Band of the Week: Bishop Allen

Music Features Bishop Allen
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Hometown: Brooklyn, N.Y.
Fun Fact: Guitarist/vocalist Justin Rice is an adventurous eater. The most bizarre thing he’s devoured is stewed silk worms, which he reports was “pretty gross.”
Why It's Worth Watching: Combing through the band’s EP-a-month project gave way to its latest release—the poppy, grin-inducing The Broken String.
For Fans Of: Ben Kweller, Guster, The Spinto Band

Crossing over into another medium sometimes entails tiptoeing through a trail of decomposing careers that each met their untimely end.

But Justin Rice and Christian Rudder, both Harvard grads and root cast members of Bishop Allen, have appeared—with acclaim, no less—in films like Mutual Appreciation and Funny Ha Ha. Now on the cusp of its sophomore release The Broken String, Bishop Allen is putting life behind cameras on pause to tour.

“The only time that I would ever take an acting job is when it didn't conflict with something that I was trying to do with music,” says Rice, who never studied acting. “But there are natural lulls to both processes.”

One of those respites allowed an EP project of near-Sufjan-Stevens-proportions to blossom. After the songs they wrote after their 2003 debut Charm School grew stagnant, desperation barged in uninvited, Michael-Scott-style. “It was just one of those conversations that sort of started with an idea and gradually became a one-upmanship turned into this whole elaborate, double-dog dare kind of project,” Rice says.

Releasing an EP every month eventually felt like homework. Any time they finished a song, it was time to start over with another. “It was like, 'Again?' Rice recalls. “But the sum of it was that it was actually really rewarding.”

Forty-eight songs and piles of beaming blog entries later, Bishop Allen’s following began to snowball. Having self-released, self-promoted and self-everything-elsed for years, the Dead Oceans imprint stepped in to relieve Rice, Rudder, Cully Symington and Darbie Nowatka of some of their burdens.

“We've always sort of been outsiders,” Rice says. “We were out there following whatever strange notions we had about the way to get things done, never really checking in with anyone else.”

Having culled and retooled their favorite tracks from the 12 EPs into The Broken String, an aural Frankenstein comprising tinkling ivories, a hand percussion backbone and what might as well be sunshine entrails, Rice is keen on keeping a sense of adventure alive in the band. In fact, his and Rudder’s move to Brooklyn was only a mere scribble on their “to do” list.

“Writing songs is a lot easier if you're moving and passing through the world,” he says. “Somehow, just getting dislodged from where you're comfortable and wandering around somewhere else kind of focuses the voice in your head, and for whatever reason, I get a lot more ideas when I'm traveling than when I'm standing still.”

Makes sense, then, that travel is such a frequently visited topic in Bishop Allen songs. With such a transient nature pervading this music, it's seems counterintuitive to have these pop-perfect compositions sitting still in one place. But when it happens, it's nearly impossible to be unhappy while listening.

“I guess that there might be some people whose unhappiness is just so deep and profound, it just can't be moved,” Rice says, half-joking. “But I hope that if you have any humanity in you, that you'll listen to the record and end up smiling.”