Singing and playing piano is second nature to musician Heather Rice. Over the years, she’s opened shows for the likes of Sheryl Crow and Lady Antebellum, and co-wrote “Like Make Believe” with Mark Bryan of Hootie & the Blowfish for his 2021 solo album Midlife Priceless.
Her newest single, “Now It’s Out,” is a landmark in her career: It’s the first release from her independent label, Red Lion Records. Her next single, “Natural With You,” drops Nov. 2 ahead of other scattered releases that will make up two EPs in 2023.
“I knew that I was a singer when I memorized all of the music to the Wizard of Oz when I was 3 years old,” Rice told City Paper.
“I knew I was a songwriter when I first met with my college band at a storage facility we were renting to practice. I got really lucky with my first band members. They were incredible musicians, and still are, and they loved my songs — they thought they were amazing. Because I thought so much of these musicians, I was like, ‘Oh, maybe I am a songwriter.’”
She fronted the Heather Friedman band when she was attending University of Central Florida in Orlando in the early 2000s. The band ended up opening for Billy Joel’s daughter one night at a bar.
“I was an opera major by day, and then I was in a rock band by night [playing] at bars until 2 a.m,” she said. “And then I would wake up and sing Puccini.”
After moving to Charleston six years ago and starting a family, Rice found a solid footing in her songwriting.
“Now I really feel like I have unbridled creative wings to do whatever I want,” she said, “which I didn’t feel that freedom after I left college and the band split up. Life changed, and actually, creatively, I am able to really open up as a songwriter and focus on all of that again. And during the pandemic, the [Red Lion] studio came about.”
Her upcoming release, “Natural With You,” is a glimpse into the love story between her and her husband, capturing the wistful indulgence and delightful uncertainty that comes with a new spark. The airy piano ballad features instrumental fills from drummer Rion Smith and Doom Flamingo guitarist Thomas Kenney, who are fixtures on both upcoming EPs. Kenney is also a co-producer on the majority of the new tracks.
“The melancholy vibe, it’s supposed to be the moment before you meet someone,” Rice said of “Natural With You.” “The song is really about the nerves that a person who is very young in love feels when they’re approaching the love of their life.
“The lyrics are, ‘I’m so strange. I never know what to say’ — which was how I felt when we got together. I thought, ‘If he really knew me, would he fall in love?’”
Rice wrote “Natural With You,” as a lover. Her January 2023 single, “Worth Loving,” she wrote as a mother.
“I’m telling my children that everybody is worth loving no matter who they are, no matter how different we are,” she said. “I wrote it like a little Mr. Rogers song. I think every song has a different character for me, maybe a different side of myself. And they’re not all going to be mom songs, and they’re not all going to be songs about romance. Sometimes they’re going to be about climate change or about equality.”
While there is an underlying theme of romantic love in her music, Rice said each song can speak to the process of self-love, too. The vulnerability she’s narrating is not exclusive to putting yourself out there, but also being happy with yourself.
Rice writes mostly on her old 1970s Kimball petite grand piano, and that particular vintage warmth spills into her songwriting that is splashed with Americana styling.
“Music lately has been feeling very real-life to me,” she said, “which is nice because the music that I have always written has been kind of melodramatic or very romanticized, sometimes very angry like in the rock band when I was feeling depressed. These days … my lyrics have gotten simpler. Hopefully a little bit more wise.”
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