With their “Different Dirges” demo collection pending imminent release, it seemed timely to dust down this special old feature from the vaults…
England boasts a proud history of bands cutting across many genres. Sadly, in years past, there has been a discernable decline as the greats lapsed into inactivity whilst those that remained failed to rise above mediocrity. However, there are now stirrings in a number of camps that will surely fill said void and put the island back on the map. One such contender is The River. The young quartet released its latest demo earlier this spring prior to embarking on the first foreign live appearance at none other than the prestigious Doom Shall Rise festival. Both their studio and live exploits to date herald a promising future. But now a vacant drum stool threatens to stall their gathering momentum. Curious to discuss the dynamic new material, their burgeoning popularity and where they go next I went in search of the remaining trio.
Vicky, Christian and Stephen you are all very welcome. Tell me, how has life been treating you since we last met? Back to porridge, as they say…
Stephen – Life has been good! Obviously there have been a few down points along the way such as Jon leaving and the search for a new drummer. But apart from that, it’s been cool. We are now just concentrating on the next release and wandering the demo band desert looking for that elusive label.
How did you find Doom Shall Rise III as a musician and fan? What were the highs and lows?
Stephen – I would have to say that Doom Shall Rise III was the best festival I have ever been to. On many different levels, it was a joy to be a part of it, the bands, the people we met, the organisation from all the staff and we can’t leave out the beer!
As a musician I found it amazing, to play to such a crowd where everyone was there for the same reason, the love of all things Doom. Before we played, I was very nervous. But as the set began I got into the swing of things. I’d have to give it to the Germans. They know what they’re doing. If there was a problem the guys backstage were on it straight away.
Obviously there were a few hitches with our performance including the unfamiliar equipment and Chris being ill. But on the whole I think we gave a good account of ourselves. The only low point was it was Jon’s last gig with us. Apart from that, it was a fantastic time had by all!
Did the experience differ significantly to a typical gig in England? Crucially, the festival will have introduced the band to a wider audience. But what kind of feedback did you receive over the weekend and have you had much since?
Stephen – I think the main difference was the crowd numbers. In England, the crowds can be very fickle. You do get your die-hards, who always make putting on a gig worthwhile. But it’s a real shame when you get someone like The Gates Of Slumber or Slough Feg coming over to play to small crowds.
In Germany, we made a lot of new friends, sold a lot of demos and got a fair amount of good reviews from our performance so we were happy with that!
For those less fortunate souls, The River is still relatively unknown at this early stage in your career. Please introduce the band as you see fit. How and when did you come together? Did you have a specific vision you intended to explore? Has it changed since you embarked on this journey?
Chris – We actually formed in 1999 as a continuation of a friend’s band that Steve and I had played in, which split when the singer joined the army. We recorded two demos between that date and 2002 although they were not spread too far outside our community of friends for various reasons. The band members at the time, unfortunately, were happier playing music that sounded exactly like their favourite bands without any of their own identity and didn’t really care for putting in any hard work to promote The River. So after they left, Steve and I set about recording ‘Oneiric Dirges in Mono’ in 2003 with myself handling drums and guitars, and Steve handling bass. We roped in my friend Vicky to do the vocals and thus The River of today was born! We found Jon to play the drums after he left Unsilence and moved south. We then began playing live in 2004. We played some very good gigs and spread the name very far in a very short space of time. However, Jon had to leave after recording ‘Different Ways to Be Haunted’ due to family commitments, leaving us as a trio again.
We’ve never really had a vision of that we wanted to explore. Our intention was simply to be a seriously heavy Doom band but not at the expense of writing a decent song. Sonically, we love low-tuned guitars and feedback. But we also adore a beautifully sung lyric & melody so I guess if The River did have a vision to explore, the juxtaposition of brutal riffs and tender harmonies would be it!! We haven’t changed our outlook at all since we started. With a bit of luck, hopefully, we’re improving!
The River is an intriguing name. It suggests motion and perhaps life-giving properties. How does this natural symbol represent the band?
Chris – There was no other reason to name the band The River than simply we liked it. It also had no connotations. Therefore, people would judge the music after hearing it rather than having a preconceived idea of what we’re about. Having thought about it a bit though, it does suit us fairly well. A river can be dirty and brutal yet it can also be clear & beautiful. It’s sometimes slow yet sometimes fast moving. It’s constantly progressing yet it’s never unrecognisable as a river. These are traits we try to include in our music as well so in that respect I guess it represents the band quite nicely!
There is also an inherent connectivity between a source and a destination. Where do you think The River fits in the grand scheme, if indeed there is one?
