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Johnathan Rice - From busking in New York to supporting REM

Feature: Jack Foley

THERE'S good reason why the US is currently embracing an exciting new talent called Johnathan Rice.

Not only is his debut album, Trouble Is Real, gaining him widespread critical acclaim and had TV musical directors falling over themselves to get in on the act, he’s earned supports slots from as eclectic a selection of artists as you would expect, and he has caught the eye of the casting directors for the much anticipated Johnny Cash biopic, Walk The Line, starring Joaquin Phoenix and Reese Witherspoon.

It's fair to say, even at this early stage, that this young man is going places.

With One Little Indian set to release Johnathan’s debut single on vinyl in May, and the album to follow in June, the UK is surely set to follow.

But for now, Johnathan Rice is looking forward to coming home. As well as his own headlining acoustic show at London’s Enterprise club on February 26, Johnathan is all set to support Martha Wainwright on her forthcoming UK tour.

Covering London, Manchester and Birmingham, the Glasgow date will give Johnathan the chance to catch up with some of his family up there.

Still only 21-years-old, Johnathan first picked up a guitar at eight-years-old, encouraged by his parents, whose record collection of Neil Young, Gram Parsons, Bob Dylan, Joni Mitchell, Van Morrison and The Band would leave a lasting impression on their son.

Being brought up in a transatlantic shuttle between Glasgow and Virginia, Johnathan’s early days were to prepare him well for a future life on the road.

He was 16 when he first sang in public, and the gravel voice was to come as a surprise.

Still in high-school, a chance introduction to Chris Keup, from Grantham Dispatch Records, would lead to Johnathan recording his first EP, Heart And Mind, and with 1,000 copies and the parental-threat of one year to make it, or the next four in college, he headed to New York. On September 10, 2001.

From that point, life was truly a rollercoaster. Downward slope; a city’s grief in the aftermath of the 9/11 tragedy, moving into a shoebox apartment shared with a gay-porn star and his escort/drug dealing boyfriend, working 13 jobs in nine months, including icing cup cakes and canvassing for Greenpeace. And telemarketing.

But Johnathan did get to play in clubs in the Lower East Side. And only in New York would you run into Patti Smith buying a newspaper on the corner.

May 2002: out of money, and out of time, he busked for enough cash to get the Greyhound home.

But Johnathan’s luck was about to change. Someone at Reprise Records/Warner Brothers got hold of his EP, and the next day, Johnathan was on a flight to LA, and after an impromptu performance in the boardroom, he had himself a record deal.

Johnathan worked on the album across Nashville, Montana, Virginia, LA and New York, before settling in Lincoln, Nebraska to record his debut with producer Mike Mogis (Bright Eyes, Rilo Kiley, The Faint).

It’s 16 tracks, lasting 58 minutes, ended up taking only eight weeks to make. Friends Johnathan had made along the way, Jason Boesel (Bright Eyes, Rilo Kiley), Clark Baechle (The Faint) and Amy Correia all feature on the album.

Johnathan was determined that he would only release his album, however, once he had built up a strong live fanbase on both coasts. Tours with Starsailor, Rachael Yamagota, The Cardigans, Ray Lamontagne, Maroon 5, Gomez and latterly Martha Wainwright followed.

TV shows started to pick up on his music. His track Break So Easy featured in Smallville, which aired in January in the US and is still to be seen in the UK.

Other tracks appeared in The O.C., One Tree Hill, Six Feet Under and Everwood.

And his bruised good looks would catch the eye of the casting directors on the hugely anticipated biopic of the life of the late great Johnny Cash.

Cast as Roy Orbison, Johnathan appears alongside Jaoquin Phoenix and Reese Witherspoon in the lead roles. More excitingly for Johnathan, the movie gave him the chance to record with musical supervisor for the film, T Bone Burnett, in a rendition of the Cash-penned You’re My Baby, a hit single for Orbison.

His songwriting abilities haven’t gone unnoticed either. The Songwriters Hall Of Fame acknowledged Johnathan for excellence in songwriting last year. Those honoured previously include Burt Bacharach, Bob Dylan, Elton John and Brian Wilson.

And the good news keeps getting better. This summer, for instance, Johnathan Rice is also supporting R.E.M in Hyde Park on July 9 and at The Millennium Stadium on July 10, 2005.

Johnathan Rice: Trouble is Real - Album review

An exclusive interview with Johnathan Rice

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