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No More Mr. Shy Guy

  • Lucas Hendrickson CCM Magazine
  • 2005 3 Oct
No More Mr. Shy Guy

Discussions about the idea of freedom, be they through powerful statements or hackneyed clichés, seem to dominate the public discourse more than any other topic thus far in the 21st century.

We hear about freedom daily on the global scale, and even more intensely on the national radar, but we sometimes miss out on the personal stories.

Chris Rice wants freedom:  freedom to live his life the way he chooses (as privately as someone in the public eye can), freedom to make his music the way he chooses (surrounded by friends old and new, and for an audience as broad as he can make it) … and the freedom to do interviews only one day a week.

“I just found I couldn’t keep working everything around a 15-minute slot here or a 10-minute slot there, or midway through the morning you have something else here, so you can’t plan anything for the morning,” says the veteran singer-songwriter now in his ninth year as a recording artist. “At one point, we just decided, ‘Let’s do Tuesdays.’”

Through a conversation with Rice, you detect a man who knows there’s freedom in setting certain boundaries and obliterating others. From his earliest days as an artist, Rice made it plain to business associates and fans alike that there’s the public Chris and the private Chris, and the twain shall meet only when they have to.

But private problems arose via his public gift, crafting compelling story-songs (though, he’s quick to point out, not always his personal stories) that touch people’s hearts effortlessly, creating in them a desire to connect on that personal level with the introspective storyteller.

“Part of the problem is that I’m a huge introvert, and people don’t tend to understand that, and a public life really intensifies that in a way that can’t be explained. So I have to manage how and when I interact with people, and over the years you learn what knocks you flat and what makes things work,” Rice says. “There are little things like not [meeting fans] before a show, which might make a promoter really mad, but I just have to say it’s my policy because I can’t walk on a stage 20 minutes after having met with 20 people. The intensity of that interaction just depletes me, and I can’t walk on a stage excited and riled up ready to go after that kind of situation, so managing that is the key.”

So where Rice sometimes finds it necessary to throw the shields up (albeit as transparent and temporary as possible), his professional life has never been so free … and so full of opportunity. This past month sees the release of his latest studio effort, "Amusing," his first under a new recording agreement with INO Records and the production outfit he and producer Monroe Jones co-own called eb+flo Records.

“INO just made perfect sense. Their record of being able to handle artistry and artists that spill over into the rest of the world and knowing the channels and knowing how to be able to do that well, made it a place where I wouldn’t have to worry about forsaking what I’ve been doing all along,” Rice says. “I can still keep that going and not turn my back on it, but also be able to pursue all directions. INO is so much behind that and knows how to make it happen.”

"Amusing" finds Rice back in wry, optimistic, sensitive and energetic form, but with a variety of musical sandboxes he’s able and eager to work in. The opener “Love Like Crazy” (featuring an intro by surf-rock twangmaster Duane Eddy) is an uptempo pop-rocker embracing the idea of shedding the inhibitions that come with love, “Breakfast Table” gives a more personal look at the thought of looking forward to heaven, and “The Best Song Ever” ramps up an anthemic take on the common, joyous place found in fellowship.

“One of the things Monroe says a lot, and I really agree, is that each record is really a snapshot of that period in your life,” Rice says. “This record, especially, I drew from a lot of different things, and the music seems to go off into a lot of different directions, experimenting with different chord structures and vocal styles.

“Over the years, I’ve found certain categories of songs that work well for me. There’s always a jazz-influenced song, even though I don’t have a tremendous background in jazz, and there’s always a hymn-type song, but it’s not because I purposely say, ‘There’s a slot for a hymn; let’s do one.’ As I’ve assimilated what I’ve heard, just the things I like show up.”

But "Amusing"’s overriding theme is romantic love. … Out-and-out love songs on a “Christian music” record – and by an unmarried artist, no less? You better believe it, and while Rice remains coy on whether any apply directly to him and makes it plain that many of the songs such as “When Did You Fall,” “Lemonade” and “I See The Moon” come from his observations of other people, there’s a freedom in these songs to express love in a fashion that’s still pretty uncommon within Christian music. Despite groundbreaking albums by Charlie Peacock (1991’s "Love Life") and Steven Curtis Chapman (2003’s "All About Love"), relationship songs often seem reserved for mainstream “crossover” attempts or the more expressive artists on Christian music’s rock fringe.

It’s an uphill battle Rice knows he’s going to face, not only in his live shows but also on Christian radio, where such songs aren’t often a big winners. But that willingness to take on preconceived notions is all part of his own philosophical shift, one he says has been a long time coming.

“In my conviction and my philosophy, in how I think and how I live, I just knew the way I was doing music and who I was communicating to was kind of being funneled into a very one-directional mode,” Rice says. “I felt like in any other profession I would have been encouraged by the church over and over again to get out into the world and be light and salt, mix and do your work well and represent Christ there.

“But it seems if you’re a musician, there’s this kind of ownership that says, ‘You better do this for us and it better be about God, and it can’t be for them because you’re tainting yourself and selling out and going secular.’ We’ve invented a new sin called ‘going secular.’ It’s not Biblical thinking at all. It’s counter to what even Christ did, because if we keep staying safe and staying together and huddling and making sure we’re not tainted by the ‘real world,’ we’re really messed up in our thinking.

“So I’ve been applying those things across the board, in my world, my life and my work. Now that I have this opportunity for change, I’m going to go big guns, full force and go after that. Ignore the boundaries and do music for everybody. Yes, my faith is going to be a big part of it, but it’s not going to be specifically, especially for a Christian audience -- it’s going to be everybody.

“I can hear that response already to this record, ‘You’re selling out, you don’t mention God on your record that much, how can you say you’re doing this for God?’” he says. “Well, you don’t understand that this record is not mine in the first place. Jesus never told anybody, ‘Make records for my glory,’ so this record has nothing to do with that other than how God wants to apply it to their hearts. It has nothing to do with God’s work on this planet through my [personal] life. This is secondary, and the real deal is that doing this record could put me in a relationship with a person who needs to know God.

“That’s where the gospel points us. That’s the undercurrent that people don’t see because people only see my public life. People aren’t going to understand, and what I keep coming back to quietly is that when we get to heaven, they’ll understand.”

© 2005 CCM Magazine.  All rights reserved.  Used with permission.  Click here to subscribe.