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Posted on 15. Jun, 2003 by admin in Damien News, Interviews.


From the Philadelphia Inquirer

A fancy package for an extraordinary debut

By Tom Moon, Inquirer Popular Music Critic

When it was released in Ireland and England last summer, Damien Rice’s extraordinary debut, O, had a clothbound cover, like a book, and page after page of beautiful artwork that led to the CD tucked elegantly in back.

“It came out of one of those nights where you just sit and ask yourself everything,” Rice recalled of the attention-getting package. The scruffy Irish singer-songwriter was seated in a Philadelphia diner the morning after his Tin Angel debut, an event that – given how quickly Rice is rising – 600 people will one day claim to have attended.

“Sometimes important things come out of those ‘What are you doing with your life?’ conversations,” said Rice, 28, recipient of the inaugural XPN Emerging Artist Award. “For me, the question was more ‘What do you bring to this world?’

“To that I had to answer, ‘I manufacture plastic, and I’m hoping to manufacture loads of it.’ Which got me thinking about how deadly that is. And I started thinking how writers, they can say, ‘I make books.’ Somehow that feels cleaner, like a more beautiful thing to do.”

So Rice – who will perform July 20 at the WXPN-FM (88.5) Singer-Songwriter Weekend on Penn’s Landing – fashioned his “book,” painting some of the artwork himself and soliciting contributions from friends.

After a slow start, audiences at the open-mike nights Rice frequented began to seek out the indie-label CD. And news spread about the tunesmith who had recorded most of his record in living rooms using low-budget gear.

Record labels in the States became interested, and eventually engaged in a bidding war. But when it came time to manufacture the thing, Rice’s U.S. label – the newly formed Vector Recordings – blanched at the cost of the nontraditional packaging and argued for a more modest approach. And Rice, being an artist, refused to back down.

“Not to go all tree-hugging about it, but what we put out is what we get back. To me, it’s more important that people encounter this thing I think is just beautiful than it is for us to all make 25 percent extra profit… . To me, the issue is about how people will first encounter what I’m doing. I had to say, ‘This is its own thing. It goes together, don’t try to change it.’ ”

After weeks of back and forth, Rice and Vector compromised: The first 30,000 copies of O, which was released Tuesday, will be clothbound, and subsequent pressings will be the traditional cardboard “eco-pak.” Later, a deluxe cloth “limited-edition” collector’s item, bundled with a live DVD, will also be sold for a few dollars extra.

From his early days in several successful Irish rock bands, most famously Juniper, Rice has fought for what he believes.

“The test these days is, can you do anything on your own terms as a recording artist? I think you can, if you’re willing to go down.

“You learn pretty quickly that the people at the labels crave more security in life, and so they don’t make artistic decisions well. I’m not afraid of failing, in industry terms, because I’ve already been right at the bottom and I have to say I loved it. To me, being successful is doing it on your own terms.”

That iconoclastic spirit rattles through O, which incorporates bits of ’60s folk narrative (the image-rich yarn “The Blower’s Daughter”), as well as sprawling attempts at art-rock (“Eskimo,” a meditation on writer’s block), rash love odes, and rambling confessionals (“Volcano”).

Like David Gray and others, Rice sometimes lets his thoughts rush out in a torrent of conflicting images, but is equally capable of a blunt summation that leaves no room for doubt. One of the best illustrations of Rice’s gift comes on the bitter “Cheers Darling,” a song Rice wrote at 3 a.m., after an argument with an unfaithful lover. At the Tin Angel, he performed it as a theatrical piece, stopping between toasts to provide details on the relationship.

“That really did come about at 3 a.m.,” Rice says. “I put down this loop of rhythm I made out of clinking glasses and percussion noises. Then after I listened back, I just recorded whatever words fell out of my mouth. That showed me how interesting stuff comes from not thinking, not trying to be clever. Really, not trying at all.”

It’s a lesson he’s learned several times in the last few years when he tried to force himself to write, when he went to the most plush studio in Dublin to record only to discover that the “too polished” tracks had none of the soul of his homemade demos.

“If I’m not bursting with whatever, there’s no point trying… . I write because I have to do it, and when it’s happening it’s like a meditative state. It’s all about letting out what’s gone in,” Rice says. “It’s like vomiting, in a sense… . You always feel better afterward.”

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