BETWEEN THE LINER NOTES
The Emancipation of Chris Rice
By Jennifer E. Jones
I was thinking the other day / What if cartoons got saved…
These days Chris Rice has much more on his mind.
After years of singing the same tune, Chris is testing the waters of songwriting with his new album, Amusing. It's a collection of songs that explore the thrill of romance, the joy of life's littlest moments, and showing all this to a world in want.
Chris always had a knack for finding new ways to say old things. With millions of songs about love on the radio, he took his songwriting abilities to new places to shed light on the age-old emotion.
"Uniqueness is something I’ve always wanted in my lyrics," says Chris. "Something familiar enough that people can stay with but unique enough that keeps them intrigued and wondering where you came from."
While he's been writing unique songs since 1998's Deep Enough to Dream, Chris still draws inspiration from the musical world around him.
"I listen to a whole lot of stuff now just to let it sink in," he says, "[such as] classical, Louis Armstrong and Ella Fitzgerald, present day bands like Snow Patrol, Pete Yorn… everything from Sheryl Crow to The Killers. Not to study and imitate them but to let what’s happening now musically influence what I’m doing."
The jazz-like influences can be heard particularly in the song "When Did You Fall." Though it wasn’t the first radio single, the song became a hit for those who had the pleasure of hearing Chris play it live. The love song details the "beautiful surprise" of learning of a friend's romantic intentions, and it is stirring up every kind of emotion from cheers to tears.
"It's a fresh kind of naïve way of looking at love," he says. "There's a vaccuum out there for refreshing, innocent romantic songs. It touches something in people that they’ve been missing."
Chris looked at love from different angles including what it's like to lose someone. "Breakfast Table" is about the death of a loved one that inspires one to miss what is gone but look forward to what's ahead.
"I kept hearing stories from people losing someone they loved. I wanted to give them hope. Again, there's a vaccuum of songs about the human viewpoint of heaven. What does it feel like on this side when you can’t wait to see that person again? With all the memories of that love and that lifetime together, what does that look like from this side? So many people said they have a new longing for heaven. It makes heaven more meaningful to them."
Chris' varied viewpoints on Amusing could possibly stem from the fact that the album is not autobiographical. "People keep asking, 'Who are you in love with?'" he laughs. "Nobody. I'm just writing about different topics now."
Traveling into these subject areas has brought Chris into a brave new world. After years as "the 'Cartoons' guy," Amusing let him break free of stereotypes and writing ruts.
"When you’re doing Christian music, there seems to be this unspoken definition of what you can and cannot write," he explains. "Over the years, being on a Christian label has limited what I can write, and it's my fault for giving into it. Now I'm with a new label, and I've decided I have to write about everything. I really have to take my life and music into the world. I can't just write for people who believe everything that I believe. I can't play it safe anymore."
Chris says that coming out from under Christian music's wing has given him a new audience that otherwise may not embrace his music or his message. "We keep everything under the banner of Christian, and what we’ve done is said, ‘This is for us and not for you.' I can't live like that. That's not what Christianity is about. It's not about all of us huddling together but rather being a part of our culture."
This new direction awakened Chris' writing talents, and he even showed himself that he could write about more than just cartoons and coffee.
"I have felt such a huge freedom and a refreshing new take on life," he says. "It's a beautiful time for me to write this way and not forsake anything -- just to open the door and say, 'The sky is the limit.' My faith is going to fuse that."
Chris says he loves life more than ever now because he’s stumbled upon a secret passion. Two year ago, he retired "Cartoons" from his live shows. The move was bold but he did it with a smile. Perhaps because he’s much too smitten with the real world and all its amusing, liberating wonder.
(eb+flo records/INO Records)
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