Home – Male Boxx: Johnathan Rice

– Male Boxx: Johnathan Rice

Johnathan Rice

It’s no big secret that Johnathan Rice has been the dreamy main squeeze of indie queen Ms. Jenny Lewis for a few years now. He tours with her, records with her and they even have an LP together under the moniker Jenny and Johnny (although, sorry, there’s no current plans to record another). Rice has never shied away from his relationship with women in music, and why should he? While he is one hell of an independent performer, the indie rocker gets by with a little help from all his friends (ladies included), and that’s why we made him this month’s Male Boxx.

Back in September, Rice released his third full-length solo album, Good Graces. “Even though it’s a solo record, I guess there’s some community involved,” he says. “My friend Jason Boesel [of Rilo Kiley] played drums and Wiley Gelber [of Dawes] played bass. I arranged the songs in my head for a couple days and I did the majority of the writing myself and we arranged in the studio and got it down pretty quick.”

Good Graces, a short but sweet nod to ’60s surf rock and AM gold of the ’70s, showcases Rice’s storytelling skills and open book policy on lyrical songwriting. Most fans are at least slightly familiar with some aspects of the singer-songwriter’s love life, but sugary-sweet tracks like “My Heart Belongs to You” are unabashedly sincere, romantic and guaranteed to set eyelashes batting and hearts fluttering. Still, while those deeply personal lyrics may be rooted in some truth, Rice doesn’t mind admitting to a little embellishment to keep his audience guessing.

“For myself, nothing is off limits,” explains Rice, “but the cool thing about being a songwriter is that you can mix lies within the truth and create a character within one verse and go back to yourself in another… You can really write about anything you want. You can choose to make it about you or I can tell you that it’s about me… there’s so much freedom within songwriting.”

Polished, but not overproduced, honest but not gritty, Good Graces delivers nine poignant tunes that have been coated with beachy guitar and pitch perfect harmonies for easy swallowing. The result is one of Johnathan Rice’s best recordings to date. He partly credits the album’s chill vibe with the studio setting. Taking a step back from the famed studios he’s worked with in the past (ie: Sound City Studios, where he recorded with Elvis Costello), he opted for a more understated experience this time around.

“That’s one of the great things about living in Los Angeles. You have access to those rooms; if you’ve got the money to pay for them, they’re there. Although, they’re kind of all slowly disappearing as record budgets shrink and home recordings become more prominent. There can be something kind of intimidating about Sound City and Sunset Sound, because they’re so historic and sometimes you feel a little pressure. But, for this record, I went to a studio in North Hollywood, and I guess you could say it was the most low key studio I’ve ever worked in. I could relax and didn’t have to worry about breaking the bank, ya know?”

Per usual, girlfriend Jenny Lewis and a few other notable ladies, such as The Watson Twins and Z Berg, loan their soothing vocals to Good Graces, but Johnathan’s fascination with the fairer sex in music goes beyond the dulcet feminine tones that are so frequently contributed on his songs, as we find out in this extra Q&A.

How has collaborating with women so frequently over the years impacted your perspective on female musicians?

“Such a significant portion of my career has been spent playing music with women. There’s always going to be guys with guitars and there’s always going to be dudes in rock bands, but there’s something I think that’s vital about the female narrative that… breathes life into this musical paradigm.”

Who are some of your favorite female musicians of all time? How have these female artists inspired you and your music?

“I really loved The Pretenders growing up and I remember seeing them perform on television, and that’s what struck me. I can try and remember how I felt when I saw [Chrissie Hynde]. I didn’t think much about gender roles when I was a child. It only becomes apparent to you when you get older and people start kind of forcing you to notice them. She just looked so badass and so cool. Her femininity became such an asset that she was cooler than all the dudes on stage. I remember really looking up to her, and then I also remember seeing Bonnie Raitt on some sort of Grammy thing that was on and thinking ‘Oh wow! Girls can do that, too!’ Those are two women that immediately had an impact.”

Are there any female musicians on your radar now that people should check out?

“I recently heard this girl Courtney Marie Andrews… she has one of the most gorgeous voices I’ve heard in years. I always really admired the songs of Morgan Nagler, too. She had a band called Whispertown and she’s been a songwriter for going on ten years; she writes some of my favorite songs.”

How have these female artists [that you’ve worked with] inspired you?

“I think it’s made me neater. I don’t leave my stuff lying around as often.”