- 01 Feb 21
19 years ago today, Damien Rice released his acclaimed debut studio album, O. To celebrate, we're revisiting Fiona Reid's classic interview with the Irish singer-songwriter – originally published in Hot Press in 2002.
“I’m really happy,” declares Damien Rice, who, sitting in the south of France, staring up at the big blue sky, is anticipating the imminent release his debut album O. After an ever-extending period of recording that had eager fans on tenterhooks, two-years later Damien’s absolutely ecstatic with the finished product. “I’m delighted with the record,” he enthuses. “It’s exactly what I wanted to create, something I feel happy listening to over and over.”
Rice and his band are in Cannes to perform at the Midem 2002 festival, one of Europe’s largest music industry showcases.
“It’s exactly like it looks on the telly,” he says. “Beaches, hills, posh hotels. We’re not here with any specific purpose in mind, it’s just a bit of a holiday before our tour.”
The tour follows the launch of the long-awaited album in February. O ebbs and flows gracefully through some of the most heart-wrenchingly uplifting, sweepingly romantic and darkly contemplative tracks in his repertoire, old favourites like ‘Volcano’, ‘The Blower’s Daughter’ and ‘Eskimo’ and newer songs, like the aptly-named ‘Delicate’ and the perfectly-evoked Brel-worthy vignette ‘Cheer’s Darlin.’
“I had an idea at the start of what I wanted it to sound like, but my ideas changed as I went along,” Damien explains. “I initially wanted a mixture of slower songs and rockier ones, like ‘Face’ and ‘Woman Like a Man,’ but I ended up just using the softer, quieter songs, cause the heavier ones didn’t really fit in the end.”
He admits it’s “not exactly the kind of record they’ll put on in café’s in the background, because there’s so many quiet, almost silent bits and then it swells up really loud, with no steady rhythm. A lot of the songs wouldn’t be considered to have a lot of radio potential, it’s the kind of thing you’d put on at home later in the day, to just sit and listen to. I wanna make an angry album next, maybe not an official second album, but I’d like to put the harder songs out in some form.”
Perhaps in order to prove he’s capable of a swifter approach to recording, Damien says the band, including co-vocalist Lisa Hannigan, cellist Vyvienne Long, bassist Shane Fitzsimons and drummer Tomo, are considering recording an entire album in just one week, staying together in a house and writing and recording songs from scratch.
In fact, many of the songs on O were recorded in a spur of the moment fashion at various locations in Dublin, Killarney, London and Paris, via Damien’s portable studio.
“I think I work better doing things spontaneously,” he maintains. “If I’m in the right mood, I think I can capture a bit of magic. Most of the material on the album is first take stuff. I’d wait for weeks or sometimes months until I was in the right mood to do a song. People were saying, ‘God, is it taking you ages to record the album?’ but I didn’t spend much time actually recording. Sometimes three songs were recorded in just the one evening.”
The only track on the album that had outside help and a ‘proper’ studio setting was ‘Amie,’ which he recorded with composer David Arnold, of Bjork’s ‘Play Dead’ fame. Arnold agreed to work on the album after hearing Rice’s original demo. “David transformed it with this amazing string part, using wonderful counterpoint techniques.”
The ex-Juniper frontman is releasing the album himself with distribution by RMG. His experiences with his former band, other members of which later morphed into Bell X1, have made him very wary of the music industry. “There are hundreds of record companies here at Midem, but I really couldn’t be arsed going near them. I’ve been signed before - alright, to a major rather than an independent label - but I wasn’t in control of what we were doing and the direction they wanted us to take. Like ‘Weatherman’ (Juniper’s first single) - the record company said, ‘Do it this way, put it out and if it does well, you can do whatever you want with your second single. So we recorded ‘Eskimo’, and they said, ‘No, it’s not radio friendly enough.’ You’re promised something, so you compromise, but they’re never happy.”
Rice had to re-record ‘Eskimo,’ with it’s beautiful operatic crescendos, for the new album, since he no longer owns the rights to the original recording, and he’s pleased with the outcome. “There are bits I prefer about the original version, but a lot of bits I like better about the new one. I went away for a while and came back and listened to it for its own merits. And I came to the conclusion that I really liked it.”
“I’ve learned at this stage not to plan anything,” he adds. “I’d loads of plans for the album and it turned out totally different and I’m very glad it did. We have our own record out now, we’re delighted with it and we’re making a comfortable living from the gigs, doing it our own way. So there’s no need to try and ‘make it.’ I feel we’re already making it.”