Singer-songwriter Jonhathan Rice has broken through the proverbial wall when it comes to his songwriting. His latest effort, Good Graces (out 9/17), shows a levity and honesty unmatched in his prior material, and yet he never loses any of the emotional depth from which he’s known to mine. However, in the first video released from the new album, “My Heart Belongs to You,” Rice isn’t afraid to poke fun at his newfound softer side.
As he prepares to embark on a tour in support of Good Graces, Rice was kind enough to chat with us about his writing process, his many other projects, and where you can get a gin and tonic in his honor.
Congrats on the new album out next week. How long were you working on Good Graces?
It was pretty quick. There was an initial session that lasted about 5 or 6 days at Pierre de Reeder’s studio in North Hollywood. I was out at Farmer Dave Sher’s studio in Venice and then 5 days in New York. It wasn’t a long, arduous process.
And what was the writing process like?
It was in my friend’s apartment in New York. I stayed at his place for a month and wrote a record. I didn’t know that I was going to. To me, it was my most positive record. I think that was a conscious thing because sometimes when I’m making a set list for my concerts I’m like, “There’s a sad one, that’s a sad one, and another sad one, and another sad one…”
Especially when compared to Further North.
Yeah. And a great comedian told me once that it’s harder to make someone laugh than it is to make someone cry. And just trying to sit down and write a simple, honest love song has been the challenge for me over the years.
You’ve also been working on another project, scoring and writing songs for Anne Hathaway’s Song One.
What in particular drew you to this project?
Jenny [Lewis] has been friends with Annie and her husband, Adam, for some years now. They’ve always known a lot about music, and we’ve connected through music and talked about records a lot. They had been given Kate Barker-Froyland’s script — she’s the writer and director — and I don’t want to give too much of the plot away, but it’s heavily centered around music and music means a lot to the characters in the film. We’ve written almost an album’s worth of material.
Because what you’re writing about isn’t necessarily from your personal experiences, do you find yourself writing from a different place?
Absolutely. There was a lot of discussion about who these characters are. It was really fun for us as writers to write not just exclusively from our own perspectives.
Jenny Lewis does guest vocals on Good Graces. You two have collaborated so much from individual albums to Jenny and Johnny — I tend to think of you guys as the James Taylor and Carole King of this generation. There’s a rich tradition in that Laurel Canyon sound. What do you think it is that makes for these great male-female partnerships?
I don’t know if that is what makes for it. Our collaborations over the years have always happened very naturally. I don’t think either one of us has tried to recreate any sort of nostalgic style of writing. We are somewhat like-minded when it comes to the songs and the records that we love.
But it’s also equally important to us that we not write together as well. On my new record I think there’s only one song I wrote with Jenny. Knowing when to take a break from each other, creatively, is also very important.
The video for “My Heart Belongs to You” is pretty brutal yet hilarious. Where did the concept come from?
That concept came entirely from the director, Alan Tanner. I really liked his videos over the years — he’s done videos for Wavves and Jenny Lewis. I think because the song is so, excuse the pun, heart on its sleeve, when he heard it he immediately went to, “What’s the opposite?” I think the video was inspired partially by The Monkees movie Head, which [Tanner] and I have definitely talked about before. But I can’t take any credit for the video; that’s all his vision.
What track stands out for you most on the new album?
“My Heart Belongs to You,” for me, is a milestone in my songwriting because of the honesty in it. There are no barbs in it or trap doors you can fall down into. It’s a very honest love song, which didn’t come naturally to me.
I have to ask, do you still have the station wagon?
We both still own station wagons, but we gave the Jenny and Johnny wagon (pictured in the album art) to Morgan Nagler of Whispertown.
Is there another Jenny and Johnny offering in our future?
Maybe there is. We did all those Song One songs, and maybe those would have been on a Jenny and Johnny release. Both of us have kind of a solo vibe at the moment. Never say never. Justin Bieber said that…
What are you most looking forward to on this upcoming tour, which kicks off September 11th here at the Largo?
The Largo show is going to be really stripped-down and acoustic! I’m looking forward to playing a show at Pageturners Lounge in Omaha, Nebraska because I get to see friends when I’m in town and also there’s a drink named after me there. Kind of a classy version of the gin and tonic called The Rico. Conor Oberst got a bar, and he started naming the drinks after dear friends of his. I was lucky enough to be one of them.
Johnathan Rice Tour Dates:
9/11 – Los Angeles, CA @ Largo at the Coronet
9/22 – Portland, ME @ State Theatre *
9/23 – New York, NY @ Mercury Lounge
9/24 – York, PA @ Strand-Capitol Performing Arts Center *#
9/25 – West Long Branch, NJ @ Pollak Theatre *#
9/27 – Urbana, IL @ Pygmalion Music Festival *%
9/28 – Cincinnati, OH @ Midpoint Music Festival
10/1 – Iowa City, IA @ Englert Theatre *
10/2 – Columbia, MO @ Blue Note *
10/4 – Oklahoma City, OK @ Diamond Ballroom *
10/5 – Dallas, TX @ South Side Music Hall *
# with Hayes Carll
% with Kurt Vile & the Violators
For more info: