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Posted on 20. Jul, 2003 by admin in Damien News, Interviews.


Jools, Letterman, platinum discs, fan hysteria – it’s all very nice and much appreciated, you understand, but for Damien Rice the bottom line remains the song – and doing things his way.

Damien Rice is jet-lagged. He is physically and mentally knackered. He’s been almost constantly touring since last February, when his debut album O hit the shelves and struck a chord with the collective consciousness that has resounded ever since in Ireland and beyond.

An appearance on Later With Jools Holland increased his standing manifold in the UK, while his profile in the United States has been growing apace, with sold-out shows the length and breadth of the country. The week before this interview, he appeared on The Letterman Show, the official stamp of approval for a successful conquest of the USA. His upcoming Witnness show is his biggest ever gig, and yet Rice seems unfazed by all the hullaballoo that surrounds his every move. Home from a gruelling seven-week US tour, he admits the experience has altered his outlook on music and his career in some fundamental way.

“I sat in a bus and travelled for hours and hours on end every day, across the whole country, and that gives you a lot of time for sitting down, staring out a window and thinking,” he reflects. “That is the first chunk of time that I’ve had to do nothing for eight hours a day. It gave me time to get a perspective on things.”

This new perspective is allowing Damien to see past all the supposed meters of success (record sales, bigger venues, awards) and to get right to the heart of the matter… the songs.

“My whole attitude to music has changed recently,” he admits candidly. “It’s all gone so well, in a way, and so many doors have just opened up that I have just stepped back from it a bit and almost pulled the handbrake. This time last year, I was working my ass off. I was so busy being the manager, the record company and all the things that I was back then that I didn’t even get time to think about having a perspective on anything. I was lost in doing, doing, doing, whether it was touring, organising a tour, talking to the CD manufacturer, responding to emails etc. Now, we have a team around us who are all doing the various bits and pieces. I’ve had lots of time to take it all in and soak it all up. It all feels a bit weird but it’s fun.”

A lot of things have changed for Damien in the last 12 months, and not just in terms of the people around him. “A year ago, I had the feeling that my job was to go out there and play music,” he says. “Now, because there are so many things coming at it, my main role seems to be one of protecting the music from over-use or from abuse. Now, I find myself saying ‘No’ an awful lot.”

This protective attitude is not surprising when you consider how personal the songs of Damien Rice are. He has been inundated with offers from people to do various mixes and edits of his songs, and he’s understandably reluctant to hand them over willy-nilly. He’s also found himself editing biogs and press releases that go on too much about awards and platinum records.

“That’s not what it’s about for me,” he stresses. “It’s not about presenting me as double platinum in Ireland. Go back to before any of that happened: that’s what it’s about. It’s about the creation of the songs. That’s what always existed and that’s what made the music. The platinum thing is what comes afterwards and it doesn’t matter to me really. Just like Letterman doesn’t matter to me really. Selling a million records doesn’t matter. What matters to me is feeling good about what I’ve done, feeling amazing about what I’ve done. When you really stick your neck out for something and it comes through, then it feels like an achievement.”

Which is not to say that he didn’t enjoy appearing on America’s premier talk show.

“We were scheduled to do Letterman on Tuesday last but Bruce Willis was pomping on about how great it was to bomb Saddam for so long that it got delayed and we didn’t get time to play. We got bumped to the Friday night show, which was perfect actually, because it was a much nicer show, and we got to do two songs and have a chat with the guest host, MTV’s Tom Greene.”

Here at home, meanwhile, Damien’s popularity has mushroomed. Seeing him perform at the Oxfam Fair Trade gig in Vicar Street a couple of months ago, I was shocked by the level of feverish hysteria which ensued as soon as the diminutive Celbridge man took to the stage. So then, does he ever think about the number of females who fall in love with him through his songs.

“I think it’s nutty,” he laughs. “The interesting thing about it is that it was only through me being a prick or a dick in most circumstances that I got to write the songs. It is through me making a mess of things, being an asshole, being a horny guy, being a flirt, being confused, being unable to commit, it is the classic guy syndrome. I’m not your classic guy in that I don’t watch football or whatever, but I’m your classic guy from the point of view of being very easily obsessed with sexuality and the power that those kind of things have over you.”

He goes on to note that the very concept of celebrity, where people go absolutely nuts for a performer on stage is, at heart, surreal. “Somebody gets up on stage, moans about the things that have happened in their life, and you bang your hands together and scream – this is something that we do as a pastime and call it enjoyable,” he laughs. “And it is enjoyable, but it’s just ridiculous.”

Damien Rice is looking forward to his Witnness appearance, but his newfound sense of perspective isn’t letting him get too carried away.

“I know we’re playing the main stage just before Coldplay and that is definitely exciting. But I don’t want to get so wrapped up in what it is we’re doing from a profile point of view. I’m approaching it very similar to the way I approached every gig on tour: was I looking forward to the next gig? Absolutely. But what I am looking forward to most about it is the challenge of getting up there and not doing anything that I wouldn’t usually do. Not that I’m not open to the stage inspiring me to perform slightly differently, but not feeling pressured. That’s what I’ve learned recently, not to feel pressured by anybody.”

So what can we expect?

“I’m gonna walk out there and try to bring as much simple musical magic to that moment as I can,” he says. “One thing I’m really happy about is that the sun starts to go down at that time, and that’s got a bit of magic to it, so that’s what I’m hoping for.”

Having been almost a year and a half since O, Damien’s legions of Irish fans are eager for some new material, and he hopes to have his sophomore collection out early next year. He has already begun work on the record and plans to relocate to Barcelona to finish recording over the next few months. In between, he’s going to be busy outside these shores. Damien recently signed two partnership deals which see O released outside Ireland (on Vector in the US, and Fourteenth Floor in the rest of the world), and he has serious touring commitments in both the UK and US later this year.

The last year and a half have been one hell of a rollercoaster ride for Damien Rice and the next year looks like it could surpass all that has gone before, but surprisingly it’s not the Jools Hollands and the David Lettermans that stand out, nor even the hair-raising gigs.

“It’s the moments of quietness afterwards, when I sit down by myself and when I listen to some of the recordings we’ve done, whether it’s some album tracks or some of the live shows we’ve recorded, and when I look at some of the things we have done and the effect they have had. And when I feel like we’ve been true to ourselves all the way through that: that’s what gives me the biggest kick of all, knowing that ‘Oh my God, this has all happened and you can do this the way I always thought you could do it’.

“That is probably the most amazing feeling that I have, that I got here, wherever this is, and it’s going along really nicely.”

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