This might be the most mysterious song in the Songfacts database. Damien Rice did very few interviews to promote his debut album O (he didn't do any for his next album, 9, released in 2006), and had no interest in explaining what was going in this song. This left it open for interpretation, and while we've seen many songs generate speculation, this one spawned a sort of fan fiction, with some creative tales of it's genesis. Here are two of the most popular, which we stress are unsubstantiated:
1) The song is about the daughter of Rice's clarinet teacher (the "blower").
2) This one gets pretty interesting, and Rice confirms that it is indeed fiction, as he never worked at a call center:
Like many great songwriters, Damien Rice was part of the proletariat before he earned a living in music. Growing up in Kildare County, Ireland, he found himself working at a call center in the late '90s. His job was to cold call households and try to sell them products like insurance and mortgages. As anyone who has engaged a telemarketer in conversation is aware, this is a miserable job and one that requires a bit of mental dissociation. On one of Rice's calls, a woman answered the phone and began such a dialogue.
As Rice told the story when he would introduce the song at concerts, he enjoyed speaking to this lady and became smitten. They spoke for about an hour that day, not about financial products but about their hopes and dreams, developing quite a rapport by the end of the talk. For months, Rice "followed the lead" by calling her during his shifts, where they would continue their increasingly intimate chats.
Then one day she stopped answering. In these days before the proliferation of the internet, tracking down an unrequited love was more complicated than a Google search, but Rice was determined to find this woman. From his call list, he determined the address associated with the phone number, and he hopped a bus to the residence. He hid in the bushes until the woman emerged, and when she did, she was on her way to school - the woman was just a girl, maybe 16 years old.
Crestfallen, Rice realized that when he had called, she was on summer vacation, and she stopped answering when it was time to return to school. She had been using him for entertainment, and Rice was devastated. "The Blower's Daughter" was the song he wrote about the incident.
What is a "blower"? It can mean a lot of things depending on the context (a glass blower, one who plays woodwind instruments), but in this case, it is a telephone. In the UK, the precursor to the telephone was the speaking tube, which was a tube stoppered with whistles at both ends. To call the person on the other end, you would remove the stopper and blow into the tube, which would whistle for your party. When the telephone was invented, many in Britain continued referring to it as a "blower."
This was Damien Rice's first single. It was first issued in Ireland in 2001 on his own label: Damien Rice Music. In 2002, it was included on his first album, O, which was picked up by Warner Music and issued in the UK. Rice gradually built a following, and in 2003 the album was distributed in America. That same year, he made his first UK chart entry when "Cannonball" went to #32. This prompted Warner UK to release "The Blower's Daughter" as a single, which they did in 2004. The song charted at #27 UK three years after it was first issued in Ireland.
This was featured in the 2004 movie Closer, which follows two captivating women and two intriguing men as they sort out their very complicated relationships. The song is used twice in the movie to express the pain and confusion of love. The music video is included on the Closer DVD.
The female vocalist on this track is Lisa Hannigan, who became romantically involved with Rice while they were recording the album. Rice cops to writing some songs about her, but it's unclear if she was an influence on this one. They also collaborated on Rice's 2006 second album, but their romance came to an end after Rice fired her in frustration during their 2007 tour.
The song was covered by The Voice contestant Matt McAndrew on the December 1, 2014 episode of the show. His heartfelt version of Damien Rice's cut left his coach Adam Levine to opine "I freakin' adore you." Subsequent sales of McAndrew's performance of the tune on iTunes took it to #40 on the Hot 100.