Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Interviews:: Johnathan Rice

It's been forever since we've run an interview here on herohill, so now is as good a time as any to throw one to you. We sat down with Johnathan Rice today, and this young man has a great perspective on the music industry and was a really interesting interview.

HH:: Hey Johnathan, how's it going today?
JR:: It's going great. It's raining here in LA, but it's nice.

HH:: It's actually sunny up here in Vancouver and we are usually nothing but rain. Maybe
JR:: It's actually really good, as we need the rain to fill up the reservoir. We really need it, as they had to empty the reservoir because they found some fungus in it.

HH:: Ok. Well water fungus is never a good thing or a common way to start an interview. But it's as good a starting point as any. So I read that when you recorded Trouble is Real you weren’t 100% happy with the end result and you actually thought you might get dropped after it was released? Obviously, on Further North you had more control over the final product and the result is a much more cohesive record. Is this album more an indication of how you want to be known as a song writer and are you happy with the end result?
JR:: Well, I wouldn't say I was unhappy with it at all. I was always very proud of it and the production and sound was great. I worked with Mike Mogis and some of my friends from Nebraska and was very pleased with all of their contributions. It's more in retrospect, that I wasn't happy with where I was as a song writer. It was miles away from where I wanted to be, more towards my genuine form.

This time around I'm much closer to what I want to be doing. That's for sure, but I mean I had to make the first record to make this record. The concept of making a record wasn't so mysterious. Everything seemed easier this time around, and I really didn't have to think about it so much. I was able to find a sound that was more what I wanted... simpler production and even the arrangements were simpler. Really the whole process was just easier.

HH:: It's interesting you bring up Mogis because you got signed to a major label at a young age which can often be hard for a young artist, but you really seem to have gotten some great support/advice from people like the Saddle Creek family - including touring partners and help on your record. Do you ever feel like it would be easier for you on a smaller label or does your label size ever really affect anything you do?
JR:: I actually… can’t really see the difference at the moment. It's weird how often I get asked this question, but essentially you can be on a major label and not make major label records.. My label Reprise has always been accepting and they've released some of my favorite records. They released Harvest, Transformer by Lou Reed, all of the solo Gram Parsons stuff. The Joni Mitchell records. Those are the records I hold more in my heart. I've always felt more attachment to classic sounding rock n' roll. Even though the majority of my record collection when I got signed was from labels like Merge, I was still thrilled to be signed to Warner Brothers. The history they have. I mean, sure they also put out records like Lincoln Park and Disturbed, but they really understand and accept records. Especially with the way things are with radio and MTV, I mean there is less opportunity for everyone, so it's really levelled the playing field. It's a really great position to be in, plus Warner Brothers has never given me shit. I've never had to be in the studio before the songs were done, they let me tour with who I want to tour with. They are very hands off.

I mean, they've supported band like the Flaming Lips and never rejected any of their ideas. And now the Lips are a huge success. I can see how labels are changing and some artists might get caught up in the frustration. But honestly I feel very fortunate to have seen both worlds. The decline in sales is being felt by everyone, not just major labels. Sure, their bottom line is more severe, but it trascends size. It's basic change in perception about the value of music. I mean, I grew up in a a self imposed time warp. I always loved buying records; going to the record store, listening to Side A and Side B, but a lot of my peers grew up with free music. The people who I knew that burned CDs of Napster aren't going to change and start paying for music. You really can't put the water back in the bottle.

HH:: Yeah, I guess as soon as the value of something is taken away, it's hard to get people to want to be a part of the process. People now have to make a song that everyone wants to donwload and the process of digesting full records is becoming obsolete. It's sad in a way.
JR:: Sure. But you can make it exciting again or you can just sit around being sad. It's actually very freeing. You can make three records a year now if you want, or release songs as soon as you record them. You can put a 30-minute video on youtube. It's forcing people to be creative, and that helps art move forward, when it is changed against it's will.

