Justin Rice was called the “first heartthrob of the mumblecore era” in Marc Spitz’s new book, Twee, and indeed the last time we enjoyed his work it was on screen, starring alongside Leo Fitzpatrick in Doomsdays. But before Rice played the fictional frontman of the Bumblebees in Mutual Appreciation (“the first time the new, young, Indie Brooklyn was captured on film”) he was the driving force behind Bishop Allen, an actual Brooklyn band that won acclaim with its three LPs and its many EPs, and scored a soundtrack hit with “Click, Click, Click, Click.”
Four years ago, Rice moved upstate from Greenpoint to Kingston, where he recently recorded a new album in his home studio (Bishop Allen co-founder Christian Rudder, who’s also a founder of OKCupid, takes a backseat on this album, providing additional guitar). Lights Out doesn’t come out till August 19 (the release party is at Glasslands on August 21), but a video for the instantly catchy first single, “Start Again,” just dropped today. Since it shows Rice popping into some of his favorite spots in Kingston, we spoke to him about life upstate.
I think this album its coming from a different place — it’s been five years since our last record, and in that time we’ve left Brooklyn. We live 100 miles north in Kingston, which is a cool town on the banks of the Hudson and the seat of the Catskills, and the sort of life we live here is at a different pace. A lot of the concerns and a lot of the lyrics are about what it’s like to live outside of the center. Musically, even though we’re near Woodstock, it’s a less rootsy, folksy album than anything we’ve done before. There’s a lot of electronics — I got into a synthesizer phase.
I don’t know — part of it was just listening to various music that was using that kind of stuff, and part of it was that Korg reissued the MS-20, which was a classic analog synth from the ’70s, and for some reason when I saw it I was like, “That’s an instrument I want to play with.” It’s something I’ve never done before.
My wife and I got married and we’d been living in Greenpoint in the same apartment for seven years and it felt like it was time to move on, that we had outgrown the space. Our landlords were becoming more intrusive and as long as we stayed there we couldn’t move forward. We started looking in Brooklyn and everything was so expensive, and we realized we loved going upstate in the Castkills. We started looking at houses up here and we found an amazing Victorian house that was really perfect. Kingston is a weird town — on the one hand it’s beautiful and on the other hand it’s really rough around the edges, so it appealed to us. We said, “Fuck it, we gotta roll the dice and see what happens if we move 100 miles from here.” We didn’t expect to love it as much as we do.
On the latest episode of the Todd Barry Podcast, A.C. Newman of the New Pornographers talks about how since he left the East Village, more and more people have been moving near him in Woodstock. Have you experienced that?
What we discovered when we moved here was that that already existed — there was almost a critical mass of bands, studios, engineers, artists, galleries that were already here when we got there. Since we got here the pace of accumulation has accelerated — there’ve definitely been more bands and artists. There was an old wine store around the corner that had been run the same way for 50 years and all the sudden a couple from Brooklyn bought it and revitalized it.
It’s hard to say, because the history of musicians up here goes back to the early 1900s. There was the Byrdcliffe artist colony and the Maverick artist colony split off. It’s been a hub of classic rock and folk music for 100 years — in the ’60s The Band lived here, Dylan lived here, Van Morrison. Bearsville Studios, that Albert Grossman built for Bob Dylan, is where The Cars recorded… Hall & Oates recorded up here. This has always been a haven for musicians. More recently they just reissued Mercury Rev’s Deserter’s Songs (it’s 15 years old) and Dave has lived here forever. That record is about moving to this area.
It’s really great because when we were living in Brooklyn we got used to it and didn’t take advantage of a lot of the cool stuff you can do there — everything became routine. Now when I come back I’m always exploring and seeking out the fun stuff. But at the same time, we always lived in North Brooklyn and in the four years since we’ve moved the rate of change has really accelerated. It’s changing really, really fast — there’s a lot more people there. A lot of the riverfront was under development when we left and now it’s done — the mass of people on Bedford Ave is way denser, and it’s crazy. I think if I lived there I could maybe readjust, but now when I’m there I have to fight off a little bit of a sense of crowd panic.
I think it’s hilarious and I love it. It’s really funny and it’s something that could only be true in retrospect, if it’s true at all. I think it rolls off the tongue nicely but for me when Mutual Appreciation was done I wasn’t like, “Now I’m in the world of acting,” I had just finished helping my friend with something he wanted to do and I thought, now I’ll go do something else… Since then I’ve acted in a lot more things but it’s never been something I’ve really pursued, it’s always been a friend or a friend of a friend who’s asked me to be in a project and the timing works out so I do it.
One thing that was cool was, the story line is: these people break into summer homes when occupants are absent and live off the fat of the rich. In order to shoot it [director Eddie Mullins] had to find all these locations and they were all amazing houses. Even when you live in a place and know people here you’re not always going to the coolest house at the top of the mountain that’s like the $10 million house, but we got to shoot in them all day. As opposed to this video, where my friend Chad Smith (who edited Doomsdays and shot and edited this video) and I basically went around to locations that I live in every day.
For me what’s often interesting about music and certainly what I think is interesting about the music we make is that it feels close, it feels personal. So showing people the actual world I live in makes sense to me.
Definitely. That place is amazing — the fact that it’s here is part of what’s so mind-blowing about this area. The attention to detail that they have there in terms of making and presenting drinks is as good as I’ve seen anywhere in the world. And it’s really like Cheers — you go there three times and you’re greeted by name.
The places in the video are Stockade Tavern, Outdated coffee shop, Wright Gallery Records, and my house, my studio, Kingston Park down by the Hudson, and the other place is called Zaborski’s, which is a giant architectural salvage store filled with all kinds of crazy junk. Those are all places I love and places that are really close by. A lot of times when people come up here we’ll take them canoeing or fly fishing or hiking.