Exclusive Interview: Stephanie Rice

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She captured our hearts on NBC’s The Voice, now Stephanie Rice talks about her new music and her scientist past. What a woman!

What’s the story behind “Pages”?
I didn’t intentionally write this song. There wasn’t initially this certain purpose for it. I did share my story on The Voice, consciously making that decision to share it for the purpose of lifting others up, encouraging other queer kids from small towns who aren’t accepted for who they are. But my story is not just one of ‘I came out and my parents rejected me.’ That just scratches the surface.

I had yet to write a song that really specifically dealt with deeper levels of my background. Sometimes it feels like I get punched in the face with a wave of emotion. One day recently I got hit with it again and I was mourning the loss of my family, memories, memories I never made, and this one thought wouldn’t get out of my head: I lost all of this and a chance at having any of this because of what a few lines read in a book. All the feelings that I pushed down for years, decades of religious abuse, the fear, the trauma of being told that I was going to Hell all came resurfacing. Through sobs I cried out, and the first words that came out of my mouth were, ‘So I’m writing my own pages…’

These silent fears that lurked in the corners of my mind were there through years of indoctrination, and I was too afraid to even write about them for so long. My story is one of living in fear for decades. Religious abuse is something I struggled so hard to overcome because it’s something that is so ingrained in you. During your formative years, you kind of believe everything that you are told. Imagine being told something your entire life – and that thing you’re being told is that there is this unbending, unbreakable rule, that is in direct opposition of who you are. I remember walking down the aisle and getting ‘re-saved’ because I was scared that I didn’t believe hard enough, that I wasn’t a good enough Christian. That I was sinful. I believed for a long time that I was confined and trapped inside of this rule book that did not in any way accept me.

Even after coming out, I had people from the church handing me books about why I was in danger of the fires of hell, and ironically enough, they were often books they had never even read for themselves. While this is not an anti-religious song, I have personally experienced in my life people using religion to promote and justify intolerance. And that is never okay. I believe that God is love. When I had the realization and deep understanding that that there was NOTHING wrong with me, I realized I was being judged and persecuted for the purest thing we can express on this earth. People were handing me books, calling me names, and sending me messages that killed my spirit, and they were all doing it in the name of Jesus. It took a long time to clear the voices out of my head that made me feel like I was drowning and begin writing my own pages to my life.

For me – I have to release ‘Pages’ first to follow the break I’ve taken in recording and writing new music because this isn’t just another song, this is closing a certain chapter and starting a completely new book in my life.

How was your experience writing with Justin Tranter, Mark Nilan and your brother Benjamin Rice who was the engineer/co-producer for the entire Oscar/Golden Globe/BAFTA winning “A Star Is Born” soundtrack?
Before I met with Justin Tranter at the studio – I spent all day going over in my head what I should do. I look up to him SO MUCH, I think he’s one of the best artists on the planet – so me being nervous kind of goes without saying. I kept thinking, ‘wWat song should I show him? Should I show him something that is more polished so he doesn’t think I’m not any good? Maybe I’m not any good?’ At one point I think I had printed out every song I’d ever written and put it in a 3 ring binder – then thought – ‘nah that’s probably too much.’

Through this rollercoaster of emotions, the song ‘Pages’ kept popping up in my head. It’s the most personal song I had written – and I felt like it was something that my soul really, really wanted to share with him, but I was also nervous that maybe it was TOO personal. When we met up at the studio – we just talked about life and the world, and there was a sense of safety in being with him. When he asked what I wanted to work on, it felt really right to do this song with him. There was a sense of belonging to the same community, and I felt safe sharing with him the meaning behind the song, and share parts of my life that I don’t normally share with people.

The song at that moment was like a 5-minute-long stream-of-consciousness, but Justin was pure magic. He knew exactly what to do with it, how to arrange it, what lyrics needed to stay, what melody should stay, what lyrics should be taken out or replaced – and all with one goal in mind: What is it that I was trying to share? It’s like he stepped in my shoes and helped me tell my story in the most clear way possible.

This was my first co-writing session that I had been in, and I think we as songwriters get attached to what we write. But, I was completely open and trusting in working with him. I honestly didn’t want the session to end. By the end of it I felt like I had come to a deeper understanding of what it is that I was trying to say, how I felt, and around midnight that night I was feeling pretty fearless. His energy was just incredible – it made me feel like I could do anything. I learned so much from him and think about this session often every time I go into a new one.

My brother wanted to bring Mark Nilan into the session – and I was really stoked about it. He’s crazy talented, and I felt honored that he was interested. We were sitting there talking about the song – what key it would be in – what chords should be used – and then Justin and I sat on the couch and started going over lyrics. I started hearing the sound of a page turn through the speakers. Within seconds he created the intro you hear to the song and it was a moment for sure. I was blown away by his interpretation of the song and how quickly he came up with it. We all got excited in the room – everyone kind of relaxed (or at least I did) because I knew we were onto something. The whole session felt like a dream really.

Working with my brother has always been my dream. Since I was a teenager, I looked up to him, the band he was in, and I knew he was destined for greatness. My senior year in high school, we had to write a paper about ‘our hero.’ I wrote it about him – and the main reason why is because he was pursuing his dream. Even at a young age (he’s 5 years older than me) I knew that he had tapped into what life was all about and wasn’t too afraid to go after it.

