Civilization and Its Contradictions: An Interview with River

In this interview with the band River, we talk about inspiration, soundscapes, and the contradictions of civilization.

By Ryan Smith

It would be an understatement to say the past few years have been a rough ride across the board.  Between COVID, climate crisis, and creeping fascism it would be safe to say that escape and relief from the endless churn of life in 2022.  For many, including myself, music can sometimes offer such comfort and I’m always game for artists trying something very different from the usual.  When I had the band River sent over my way, I quickly found myself lost in the majestic atmosphere of haunting, melancholic melodies.  In days when time is either running too fast or grinding to a crawl, River’s music brings a sense of healing timelessness that feels mostly absent from our mad, mad world.  I got in touch with the artists behind River to find out what makes them tick and here is what they had to say.

Your music paints some very haunting, almost Pagan, soundscapes.  What do you feel you are showing with your songs?

Nate:
In 2008, I was recording an EP for my solo black metal band Mania called Endless Hunger. In the first song you can hear a long droning acoustic guitar section. River started as a way to explore this type of soundscape further without being constrained by the metal genre. Soon after, the other two current members of the band joined with a similar vision from their respective bands (Huldrekall and Alda). Mania is a musical exploration into the horrors of the modern world, so I wanted River to be the opposite – evocations of pre-civilization life. Watching the river flow across the rocks and pondering how many millions of years it has been doing just that, or the stars slowly drift atop a mountain, listening to the cold wind through the pine trees with no other sounds in the air. Ravens cawing in old growth forests. You get the idea. There is no ideology or religious belief portrayed, simply an atmosphere.

Dylan:
There isn’t a particular Pagan connection with our music however we all have had strong connections to the forests and mountains throughout our lives and that connection comes out a lot in our music. I try to use riffs to tell a story without words. Every part of every song that we write tells about a place, a sound, a time, a smell, a feeling, just something in our lives and the hope is that when other people listen to our music they can be transported to places or have experiences of their own. I believe that music itself is magic.



If there was one person, alive or dead, who you would want to hear this album who would it be?

Nate:
Sharing music is a special thing. It transcends the spoken language and can convey deep primal emotion in such a way that the listeners understand, even having their own interpretation and feelings to reflect back. That being said, I really make this sort of music for myself, creating the songs that I wish I could hear. I can’t really say I would hope any one person hears the album. It has already been 8 years since we began writing and recording it. All of the songs sat on my hard drive that whole time until we could find the time to complete the job. When it was complete, I felt a huge relief that I could listen to it without considering the technical aspects or what needs to change. That alone makes me content.

Dylan: 

Agreed, I can’t think of any particular person I would want to hear this new album, however I’m very happy to share our music with people and hope that it can resonate far beyond the spaces it was written in.


What would you say to any musician who is starting out?

Nate:

Don’t. Haha, just kidding. Go listen to AC/DC “It’s a long way to the top”. That will explain it all. Except in rare circumstances, you will lose countless sleep, money and hours that will never turn into something profitable. For me, it’s about the social connections and events. Different genres of music bring specific types of people to events and I love the aspect of curating a social environment. If I could go back and tell my younger self anything about my future in music, I would try to explain that the details of song arrangement and riffs are important, but so is physical presentation. Stage props, looking presentable, art, lights, etc. People in the audience want to be captivated and immersed in the experience and not everyone wants to hear a “musician’s band”. Make it digestable. That doesn’t mean dumb it down – it means you need to dissolve the barrier in the listener’s mind and put them in your environment so they can properly absorb the music.

Dylan:

I would say to have fun and practice. The more comfortable and natural it feels to play your instrument, the less thought you’ll have to use and the more the music will just naturally come out. I’ve never wanted to be a rockstar or be uber famous for playing in cool bands and I still feel that way.  Write music because it feels good or terrible or cathartic or whatever. Play music because it makes you feel something. Whilst i do agree with Nate that its very important to dissolve the barrier between musician and listener, ive been to way too many shows where lackluster bands did their best to have all the cool skills/techniques/riffs, candlesticks, skulls, branches, sigils etc.. and they didnt manage to inspire any feeling in me other then boredom or contempt. Atmosphere is absolutely crucial, but it’s far from everything.



What are your biggest musical influences?

Nate:
Ulver – Kveldssanger/Bergtatt. Novemthree. Vali – Forlatt. Lonndom – Fälen från norr. Tenhi – Kertomuksia. Huun Huur Tu. Garmarna – S/T. Waldteufel. Fauna, Echtra, Vines.

Dylan:
Kvelldssanger has definitely been a huge influence of ours, especially on our first album. It’s hard to not be inspired by the black metal we’ve been immersed in for so long. Folk music from all over the world, lots of dungeon synth too. I feel like our music is a melting pot of the wide variety of music that we all listen to and we’ve taken bits and pieces from all of our preceding projects and added them in as well.


What would you say are the main themes at the heart of your work?

Nate:
There are themes of nature. Seasons changing. The processes of a more simple natural world happening over long periods of time.

Dylan:
Nature for sure. I feel like escapism is a huge aspect within that. While our other music projects might focus on the struggle of the tree trunk against the chainsaw, this project would envision a time or place without the saw altogether. It’s hard to not be crushed by nihilism when looking to our future here in 2021, but it’s important to find places of solace, if even only inside ourselves.




What do you hope for in the future for River?

Nate: 

We hope to release this album on a proper format over the next year. Our plans for a vinyl release were cancelled amidst the covid pandemic so we are attempting to re-group and seek other channels. Other than that, there are no plans. We hope you enjoy the album and thanks for spending this time on us.

Dylan: 

We’ve been collaborating on this project for over 10 years now and a lot of that time has been spent fairly dormant. It’s certainly possible that more music could emerge with time but for now it’s hard to say. Many thanks to the people who have shared their homes, music and friendship with us over the years!

River’s full album “Regeneration”, released in 2020 by Eternal Warfare Records, is currently available for purchase with Bandcamp. Make sure to add the Antifascist Neofolk Playlist on Spotify, which we will add River to once they are on Spotify.