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Irish Troubadour Damien Rice

Cover of Damien Rice's debut solo CD, O (Vector Recordings 2003)
Cover of Damien Rice's debut solo CD, O (Vector Recordings 2003)

Even Irish music sensation Damien Rice doesn't know exactly how to describe his own songs.

"I kind of tend not to — I'm not very good in that area, I just go quiet," he tells NPR's Melissa Block. "I know a lot of other people have mentioned... Nick Drake or Jeff Buckley. I don't really listen to much music, but when I do, I listen to Leonard Cohen and Nina Simone."

Rice has been singing in bands and writing songs since he was a teenager. But his first solo album, O, seems impossibly mature — a lush, emotional tapestry woven from strands of folk, rock, jazz and chamber music, all tied together by Rice's evocative voice. In the same song, he can range from a hushed whisper to a hoarse shout.

"I know what I feel when I'm writing and playing on stage — it does feel like something like an addiction. I'm just so drawn to doing it," he tells Block. "It seems to keep coming into me, and I keep needing to get it out."

Rice's first gained fame as the lead singer of Juniper, a rock band from Celbridge, just south of Dublin. The band signed to a major label and seemed poised for success — but Rice says Juniper's music wasn't exactly his thing, so he left the band and spent eight months busking around Europe.

He returned to Ireland and caught the attention of producer David Arnold, who heard the song "The Blower's Daughter" and wanted to record a single. Arnold arranged for studio space in London, but Rice insisted on recording the songs in his own bedroom instead. He spent another year mixing the album at home on his own eight-track, and the results are exactly what ended up on O.

Rice's CD became a huge hit in Europe, and he's rapidly gaining fans in the United States — mostly by word of mouth and rare concert or television appearances, because his CD isn't easy to find in U.S. music store bins.

"What I really enjoy are people who, when they're singing, it feels like, if they didn't sing they wouldn't be alive," he says. "People who are compelled to do what they do. You can just feel it in their voice, feel it in their words — this type of terrible passion."

Copyright 2022 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

As special correspondent and guest host of NPR's news programs, Melissa Block brings her signature combination of warmth and incisive reporting. Her work over the decades has earned her journalism's highest honors, and has made her one of NPR's most familiar and beloved voices.