When I as 16, he came home from touring, and I was playing a song on the piano. I didn’t know he was standing there listening when he piped up ‘Did you write that?’ When I said yes, he very seriously said, ‘One day we’re going to make music together.’ There are moments in life that you just never forget; that was one of them. I’m so proud of everything that he has accomplished – I never doubted it his ability – he’s the most hard-working person I know with the talent to back it, and I’m especially glad that the dream I’ve been holding onto is unfolding.

‘Pages’ is extremely special because Ben really made this song a reality. He isn’t just a producer on it, he truly executive produced the whole thing, seeing it through from the very beginning to the end. Having him believe in me is really everything; I value his opinion more than anyone else. His schedule is crazy and he’s constantly working with artists that I look up to and admire – but he was so dedicated in carving out the time that we needed for this project and poured a lot of hard work and passion into it. There isn’t anyone that I love recording with more. We share the same blood – and I feel wrapped in love and trust when we hit record. It’s hard not to get overwhelmed in the moment and to not think about where we come from and how crazy it is that we are getting to work together on the thing we love the most: music.

I love so much how this song turned out – his taste in production always makes me feel. It’s raw, it’s polished, it’s loud, it’s subtle, it has all the elements that I love so much. He knows where to go with the song without losing the feel of it, and I get to rely on him when it comes down to making tough decisions. I love what we made together.

Do you ever fear being too honest when songwriting?
In the moment of writing it – no. When it comes to sharing it – yes.

What are some things viewers don’t know about being part of NBC’s The Voice?
Oh boy. So much. All in all, it was about a year of my life. There are a lot of rounds and auditions in between your very first audition and the audition where you get to sing in front of the coaches. Talking months here. That process is a long one that involves lots of nerves, tears, hopes, dreams, not a lot of sleep, and you’re away from your family and friends. I think that’s why we get forever bonded to our ‘competition’ – it doesn’t really feel like your roommate or battle partner is a ‘competitor’ most of the time because you’re in it together and only you two will understand what it’s like.

I think the Battle Round was the absolute worst. The rest I really, really enjoyed. The battle round pushes your levels of comfortability because you grow to really like and love your battle partner and want the best for them – but also want the best for yourself. The best possible approach is to sing WITH each other instead of against so that you both shine and both move to the next round with one being saved and the other stolen by a different coach. And, that’s exactly what happened in my battle. We both moved forward, and we both were able to be so extremely happy for each other. (But I’m happy I never have to do that again!)

Tell us about your work in biology and research involving HIV.
You just engaged my nerdy side. Read at your own risk… I studied ants in college and fell in love with research. I loved being on the brink of knowledge and asking questions on topics we don’t yet have the answers to. I studied the behavior of the colonies – which actually inspired the name I used to perform under, my band ‘Colonial Blue.’ I loved how they worked together for the greater good for the society as a whole.

After I graduated, I helped a professor with his research in the Sonoran Desert of Mexico, Bahía de Kino. I studied the relationship between a species of moth and the cacti native to the area. All the research was done at night – I wore a hat with a built-in light, carried a pad and pencil, ladder, and hand held magnifying glass. I was in my happy place. During the day I played my guitar by the ocean, and I got to explore this whole new world I had never been to. I almost didn’t come back! I loved it there so much.

As much as I loved research and being outside, I really longed to do work that had an almost immediate impact on humans. I applied to work at Baylor College of Medicine where I would make up the third member of a team doing some extraordinary work. I got the job, and our research led to a publication in The Scientific Journal of Aids – as we found that the protein we were studying decreased levels of inflammation in HIV patients.

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Are there any ways your time as a scientist inspired your music?
All the time and even still. The two sides of my brain are constantly engaged, and sometimes it feels like a battle. The battle feels so strong I’ve even gone so far as to naming the two halves of my brain: X and Y. X feels in the moment and Y questions everything. I think my best work is when I get them working together and create something that is truly passionate and raw but yet still polished and well thought-out. I am an artist, and I am a scientist. I see the world through two different lenses simultaneously, and that inevitably impacts my approach to music.

What do you most hope people take away from your music?
I can only write the story that is my own, and this song specifically is about my experience. In my life – people have not shown me love, for the way that I love, and have withheld it in the name of love. Love is the most written about subject, and it’s often this celebrated, beautiful thing. For me – it’s something that I was in trouble for. I hope this song resonates with anyone who feels like they don’t fit in the box, for people who feel like a misfit, an outcast, or for anyone whose family or community judges the way they live or love. I want this song to be one that is all our own for all the times we didn’t relate to a story being shared through song. I want people to feel empowered to look at the thing they are most scared to do, and do it anyway.

What is next for you? Can we expect more singles, an EP or some touring?
This song is just one of many. I have been working tirelessly in writing and recording new material. This is the first song that I chose to release because I think that for me, personally, I needed to get it out in order to turn the next page. More singles are coming, and then you’ll get the entire EP. Stay tuned for more shows at www.stephaniericemusic.com

Buy the song HERE