Johnathan Rice has been sequestered inside a Los Angeles recording studio for the last month and a half and won’t budge an inch when it comes to divulging what it is exactly that he’s working on. Speaking over the phone from said studio in his Scottish-by-way-of-Virginia accent, the 24-year-old singer will only admit that he’s accompanied on this album-length endeavor by an amalgam of artists. Frustratingly, he won’t cop to the identities of these folks, not even one, but does refrain from labeling himself as the mastermind behind this elusive undertaking. “It’s a snake with many heads, like a Greek myth kind of thing,” Rice offers.
Theories as to the membership of the anonymous cast immediately come to mind. Is that Rice’s girlfriend and Rilo Kiley front woman Jenny Lewis’ lush voice in the background? Maybe the man responsible for John C. Reilly’s sexual-innuendo-filled “Let’s Duet” from “Walk Hard: The Dewey Cox Story,” Benji Hughes, is on board as a songwriter? Could Bright Eyes producer Mike Mogis return back to the soundboard since recording “Trouble Is Real,” Rice’s 2005 debut? Of course, all of this is just wishful thinking. Rice’s tight lips are impenetrable.
“It’s something that’s going to be pretty sweet, but I can’t tell anyone about it at the moment. I wish I could. The fun with this particular project is how we’re going to tell people about it,” Rice says cryptically. “We’re going to tell people in a different way than they’ve been told before.” How? “I don’t know, right now everything is up for grabs—smoke signals, the Internet, homing pigeon,” he counters.
Well, enough of this cat-and-mouse game. Rice does let up when the subject turns to his brooding classic American sophomore effort, “Further North” (Reprise), and his seemingly never-ending touring schedule since the album’s release last September. The husky-voiced singer heads out solo on a number of dates with buddy Matt Costa before rejoining his backing band for a jaunt down to the South By Southwest Music Conference in Austin to open a highly anticipated intimate show for longtime supporters R.E.M.
“My first experience with SXSW was probably more the typical one, which is playing with another million bands at one in the morning to a room full of heroically inebriated people,” Rice recalls. “I didn’t particularly enjoy it all that much, but I was really excited to learn about this because this is a real show and there’s a sense of, since R.E.M. personally picked the bands that are going to be on the bill, it gives the evening that they’re putting together a little more authenticity.” (Janine Schaults)
Johnathan Rice plays February 22 at Double Door, 1572 North Milwaukee, (773)489-3160, at 9pm. $16.