Stay Hungry: The Story of Bishop Allen

Christian Rudder and Justin Rice

It all started with a piano.

Late last year Christian Rudder and Justin Rice, the main songwriting duo behind the band Bishop Allen, discovered a discarded piano and unknowingly entered the next chapter of their young band’s life.

“We found a piano on the street that had been discarded by a school that was abandoning its music program,” Rice said in a telephone interview. “Once I started playing the piano, Christian Rudder and I sat down and started coming up with a tremendous amount of new material.”

MP3: Bishop Allen – Corazon (from “January”)

From there the duo decided to flex their songwriting muscles and see what, and how fast, they could create. In mid-January the band posted on its Web site that they would be writing, recording and releasing an EP every month of 2006 as a prelude to the release of their second album, tentatively and questionably titled Clementines.

The first EP, aptly titled “January,” was largely lead in direction by their new acquisition, the piano which had come to be known as “Corazon” (which also spawned a song by the same title). And though the new instrument shaped their sound, not even its addition could mask Bishop Allen’s trademark narrative style. Their first album, Charm School, was a triumph in creating a wandering, wondering narrator with whom the listener immediately feels a connection; the EP projects revived that feeling like an unexpected phone call from an old friend.

“I guess I feel like there’s a more diverse group of people that we’re writing about,” Justin said. “Charm School, I felt like, was a narrative that was all about one narrator having a series of very similar experiences. Now I feel like there are still songs that still feature that narrator and songs that deal with other people that I’ve met and places that I’ve been or books that I’ve read.”

MP3: Bishop Allen – Little Black Ache (from Charm School)

Christian Rudder explained the narrative maturity as a product of personal growth: “I think Justin as a lyricist has gotten absolutely great,” he said. “There’s more depth and span to his experience and his personality that he can bring to bare.”

But no matter what outside factors you consider, the fact remains that Bishop Allen spend a tremendous amount of time working on their craft. Writing and recording four new songs every month means that in order to interview them, I had to catch both halves of the duo between band practices and songwriting sessions: Rice while still at his piano, and Rudder while running around the City. The band keeps so busy that you might begin to question what drives their compulsion towards creation.

“If you decide that you want to do something, then it’s natural to want to put everything that you have into doing it,” Rice explained. “For me, somewhat arbitrarily, it’s music. This idea that I want to continue to make better and better songs drives me. It’s not even a choice of being idle. When I try to go on vacation, I always end up working on songs.”

MP3: Bishop Allen – Butterfly Nets (from “May”)

It should be no surprise then, that Bishop Allen are quickly gathering a following of devoted music afficionados. Earlier this year, the online edition of Jane Magazine went so far as to question how these “supremely talented rockers”” are still without a record contract–a question that even the band members have undoubtably asked themselves at some point. “There are definitely moments where I feel frustration,” Rice said. “I just feel that we’re a bit out in the cold–that we’re outsiders…. You sort of have to learn to put that out of your mind, because if you obsess too much about if you’re going to sign to a label, it will stop you from working.”

And while it seems that they’re far from a drop in productivity, Rudder pointed out that they’re still searching for a way to release Clementines. “…We definitely expect that any album like Clementines will come out on a label and be promoted properly,” he said, adding “I know there’s someone who will do that.”

MP3: Bishop Allen – Vain (from “February”)

But for Rudder, and all of Bishop Allen, the biggest success on the horizon comes at the end of the calendar. The completion of their monthly EP project will mark not only the culmination of a year’s worth of musical output equivalent to four full-length albums, but also a major triumph for the band.

“I’m really looking forward to January 1st, 2007 and saying we did it,” Rudder said. He then paused and added “Then it’s time to go back through everything and improve again on what we’ve done.”

Rudder’s devotion makes perfect sense, considering that Bishop Allen are building a legacy by keeping busy. And though they’re over three-quarters of the way through a very ambitious project, for them that isn’t enough.

“Sometimes when you finish a song and listen to it, it’ll feel great…but not for very long,” said Rice. “I feel kinda hungry. What I want to get done absolutely overshadows whatever feeling of accomplishment I have.”

Bishop Allen’s next album is due out in Summer 07 on a “label that isn’t technically a label yet.” Until then, you can order some of their EPs or catch them on tour.

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