Speaking of stripped-down performances, most of the fans who packed Neumo's recently to see the Cardigans paid little attention to the second opening act, the then 20-year-old Johnathan Rice. Let me tell those of you who missed it, that was a damn shame. Rice, now 21, hails from Scotland and his new album, Trouble Is Real, is a string-laced, acoustic-guitar-based slab of beauty that sounds like Nick Drake and Bright Eyes rolled up into one voice with songs that reflect a life lived much longer than Rice has had time to experience. That night at Neumo's, he was up there all alone with his acoustic guitar and a swipe of dark hair hanging over much of his face, but his songs were compelling nonetheless, for those who were paying attention. We spoke by phone a couple of weeks ago and he said that he didn't get to meet fans after his set because once the club's security realized (just as Rice was uncorking his bottle of wine) that he was underage, he was ejected from the green room and made to stand outside before and after his sets. "The worst part about it was that [Neumo's] was the first club in the entire country which had provided everything I'd requested on the rider, but I couldn't have access to it once they found out I wasn't 21 yet." The Gemini, born on June 7, is now official.
Once his tour with the Cardigans was over, Rice celebrated his birthday in Seattle by going to the recent Sasquatch! festival. A huge fan of the Pacific Northwest's music scene, he was elated to meet Doug Martsch and the rest of Built to Spill. "I was so inspired by the Sasquatch thing," he said, "because it was so great to see all this indie rock all day long." He loves the Postal Service, who he'd been traveling with, and calls Ben Gibbard "a walking encyclopedia of rock and roll." He also loved driving by Issaquah because it's the hometown of Modest Mouse, and was especially excited to have his first root beer float at the XXX Diner. "I felt like I'd been punched in the stomach afterward," he said, "but it was well worth it." We discussed our mutual admiration for the Shins, and the band's publicist Jed Maheu's impromptu appearance on stage dressed in nothing but his socks. Rice suspected the socks were left on to prevent slippage. "I was standing next to him, off to the side of the stage, and had only met him in passing," he said, "and I thought, 'What's he doing? Oh, he must be fixing his belt. Oh, his pants are off.' Then he took off his underwear, and then his shirt, and his undershirt, and then he went right on stage. And there was such a family atmosphere there, you know, hipsters with their newborn babies. I was standing next to a girl who I think might have been his girlfriend and she was just crying, she was so upset. The band seemed to really enjoy it."
When Rice returns to Seattle to play a show at the Crocodile on Monday, June 28, he excitedly told me he'll look quite different. He's gotten a drastic haircut in order to play the young Roy Orbison in a film about the early years of Johnny Cash, starring alongside Joaquin Phoenix and Reese Witherspoon. "I'm going to Los Angeles to record with T-Bone Burnett, which is something I've dreamed all my life of doing." "So are you an actor?" I asked, and he answered, "Hell no! Singers always want to become actors, and my career is going backwards from that, I guess."