Chris – In a physical sense, as you say, a river always has a source and a destination. It provides home and security to a wide array of wildlife, which is very important to the grand scheme of things. Whether, as a band, we could ever hold such a lofty position and be seen as that vital or important to the music world as our namesake in the natural world I don’t know!
Well, my congratulations! Your current offering, “Different Ways To Be Haunted” is a refreshing slab of music. The signature touches are developing. The song writing and performance certainly strike me as more confident. How then do you rate demo? Do you feel that you are now beginning to realise that vision?
Chris – Ta very much! We’re all still very proud of the demo as we are of everything we’ve recorded. There are obviously things we would change given more time and money. But that’s just nit-picking on my behalf! The main reason we came on so well between “Oneiric Dirges…” and “Different Ways…” was that we had Jon on drums. Being able to play live and actually rehearse as a proper band rather than being the doom skiffle band we were before he joined meant we had more time to work on arrangements and melodies than we were previously used to. Certainly having the experience of being a full band meant that we were definitely more confident when writing and recording “Different Ways…” no doubt about it! Although Jon is no longer part of the band, his contribution has been invaluable and we’re at a stage now where we have a very strong musical vision and know exactly where we’re headed. I believe we’ve pretty much got ourselves The River sound and we just need to work on continually improving it.
In my eyes, the three songs form a cohesive unit without lacking diversity. But I have a sneaking suspicion that “Broken Window” was penned first as it seems more in keeping with “Oneric Dirges In Mono”… Is there any truth in that or is it merely coincidental?
Chris – Yep, “Broken Window’” is the oldest song on “Different Ways…” and it just missed being recorded for “Oneiric Dirges..” which I’m now quite glad of as it has changed a fair bit over time before getting to the stage it’s at on “Different Ways…”. The vocal lines and first two riffs are pretty much the only things that stayed the same. “White Library” was written not long after it and “A Close Study” was the newest song. It was only finished about a month before we recorded it. We put them on in newest to oldest order because “Broken Window” was the out and out Doom one whereas “White Library” was the more left of field one. “A Close Study” has some outright Doom riffs but also something a bit different in it. We put it first to set the tone for what lay ahead basically!
On the previous outing, Chris penned the lyrics and Vicky sang them. Has that formula remained as it was? Vicky, will you be playing an increasingly larger role creating as well as performing them as your confidence grows?
Vicky – Chris is still writing the lyrics, mainly because he’s far better at it than I am! It’s not a lack of confidence that stops me. It’s just there’s a better man for the job.
Each of the new song titles hinge on physical space. Is that emphasis deliberate?
Chris – Not really, it’s just a co-incidence! Thinking about it, it is easier to pinpoint something you can physically see to get a point across than to get all wordy and have people not understand what you’re getting at. It also helps to set up a story and set a scene when you’re writing I guess, be it lyrics, poetry or the chapters of a book. In all honesty, I hadn’t spotted it until you mentioned it!
Loneliness, heartache and a lack of confidence figure quite prominently in the lyrics. Are they intended to be universal or do they relate to specific experiences? Do you find singing about them to be cathartic?
Chris – A bit of both! “A Close Study’” and “Broken Window” have elements of loneliness and a lack of confidence in them as they are definitely things I suffer from at times although I see them as obstacles to overcome rather than things to whinge about and hopefully the lyrics come across in this way. The heartache end of it I presume you’re thinking “White Library” specifically. The lyrics were written simply because Vicky said she enjoyed lyrics about relationships. They’re actually my least favourite set of lyrics I think they’re too wimpy although Vicky makes them sound better than they are. They are definitely not about any of my ex-girlfriends! I would not flatter someone I’ve split up with by writing a song about them! However, a lot of people really like them and reckon they can relate to them so they’re good in that respect. On the whole the lyrics are based mainly on my own specific experiences but hopefully written in such a way that people can relate them to anything they want!
Vicky – It’s not quite cathartic for me, as they’re not my words. I can relate to them, understand them and I certainly enjoy singing them But I’m not so much getting things off my chest as helping Chris get them off his!
Ever since I first heard mention of The River emphasis has been placed on your vocals and there have been frequent comparisons to Mourn. But bar gender and nationality, I think there is probably little common ground. Mind you, it must help distinguish the sound of the band in a predominantly male genre. What do you think?
Chris – Mourn was a great band and in actual fact, their “For Evermore” cassette was the first demo I ever bought. However, I agree with you that there are very little similarities in the sound and if the only reason we get compared to them is the fact we have a female singer it shows how naïve some people can be! Caroline Wilson and Vicky have very separate singing voices in my opinion. Besides, you wouldn’t compare Wino to Messiah Marcolin just because they’re both blokes, would you?! Having said all that, there are far worse bands to be compared to. I’d just rather we were both in the category of good music than the category of Doom bands with bird singers!
