Friday, July 2, 2010

Art and Artists: Damien Rice

The next artist I want to approach is Damien Rice. Damien is an Irish folk singer and songwriter who has released two studio albums, O in 2002 and 9 in 2006. These two albums feature Lisa Hannigan on a large number of tracks, and the two have become synonymous with each other despite having not worked together since 2007. The Irish Times describes Damien as “a most excruciatingly honest songwriter”, a claim that holds true after listening to his music. Because of his place in the folk/folk rock genre and having not put out new material in a few years, many are not familiar with Damien Rice and his music. His music tends to be acoustic guitar led, usually with strings (cello or violin) and/or drums in the background. If you are familiar with Damien and enjoy his music, please add your thoughts. For those that do not know his music, perhaps this will provide incentive to do so.

In keeping with my hope of finding an outside opinion about the art and artists I will be presenting, I sought out an old friend of mine whom I know to be a fan of Damien. Shelby has performed some of his music before on stage, giving her a somewhat unique perspective to my own. She is one of the most musically talented individuals I know, and it was an easy decision to ask her to contribute here. Once again, she and I both answered seven questions that I created, hoping to provide some insight into what sets Damien Rice apart.

1. How did you first find out about Damien Rice?
Shelby – I first found out about Damien Rice about three years ago. I sang his song, Volcano, at a backyard wine and cheese tasting with a friend of mine.

Kevin – At a New Year’s Eve party (2008 – 2009 I believe) I was discussing music with one of my friends. Folk has been a favorite genre of mine for a while, and this caused my friend to bring up Damien Rice as an artist I might enjoy. He introduced me to Damien by having me listen to Cannonball and Blower’s Daughter, two songs off the album O. At the time, I was unsure about Damien, as I usually am the first time I hear an artist. A week later, I was at a Border’s bookstore closing sale and picked up a copy of his debut album, O, on a whim. I certainly didn’t regret it.

2. What is your favorite song that Damien has written?
Shelby – My favorite song is Blower's Daughter (video here). It puts me in such a sensitive, soft, beautiful mood whenever I hear it. But there isn't a song of his that I don't love. Volcano, 9 Crimes, Delicate, Rootless Tree. They're all so rusty and honest.

Kevin – I have two favorites, one from each album. From O, I Remember is an incredible song. Damien and Lisa each sing half of the song, expressing the confusion and emotion of two lovers who no longer are but remember what once was. It’s a heavy, beautiful song. The album version is fantastic, but what set that song apart for me was a live version done for the BBC (here). I have never seen a live performance done so flawlessly as that. My favorite song off 9 is Coconut Skins (here), an upbeat, quick song about the worth of being still and not knowing what to do or wait for. It is a catchy song, an easy listen, and one that will certainly get stuck in your head.

3. Are there any themes to his that stick out to you?
Shelby – Heartbreak. The extreme vulnerability of being intimate with a woman. Then the mistakes and confusion that come later in a relationship- getting back what little you gave, or often times just being betrayed.

Kevin – I can’t really argue with what Shelby said. Many of his songs (Delicate, Volcano, Lonelily, Rootless Tree, etc.) deal with broken emotions and relationships that have gone sour; in those songs his ability to make the audience understand and feel his emotions really shines. One can tell that he has invested emotionally into both his past and his music. By combining the two, the emotion contained in his songs is palpable. Raw and beautiful, all the same.

4. What makes Damien an important artist in our generation?
Shelby – His honest lyrics. Being relatable and raw are elements that this generation really gravitates toward. That's what I love about his music the most, and at the same time am bothered by it. I love how truthful he is, but there is not very often a redeeming moment in his music. It's kind of good for sulking, which I would say actually isn't good for this generation, especially.

Kevin – There is something about his music that really sticks with me after listening to it. The relevance of his music to my emotions sometimes takes me off guard; it is strange sometimes to listen to him sing about what I am feeling, as if he knows my situation and penned the song with me in mind. I agree with Shelby that Damien seems to focus on the path behind him into the valley rather than finding the path back up. However, we live in a culture that wants to go, go, go and never slow down. We want to identify our problems and immediately fix them with infomercial products and miracle gels. But Damien seems to recognize that he doesn’t have to fix everything immediately. While he may mourn the loss of a lover in a morose way, he shows that we don’t have to run to someone else when a relationship goes bad. He tells us that it is okay to remain in that place, that an immediate respite from our pain is not necessary.

5. Describe Damien using one word.
Shelby – Gray. What I mean by that is... his main theme I would say is confusion. Most of his songs are all about the gray, tough parts in love; the messy, gritty confusion. And I just picture a heartbreaking shade of gray when I hear him.

Kevin – Honest.

6. How have his songs influenced you?
Shelby – Mmmm...I think they allow me to feel pain when I need to feel it. But I have to watch myself in how much I listen to him, to be honest. I can get myself into too the same sulky gray if I don't switch to something else after a while!

Kevin – His songs have allowed me to better understand my own emotions and hang ups when it comes to broken relationships. I love the way he writes songs that are packed with emotion but are unhurried and subdued, very still. It is as if he wants us to feel his emotion without having to show it himself in a flamboyant fashion. That helped me understand that I can feel real, powerful emotion but not make a spectacle of it. I can maintain my demeanor even as the world might seem to be crashing down around me.

7. Explain why you think more people should get to know Damien Rice and his music.
Shelby – Oy. Everyone should. Because he's real, sensitive, and rusty! He's just a mess, but he puts it all out in the open. I think people should be a bit more the same.

Kevin – He may never make you want to tear up the dance floor, but he will make you feel. I find that to be valuable beyond measure.

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