Irish Song Poet Damien Rice's O Released In U.S.
San Francisco O, the exquisite debut album from critically lauded Irish singer/songwriter Damien Rice (who, in the UK, has been compared to Bob Dylan) was released in the U.S. this week on the Vector label.
The album is an often-gentle lullaby, a singer/songwriter tour de force that mixes gentle acoustic guitars and Rice's at-times-conversational vocals with string arrangements and ethereal support vocals from Irish singer Lisa Hannigan, who also duets with Rice on a number of songs including "Volcano." The artist has an unusual perspective on writing. "I know they are not the truth," Rice said of his songs, during a recent interview before a San Francisco performance, "in that they are truthful expressions of how I was feeling, but just because I might have been feeling a certain way about somebody, doesn't necessarily mean I was right."
Produced by Rice, O was first released in Ireland on the artist's own drm label in February 2002; it quickly went double platinum (30,000 copies sold), was voted Best Album and Best Debut Album by the Hot Press Readers Poll, and was nominated for three Meteor Island music awards. Last July it was released in the UK, where it received critical raves; the Sunday Telegraph called O "a fantastic debut,.. an absolute triumph of great songwriting and honest performance."
Dublin-born Rice, who was lead singer of the Irish band Juniper until 1999 (he says that at the time he was "burnt out with the music business," recorded O over a two-year period in a mobile studio donated by renowned James Bond film composer/arranger David Arnold (who produced Björk's "Play Dead" and is also Rice's second cousin) in Paris, London, Ireland, and wherever else inspiration struck. During a recent interview he told Neumu he wanted the freedom to create spontaneously and independently, free of the limitations of a traditional recording studio and the servitude imposed by being under contract to a record label. Obligated only to his own creativity and personal aesthetic ambitions, he was able to craft an album of rich and abundant sonic details, not compromised by the pressures of release deadlines and the potentially inhibiting oversight of a producer other than himself.
The musicians Rice used for the album are a cosmopolitan and esteemed group: pianist Jean Meunir of Paris, drummer TOMO of NYC, English cellist Vyvienne Long, Hannigan (who worked closely with Rice on every aspect of the project), opera singer Doreen Curran, members of the London Symphony Orchestra, and monks from an abbey in Tuscany, not far from where Rice lived for a year (and where he wrote many of the songs that appear on O). The monks served as consultants on the making of authentic Gregorian chants for one of the album's stand-out songs, "Coldwater."
Though Arnold arranged for Rice to make use of Air Studios in London, in which a week and ten grand were spent recording several songs for O, Rice was dissatisfied with the results, and after recording with the mobile studio, opted to mix the album himself on a simple 8-track machine back home in Ireland.
The album packaging is quite unusual, resembling a short book. "With this album I just wanted to make a book of art that had a similar feel and intimacy as the songs," he explained. "I wanted to make an old-style hardback book that was a material cover, stamped on the front, pictures and drawings, and a few little words, bits and pieces here and there. Just for me. It's just like wanting to have an artistic expression of what else is in here. There's a CD of music in the back and an artistic expression which hopefully matches, or fits encases in fact that music in a nice way."
As for why he titled the album O, Rice explained during an interview with the Irish webzine Cluas last year, "The reason why it fits for me is 'cause like with relationships, they go round and round in circles, and you never learn from mistakes, and it's always the same thing over and over. So many of the songs are like that as well, about the same mistakes, that whole thing we do in Life just going around in circles. And CDs go round and round as well. I mean, fuck it! 'O' just seemed to capture what the album was."
Rice will be appear on "Late Show With David Letterman" on Friday, June 13. For more info on Rice, including tour dates, check out his Web site. Nicole Cohen [Wednesday, June 11, 2003].