4 To Watch For: Rich Price

Learning How to Whisper

Music Features Rich Price
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You’ve got to hand it to former San Francisco resident Rich Price—as singer/songwriters go, he’s definitely his own idiosyncratic man. At his first hometown gig in years, he shows up in unassuming jeans, sandals and rumpled white T-shirt—no foppish rock finery for this fellow. And the acoustic-based songs he performs—culled from his indie debut, Night Opens, and his new Miles From Anywhere followup for Geffen—are just as basic; friendly, hook-sharp folk-pop, sung in a soft, warm voice somewhere between Jackson Browne and Dan Fogelberg. During the interview, he even allows for an ultimate rock-star faux pas—he lets his Dad sit in on the chat, who proceeds to embarrass Junior with such revelations as, “My son could always balance things on the end of his nose” and “When he was four years old, Rich was already pounding away on the piano, but it wasn’t just noise—it was melodic.”

When Pop begins to mention how much better his boy is than, say, Jack Johnson, Price turns beet-red and moans “DAAAAA-ad!” But the kid has a lot to thank his well-traveled old man for. Price was born on the Ivory Coast and subsequently relocated with his family to Taiwan, Hong Kong, London, New York and the Bay Area, where he settled for his high school years before jetting off to Oxford to earn a Masters Degree in Modern History. He even acted in some off-Broadway plays like Tom Stoppard’s surreal “15-Minute Hamlet,” before opting to record the quiet rock songs he’d been penning in a tiny Rhode Island studio. Originally, Price recalls, he just wanted to track a three-number demo. “But two songs turned to four, four into eight, eight into a full ten-song album.” For two grueling years, he put aside his chosen profession of teaching and tour-vanned it across America, playing Night Opens songs solo and selling the CD as he went.

What exactly is this college grad doing crooning gentle-on-your-mind ballads in such a late-’70s style? The blond-haired, beatnik-goateed Price has an appropriately arcane answer: “I read an interview once with Sir John Gielgud, the great English stage actor. And he was asked the difference between film acting and stage acting, and he said that—although stage acting had been his career—one of the things he loved about film acting was, you can whisper in a film. And when someone whispers, it gets right to the core of their being, and also lets the audience experience a really intimate moment.

“And one reason I chose to perform my music this way is, I’m trying to write lyrics that reveal an emotional truth that I’ve experienced,” Price continues, while Dad beams proudly. “So I try and get to a place where people can be drawn in and experience that same thing, too—experience that intimacy. I mean, look at Norah Jones. I think that’s been the true secret of her success; it’s like a nice, comforting massage, that record. A whisper can be a very moving moment.”

And besides, if all else fails, Price’s father chimes in, “Rich has always got a great education to fall back on!”