Last week after the Bishop Allen instore for the release of their new record ‘Grrr’ I had the pleasure of meeting up with singer/guitarist Justin Rice after the show for an interview. Justin with his easter plaid shirt and navy hoodie was beyond cheerful as he greated us hello. We headed out to the cold New York sidewalks for the interview and chatted about everything from influences, the new record and their stint in that little film staring Nick and Norah.
How did you and Christian meet?
We went to college together, and we had English 10A Early British Writers together and we were in the same section. And we really didn’t talk to each other until one night we saw each other at a Jawbreaker show and the next day when we were in our section, we struck up a conversation and started playing music together.
Jawbreaker? Didn’t see that coming! Who are your influences?
I mean, we both worked at the radio station and so we were defiantly like record collectors and so there were tons and tons of bands we listened to, lots, and the influences are pretty wide from like 60’s Garage Rock to like, I don’t know, The Seeds, The Shangri-Las, The Castaways, and too, like Buddy Holly and the 50’s. Great 50’s Rock and Punk Rock from the 70’s. Talking Heads are a big influence and also I really like Bob Dylan and Leonard Cohen and just beautifully written songs. So I sort of like them to have a lot of energy which is why I like early rock songs and punk rock songs, and then I like songs that have really interesting points of view like Bob Dylan’s songs, and Leonard Cohen.
How did you get involved with ‘Nick and Norah’s Infinite Playlist’?
They called us out of the blue, um the director, Peter Sollett had this script in development for like a year or so and was going around to shows trying to find New York bands that he liked to put into the movie. And he just came to one of our shows and it was like ‘I think you guys are perfect’. So they hired us, literally.
There have been a few rotating members of the band, why so?
Well Christian and I, the main two, have worked together for a really long time, and we have like a rapport and its um, really good to write songs as a duo and then start to work out the details with a bunch of different people. But we also have a lot of friends who play music and most of them play in a lot of different projects. So, most of the time when people aren’t playing with us at a given moment, it’s because they’re off working on a different project, and a lot of them will come back in. Um, it just seems to be a good way to work, to have the main two songwriters always there and then have people rotate in at times. People seem to like it as players and we like it as musicians.
Which do you prefer, being in the studio or being on tour?
I prefer being in the studio, but its much harder. Um, its like being on tour can be a drag and it can be a little bit boring when you’re driving for a long time. But its mostly really really fun. But being in the studio, its harder, its more challenging. But like at the end of the day when you’ve made a new song its like really, really amazing. You know its like the feeling you get from writing a new song is far greater than anything else I’ve ever experienced.
What was the overall inspiration for the songs on the new record?
Um, I don’t know, I think that there were, alot of it was…..we wanted to make a record that was really upbeat, and that had like a really strong rhythmic element, that was almost like chattering teeth, you know? Something you can dance to but not a dance record, you know? Something that brought the energy out in the percussion. And so I think alot of it, when we start to think like that, alot of the things that started to pop into my head were like school yard chants and double dutch. Um you know and also a lot of songs that have lots of ‘ma’ rhythm.
That’s a good word! I heard that several labels before had offered you contracts. What did Dead Oceans offer to you that the other labels couldn’t lure you in with?
We’ve been putting music for a long time by ourselves and we were pretty happy doing it. So we weren’t really looking for a label. There were some labels that came to us, um, and I don’t know, Dead Oceans was the one that came to us and explained very clearly how they could help us out. And they had a lot of enthusiasm but they were also really practical and really smart, and I don’t know, just how transparent they were about what they hoped to do, and how much we liked them as people is really what drew us in. It wasn’t a thing as much as it was them. They were good.
What inspires you to write a song?
Nothing! I don’t think its inspiration as much as compulsion. I mean for me, I try to find something, a thought that interests me, um whether its something I encounter in everyday life or something that I read. Or hear in another song or a thought that pops into my head. Usually those thoughts that are interesting to me, they make want to figure out why they’re interesting, and the way I tend to feel that out is by writing a song. So its a way of thinking.
What was the first musical instrument that you learned how to play?
Um, the guitar. But I think it turns out that I’m better at the piano, but I only discovered that a few years ago. I think my inclination is towards the piano.
How did the recording of ‘Grrr’ differ from recording ‘Charm School’ and ‘The Broken String’?
We did it all at once, we like did it really in a 3 or 4 month period and when we recording it, basically we recorded a lot of demos and Christian and I would split time in the practice space. He would go in the morning I would go in the afternoon. Once we had those demos, we actually went into a studio and worked to record and to mix, to record the drums and mix with like a producer which we’ve never done before. Its still about half home recorded, and the home recording is definitely more um, like was used more in a decisive manor. We used it to really figure out what we wanted it to sound like, and before I think that we just kind of would record over the period of a long time and put it all together at the end, you know whats finished. This time we were much more deliberate.
What made you decide to release the 12 EPs instead of one record?
I don’t know! (laughs)
Sounded like fun!
It was like a dare, like a challenge, we kind of dared ourselves to do it. Then once you commit to doing it, then you can’t back down because people would know and they’d say ‘Alright, we’ve got January, February, March, April….where’s May?’ you know? And like, even though, whether that’s true or not, it feels true, that position, that feeling of there being some external expectations, really makes you like live up to your word and finish what you need to finish. So it was like, it kicked our ass into finishing a bunch of songs.
What is your favorite song to perform live?
Um, I think my favorite song right now, although we kind of woofed it today, is ‘True or False’ because I get to play the wood blocks. And uh, I like playing those.
Who doesn’t like playing the wood blocks? You’ve been in a couple of movies. Which do you like more, acting in a movie, or playing music?
Playing music and that’s what I do most of the time. The movies that I’ve been in are kind of accidental, because they’re mostly made by the people that I know, and making music is what I do everyday.
If you weren’t in Bishop Allen, what would you be doing?
(long pause) I don’t know. Living it up, uh like doing some, building some houses in Africa or something. Living it up in Iceland, I have no idea. Its so hard for me to imagine.
Where do you see the band in ten years from now?
Hopefully we will continue to make music that’s decent (laughs), you know? Like I don’t see us giving up, and I’d like to keep, I hope that in ten years I feel still excited about songs and making music, and that’s all that I can hope for.
What board game can you kick anyone’s ass at?
Trivial Pursuit! Easily.