HH:: That's very true and now we are in a time where you have to be creative to get people to want to support the full process.
JR:: Or we don't. I think artists just need to adapt to find a new way to survive. It happens all the time.

HH:: Without getting too much into your personal situation, I have a few questions about the song writing process for this record. How different was it to write with a partner on Further North?
JR:: Well I really had writing partners on both my first and second records, and worked with other people on both. So it wasn't that different I guess. It's difficult to explain. But I would think you mean writing with Jenny?

HH:: Well I guess. Not because of who she is, but because of who she is in your life. Some of the subject matter on this is very personal - getting run over, not measuring up, and simply submitting to make your partner happy – was that kind of honesty hard to bring to the table when you were bouncing ideas off Jenny, considering your situation?
JR:: Well, I guess it's with any kind of character it's the the right of the writer. You have the ability to go in and out of character even in the same line. So a lot of it is smoke and mirrors. What might come across as brutal honesty, might be fiction and what you might think is fiction is some of the realest moments. It's more to do with the song itself, and often the direct intention is not there.

It's kind of amusing to look back on the recording now. The record is out there, and it let's people have a dialog about the songs, the process. I hear critics say, "oh that is definitely one of his lines, or that is one of hers". People always assume and most of the time they are actually wrong. It goes with the review I guess, you have to perceive an artist in a certain way, hey have to be part of a "package" so to speak.

HH:: That's interesting, because you have the ability to sound sincere and give people the ability to attach themselves to your feelings - whether they are honest or not. I think that speaks to the strength of your song writing and your characters.
JR:: Thanks. I think the process of writing with Jenny has been terrific. Collaborating began during the period she was making her first solo record. I joined her band and that really started the creative dialog. It's been very rewarding, and her influence on Further North is palpable but not in the ways people think.

HH:: It brings up another question. You really have been exposed to a lot of great artists over the last couple of years. Are there any that have really helped your growth as a song writer?
JR:: Sure of course.. I mean I don't want to just start name dropping because everyone influences you. Inspiration comes in so many forms and so many things have helped shape my mentality. I did a tour with Ben Gibbard and David Bazan (Pedro the Lion) and we toured the whole country playing acoustic shows. It was just the bare essentials; a piano and a guitar and that was it. It was such a pleasure to see him in the context. So spare and minimal. I t was new to him as well. He had played acoustic shows, but never a whole tour, so he was up there without his regular defenses and he really flourished. It's amazing to hear how your catalog stands up with just a voice and a guitar.

I actually am looking forward to getting back to that. I am going to do some shows with Matt Costa, and it's going to be just me. I mean I am always on the road with my band, and I prefer that., but it will be great to just be in a room full of people with nothing but my guitar. Sometimes it works, and sometimes it doesn't but the creative process is important either way. You learn from both.

But I've been exposed to so many things. Listening to my friends demos and seeing how they are transformed on record. I mean, some of the greatest days are the hootenany sing-alongs we have here in LA. Friends just over playing instruments and singing their new songs over a drink. It's so inspiring to hear what your friends are doing.

HH:: Well, that kind of takes away my last question. I was going to say that you are kind of a road warrior, so I wanted to know if the West Coast feels like home yet, but with days like that it seems so.
JR:: It totally is my home. Even on rainy days it's great.

HH:: Perfect.. well thanks for talking to me today. I'll let you get back to your food. Good luck on the tour.
JR:: Thanks man, I'll see you next time I'm in Vancouver.

[MP3]:: Middle of the Road - Demo

Posted at 3:56 PM by ack :: 2 comments

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At 7:43 AM, Anonymous steve did sayeth:

great piece. I've been a fan of jonathan's for a while, pretty well since his 'tin can love' release. good to see that 'major label' artists still respect that they're not where they want to be on past releases and are willing to admit it.

now if only I had a muse like ms. lewis, I'd be all set.


At 5:51 PM, Anonymous Anonymous did sayeth:

I want to know what he was eating!


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