Gabriela, supports the Enough Project, dedicated to fighting violence against women in the Congo. Though he prefers to let the music do his talking, we caught up with Rice for a rare interview.

Nic Harcourt: You recently went to Myanmar in support of human-rights activist Aung San Suu Kyi. What were your feelings from that trip?
Damien Rice: I left realizing I have so much to learn about joy—even with all of the hardship those people were experiencing, they still have a deep, soulful joy and gratitude toward life.

As a result of that trip, you released the single “Unplayed Piano” with Lisa Hannigan. Do you think artists can make a difference by aligning themselves with causes?
Anyone can make a difference. I’m noticing more how interconnected everyone and everything is—one person’s exhale is another’s inhale. I focus on creating as much beauty as possible before I die.

Are you writing and recording new material?
I like to let my music do its thing—I follow it as opposed to force it. My management would probably like it if I were less fussy. People will buy crap if you put it in their face enough, but I am not attracted to the idea of being a McDonald’s of music—as if sales equates to quality.

What’s your best writing environment?
Doesn’t matter where or when as long as I’m inspired.

Do you still find touring grueling?
I started out excited about touring, and I wanted everyone—from crew to band to management—to feel “equal.” We stayed in the same hotels and flew in the same class. But somewhere down the line, I found it hard to balance all the preferences—I blew a fuse on more than a few occasions. Some of the old band might say I’d gone mad. I’ve learned a lot.

How do you feel about the “celebrity” aspect?
Well, I want to step away from all the ideas and notions that a musician is supposed to be “special.” The BS I started believing about myself after a few years of touring is hilarious. It feels like programming, as if we are machines with computer programs in our brains telling us to buy this, wear that, want more, buy more, get rich, get famous, get more rich...

  • The Voluntary Butler Scheme
  • Inara George
  • Tahiti 80
  • Peter Bradley Adams
  • The Union Line

The Voluntary Butler Scheme
“Trading Things In”
Breakfast, Dinner, Tea

One-man band Rob Jones, from Stourbridge in the British Midlands, makes music best described as indie folk that doesn’t take itself too seriously. And this track reflects his aesthetic perfectly.

For Fans Of Badly Drawn Boy

Inara George
Accidental Experimental

Imbued with the genes of her late father, Little Feat’s Lowell George, young George is the “bird” half of The Bird and the Bee with Greg Kurstin. She possesses one of the purest voices I’ve ever heard.

For Fans Of Franz Ferdinand

Tahiti 80
“24x7 Boy”
Activity Center

Xavier Boyer, frontman of this French group, now in its 16th year, says his new album is “a definition of all music.” It definitely hits with all cylinders. This track is poised to stand out as a radio single. Let’s hope so.

For Fans Of Phoenix, Saint Etienne

Peter Bradley Adams
“For You”

Formerly half of the L.A. duo Eastmountainsouth, Adams returns with this second solo CD. He is fast developing as a songwriter who both inspires and questions. On this track, he’s gently waiting for a lover to return.

For Fans Of Damien Rice, Joseph Arthur

The Union Line

This five-piece from San Juan Capistrano melds the west with ’60s soul. Although a young band, they’ve been quietly honing their songwriting and live-performance skills. “Pearls” reflects the band’s dusty vibe.

For Fans Of Modest Mouse, The Strokes

Do you have strong opinions on how digital distribution has affected the music industry?
A true artist does art for its own sake and has no fear of not having money. Great songs write themselves—a song, like fresh air, is a gift. We are programmed into thinking we can buy and own things, but it’s all just an illusion. I play along because that’s what we do here on earth—for now.

Tell us about the song “Lonely Soldier,” which is about something outside of your own experience.
“Lonely Soldier” came about in 2004, around the time of an anti–Iraq War campaign in Ireland. The U.S. was using Shannon Airport there for military planes, and a lot of Irish people were not very happy about that. So I did my best to imagine being a soldier and what it would be like to shoot someone I don’t know—in particular, to kill an innocent woman who had startled me while in action. This is how I was able to connect, because it’s mostly men and testosterone and ego that go off to war and fight and kill, and it’s mostly women and children who die. I would love for women to rise up and balance the energy on the planet some more. It’s all a bit cock driven right now—bring on the era of the bosom.