Unfortunately, you were unable to record a fourth song, “A Relation To Absence” that was intended for the demo as you ran out of time, and presumably money, in the studio. Would you be able to give us an insight into the lyrics and music?
Chris – “A Relation to Absence” is actually a three minute song with no distorted guitars on it! It’s kind of up-tempo by our standards and quite different although ultimately still The River. It will be recorded in the near future, have no fear! Lyrically, it’s about missing out on life’s simple pleasures through no fault of your own but trying to plough ahead regardless.
It was no secret that Jonathan would be vacating the drum stool after Doom Shall Rise III due to changing family commitments. In one sense, it is a shame as his drumming helped define the new songs and his talents will be missed. How is he settling in up north and how is the band coping without having him around?
Stephen – Jonathon is now the father of a baby boy named Sammy. He and Regan are very happy and proud parents. We wish them nothing but the best for the future.
We’re coping at the moment with rehearsals and recording. Mind you, it was a hell of a lot easier when he was here. We’re missing playing live! Hopefully, someone will turn up soon to fill the empty drum stool.
The band appears undeterred, as you have already confirmed that the debut album will be recorded early next year even if you have not recruited a full-time drummer or secured a label deal. The latter is certainly not as crucial as it once was. Please elaborate on your plans. Do you then have a sense that the timing feels right?
Chris – We’ve been going for six years now and have recorded four demos. We pretty much feel it’s time to get off the pot now if you know what I mean! Enough people have shown an interest in hearing an album and one of the nicer criticisms we generally get is that the demos seem to leave people wanting to hear more. I think we’re at a stage now where we need to do an album because recording another demo would seem almost like admitting defeat or showing we don’t have enough faith in our music. If we haven’t got a new drummer by the beginning of next year I’ll play the drums and guitar again like I did on “Oneiric Dirges…” Finding a label is going to be the hard part, particularly if we still haven’t got a drummer by then, as we won’t be able to promote the recording by playing live. We are actively searching for a label at present though and hopefully it will all come into place sooner rather than later. We’ve had a bit of interest even though we haven’t finished sending “Different Ways…” to the various labels out there so time will tell I guess! Whatever happens, the album is going to be recorded in the first few months of 2006 and will be titled “Drawing Down The Sun”. It’s going to have seven songs on it and is pretty much a continuation of “Different Ways…” with some new ideas chucked in for good measure!
Whatever happened to the proposed split 7” with Cambian Dawn? When do you foresee your songs making their way on to hallowed wax?
Chris – The split was due to be released via COTD records but unfortunately the funding wasn’t there to get the singles pressed. 7”s are bloody pricey it has to be said! Again though, we’re looking for a label to release it as we speak and if the worst comes to the worst, we’ll probably have a whip round between the two bands to get the money together and release it ourselves. I think both songs are too good to waste and the opportunity to release a vinyl is not one I’m passing up! As to when it is released, the sooner the better I reckon!
Given that the band has enjoyed a progressively higher profile live in the past twelve months do you foresee it continuing as an integral part of your development? If you had a free reign, where would you like to play and with whom would you share the stage?
Chris – As far as I’m concerned, you’re not a proper band unless you can get out there and play live. It really breaks my heart that at the moment we can’t do it! We were flying high with the amount of gigs we were being offered and it’s such a shame that we’re no longer in that position. We’ve been very lucky with the gigs we have had. Our profile and demo sales were getting higher all the time. We definitely became a much better band from gigging it has to be said. Until we get a new drummer, though we’re knackered on the live front! If we had the choice, it really wouldn’t matter where we play although I have to say I like travelling abroad! At Doom Shall Rise we played with a lot of bands that we would have loved to have seen let alone shared a stage with! Mirror Of Deception, Warning, Isole, The Gates Of Slumber, Pale Divine and Place Of Skulls are all bands I’d gladly share a bill with again! Actually when we do get the drummer situation resolved, the first shows we’re likely to play are with Warning, which is something we’re really looking forward to. We’ve also played with Reverend Bizarre and would like to do so again. As for bands we haven’t played with, there’s Orodruib, Solstice, Revelation and Thee Plagure Of Gentlemen… The list is endless! There are bands outside the Doom & Metal scenes that I personally would love to play with but I can’t see the proposed Lynyrd Sknyrd, PJ Harvey and The River bill ever going ahead!
How would you describe the atmosphere amongst English bands, the press, promoters and the general punters? Is there a tangible scene? Have you noticed any significant changes in the underground over the past five to ten years?
