On rock and Harvard

Justin Rice and Christian Rudder make up Bishop Allen, an indie rock duo who play with a revolving door of other musicians and are scheduled to take the stage at the Black Cat Thursday, March 12.

Rice, the outfit’s vocalist and keyboardist, spoke with Hatchet Arts about life in Brooklyn, his Harvard past and keeping art populist.

Hatchet: Where are you calling from?

I’m at home in Brooklyn, N.Y., right now.

What is your opinion about Brooklyn music culture? I mean, there are A LOT of bands coming out of there now.

In Brooklyn, there are tons and tons and tons and tons of bands. So, there’s really a lot going on. But in a way that makes it different than most places, in that there’s so much going on that it never feels centralized in anyway. So I think that most people who work on stuff here kind of feel – or at least the way that I feel half the time – is that I’m amidst all the great stuff that is happening, but I’m kind of on my own.

Hatchet: Any crazy road trip tour stories?

Almost anything that could happen has happened. I mean, nothing bad. Nobody died.

Last tour – maybe a tour ago – we were driving on a Sunday, leaving Denver, and our van broke down. And we ended up hopping in a van with the band that we were on tour with – except for one of us. And so we played one man down for the next two shows because our guitar player got stuck with our van, trying to get it fixed. We left him in Brush, Colo. – which is like 70 miles outside of Denver – looking for mechanics, staying at a motel and then he caught up with us two days later in Chicago.

Hatchet: What is the meaning behind the title of your most recent album, “Grrr.”?

We worked on the songs all at once, which we haven’t always done. This [album] was all written at the same time and I don’t know why, but a lot of the lyrics ended up relating to animals.

I think it’s also because we wanted some of the songs to feel almost like a schoolyard chant, and so it’s easy to fit animals into the cadence of schoolyard chants. After we had a bunch of animal songs, we were trying to come up with a title for the record, and we figured that it should be animal related: a little bit menacing, but also playful.

It’s a winking. Kind of.

Hatchet: You went to Harvard. Did you go there for musical education?

I studied comparative literature . Most of the people we play with are not musically trained. Neither I nor Christian have any real training. We started out in punk bands, playing in basements with all DIY stuff.

I mean, you’re in D.C., where I feel a lot of that was born. Like Dischord Records and all of the hardcore bands in the ’80s and then all of the D.C. music in the ’90s, which is not about musicianship as much as it was about gusto and a personal relationship with the music that you make. Those people didn’t want to be alienated from the product of their labor. And that’s sort of how we ended up: making music because we really loved doing it.

When we went to school we didn’t study it at all. Christian was a math major and I was a comparative literature major.

Hatchet: What’s your favorite college memory?

The best times I had were doing radio shows. Harvard had a really good radio station. I loved digging through the record collection and finding stuff I’d never heard of.

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