Damien Rice

Damien Rice very nearly had to give up on the music business for the music business to find him.

It’s perhaps a fitting paradox for the Irish singer/songwriter, who generously sprinkles bits of Buddhist philosophy in conversation.

He’d toiled with a band called Juniper, then split off to form another band, Bell X1.

Soured by the experience, he decided to just record an album by himself, for himself, and move on with his life at least able to say he did it.

He wasn’t looking for a music career anymore, “because I’d been involved with the industry before,” he told Pollstar by phone from Asheville, N.C. “I’d been in a band before, I’d been signed before, and I didn’t like it. It just didn’t suit me.”

But he still felt like he had to make a record that pleased him, if no one else.

“I just had this urge to make a record. I said, ‘Damien, you’re in music for so long, but you’re just not making records.’ I just said, ‘OK, I want to make a record.’ Just for myself.

“So I did that at home, over time, just made a record. I got to a point where I thought, ‘This is it,'” Rice said.

A visual artist as well as a musician, he designed the packaging and album art for the handmade project that would be the genesis for his breakthrough solo album, O.

“I made a really nice old-style hardback book case for it. It was covered with material and stamped. I wanted everything about it to be as organic as possible and as beautiful as possible because the whole experience for me was very rich.

“I just put the record out and that was it. I just kind of thought, ‘I’ll put it out and whoever likes it, can like it.’ I’ll do a few shows and then who knows what I’ll do for the rest of my life.”

Rice had toured Europe before, and planned to just strap a guitar on his back and play a few gigs. He’d struck up a friendship over the years with Bernadette Barrett, who helped him book dates and now manages him for Mondo Management in London.

But moody, thoughtful songs like “The Blower’s Daughter” took off. He was playing more gigs, and selling them out. He took out a loan to create his own record label, Vector (he now has a deal with Warner Bros. Records), and attempted to manage himself.

Damien Rice

“I got so busy and so stressed and before I knew it I’d become a very busy person and I wasn’t a musician anymore,” Rice said. “Bern and I just met up because she came to one of our shows. A friend of hers told her to check it out. I know her from years before from being a promoter in Ireland.”

Barrett told another friend, Rob Holden (who manages David Gray), about Rice. Holden told Little Big Man Booking’s Marty Diamond, who headed for Dublin to see for himself.

“I came and saw him play in Dublin at a festival and fell in love,” Diamond told Pollstar.

Rice already had a management team in place, so Diamond signed him to a North American booking deal and brought him Stateside. Rice is often joined onstage with vocal accompanist Lisa Hannigan, who also appears on the album.

Rice was winding down a North American winter tour and getting over a bout of the flu when Pollstar caught up with him. He said he was learning the hard way about the do’s and don’ts of road life and the importance of having a knowledgeable agent like Diamond on his team.

“I’ve had to learn some things that I didn’t really know before,” Rice explained. “Learning things on the road is harder, because you learn it the hard way. You learn it through being fucked, basically!

“I want to come off tour feeling fit and healthy, feeling like touring is good for me. It’s not a means toward some end. It’s not. I’m not touring to promote some record. I’m touring because I’m a musician and that’s what I like doing.

“But I want to design the tours so that we follow the sun as much as possible, so that when we do get an hour outside you can fucking expose yourself to the sun and feel human.”

With spring approaching, Diamond has booked another North American leg for Rice, bringing him into larger clubs and theatres in 25 cities to date.

Like almost everything else, Rice is philosophical about his “overnight” success after so many years dragging his guitar around Europe. A surprise winner of the U.K.’s prestigious Shortlist award, he becomes very serious when talking about the meaning of art and awards.

“To somebody who is truly in this (artistic) space, it’s almost like a Buddhist state, where you’re just completely creative and, in that space, there is no one who is better than you and there’s no one who is worse than you. And I feel the same about music.

“At the same time, as a human being, I was very happy (to receive the award). I mean, I was just about to walk out of the place because I didn’t want to be around for the announcement. My manager got me on the way out, and said, “Uh, I think you should hang on,’ and I said, “Uh, why?'”

It was just another one of those things that Damien Rice found by not looking for it.