Stephen – The atmosphere amongst the English scene is good. It’s difficult in London because there’s an “in” crowd but the rest of the country’s fine. The bands help each other out when they can with gigs, promoting and information, which is a healthy attitude to have when the scene is not as big as others. The up side is you don’t get as many arseholes and fakes as other scenes.
Some people in the press will highlight Doom bands but they are few and far between. There was a Doom special in a new UK magazine called Zero Tolerance which featured bands like Black Sabbath, Revelation, The Gates Of Slumber, Reverend Bizarre, Centurion’s Ghost amongst others, which is quite unheard of these days. The crowds can be hit and miss but those who do show up make it worth while.
There are a few new bands breaking through such as Iron Hearse, Cambian Dawn, Centurion’s Ghost, and our good selves of course, and there are bands that have established themselves already, namely, Solstice, Warning, Pagan Altar, Solomon Kane, Unsilence and Tefra. Hopefully there will be more in the future.
Do you hold a wider interest in the performing arts or culture? Do you think alternative movements have an impact on the band?
Chris – Not to any great extent really. I’ve only ever been to the theatre when I was on school trips but that was a long time ago now! Museums and the like get visited occasionally but not with any sort of regularity. It’s not that we don’t have any appreciation for the more cultured way of life. It just rarely crops up on our things to do list. We’re not particularly refined I’m afraid. We’re a pork pie, beer, football and game of darts down the pub kind of band!
There is a somewhat foreboding yet subtle atmosphere at the very core of your creation. Have any such legends or folk tales been absorbed into your collective persona? If so, are there any you would recommend as an accompaniment to the music?
Chris – Again, not really! There are plenty of myths and stories in English folklore that are interesting, whether it be the Druids at Stonehenge, King Arthur, the witches of the Middle Ages or the haunting of Borley Rectory and we do have an interest in such things. However, I doubt we would ever represent anything like this with our music simply because we prefer to write about more personal issues. But I do agree that our music would lend itself favourably to such topics though.
If The River was a painting what would it represent?
Stephen – It would be a picture of dogs playing snooker in a pub with a dartboard in the background and some pints of bitter on the bar! That is after all pretty much the natural environment for members of The River!
Please share your thoughts on the following:
Death: Chris – I grew up listening to “Scream Bloody Gore” and “Human” and was definitely a bit upset when Chuck left us. It comes to us all I guess!
Atheism: Stephen – I think it’s a bit of a cop out really. It’s like waiting to see who wins the FA Cup before you support them! Although I don’t really believe in most organized religion anyway, I do respect them apart from any type of extremist and born-again Christians who are just wrong in general! In my view, you have to stick with something to make it worth while.
Reincarnation: Chris – Sometimes when you’re having a hard time of it you do tend to wonder about karma and what you did in a previous life it has to be said! But I’m not sure about the spirit finding a new home as it were although I do believe in & have an interest in ghosts and ghouls. If I was reincarnated, knowing my luck I’d come back as me!
Agnosticism: Stephen – I think you’ve got to have something to believe in. Whether it’s a God or an idea of a higher power you would think there’s more to life than what can be scientifically or physically proven. At the end of the day, I think we do go on to a better place otherwise the human race would be a right shower of bastards with no consequence to their actions.
Eternity: Chris – It doesn’t have the same effect on the ladies as a splash of Brut, in my experience!
Finally, if you could ask me a question, what would it be?
Chris – Lemmy & God are having an arm wrestle, who wins?! Just kidding!
Trick question! Lemmy is God…
What is your opinion on the current glut of bands, not just in the Doom scene, but in Thrash, Death and Heavy Metal in general that are reforming? Is it a case of the time being right for these bands or are they just riding the nostalgia wave to increase their bank balances, pay for the divorce and put the kids through college?
Yes, it certainly has become commonplace and I must admit that I have half been expecting some bodies to be exhumed in a bid to restore original line-ups. Perhaps the science is not there just yet. Anyway, timing is everything and who knows what really motivates folk to come out of retirement. It happens in all professions. I remember a vice principal retiring three times over and he kept coming back on a voluntary basis. If it’s in your blood it’s in your blood. The same is true of music and the frauds will stand out like a sore thumb. The unexpected return of Count Raven was a real godsend. Their moving performance at Doom Shall Rise remains a cherished memory. It is also marvellous to see Elixir and Pagan Altar back where they belong. They sound fresh too! As for the rest, time will tell…
The time has come to depart. Thank you for your presence at this sacred place. May your path be clear and bright! The closing words are yours…
Chris – Thanks for the interview and all your help thus far. Hopefully the answers we’ve given aren’t too boring in comparison to the well-thought out questions! Keep an eye out for the new material around the first half of next year. If anyone hasn’t heard us before and wants to buy or trade demos then please get in touch. T-shirts are available too!
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