Interview with Chris (guitar), Steve (bass), Vicky (vocals)
Interview conducted by Cluedo
Date online: October 20, 2007
England's status as the birthplace of metal is well acknowledged. Her overcast shores have churned out some of the biggest names the genre has to offer. Falling into a lull after the wave of talent emerging in the early to mid-Eighties, England has once again stormed to life. In the past year, her burgeoning doom metal scene has caught the notice of metalheads from around the globe. The attention garnered by elders SABBATH, WITCHFINDER GENERAL and SOLSTICE has allowed younger acts into the spotlight. THE RIVER is one such band. Guitarist Chris, bassist Steve and vocalist Vicky take part in the following interview.
Hello everyone. I hope you are all doing well. Let me first briefly offer my congratulations on the amazing full length you put out last year which, I think, is a modern era doom classic. What did you each experience as you wrote and recorded the album? What did you want the album to convey? What sort of reaction were you hoping for from your audience and what are your thoughts on the final product?
Steve: Firstly, thanks for the interview and the kind words. I think I can speak for everyone by saying the writing, rehearsing and recording of Drawing down the Sun was a whole mixed bag of emotions and experiences. We were elated to be signed in the first place and to have the chance to bring the music to a wider audience, we did suffer the loss of a very good drummer (Jonathan Gibbs) in the critical writing process. It was a shame because there were a few songs we didn't really have the chance to jam out and experiment with, you can only do so much rehearsing to a pre recorded drum track! I think Chris done a great job keeping all the music together though. Recording was a little easier but you tend get more of a together feel when you have a full live band, we also wished we had more time in the studio to try out a few more ideas. Saying that I think we recorded a decent album and our intent was just to produce a good record which would give a good representation of our sound.
We have had a lot of positive reactions from people and support from the underground and press. We have also had a few critics, when you have your own sound you kind of trending new ground and can be open to criticism, it's a double edged sword I guess! As our thoughts on the out come of the album, again I think we recorded a good debut album our only criticism of it was the mix was at all what we want it far too cold, we wanted something a more organic!
There is a bleakly elegant simplicity to the way Drawing Down the Sun's booklet was prepared, perfectly mirroring the music itself. Could you share with us the story behind the cryptic handwritten lines sprawled across each page juxtaposed with pictures of rooms in an abandoned hospital?
Chris: It's just a text which kind of links the lyrics together. The reason we put the texts on our releases is as a replacement for lyrics anyway which I don't feel comfortable writing let alone sharing and we see it as an interesting alternative. Plus they're more fun to write! People can read into them whatever they want.
Religion and fantasy have been the staple lyrical themes of doom (and perhaps metal as a whole). THE RIVER seems to eschew these subjects for the most part. Why is this so? Would you care to elaborate on the ideas behind THE RIVER?
Chris: I just find it easier to write more personal things. There's nothing wrong with religious or fantasy type lyrics, they're just not my style. As far as any lyrical ideas I have, everyday life does it for me! I don't like writing the lyrics as I previously said so to write something based more on the topics you mentioned would involve more time and research in the writing process and that's something I don't want!
Chris, you handled the duties of both drummer and guitarist on Drawing Down the Sun. How trying was it to have to operate two instruments? Which of the two do you have a preference for and why? Are you looking to add a permanent member to take over either drums or guitars?
Chris: Playing both instruments didn't pose a problem for me. I just went in and laid the drums down and then the next day or so I did the guitars! Simple! I enjoy playing the drums but writing the music means guitar has to come first. When I was playing drums permanently for The River at the start it was a real pain in the arse to keep getting up from behind the kit to teach the others the riffs and I really didn't enjoy it. Plus everyone plays guitar differently so the music didn't always sound right when someone else played the guitar. We've now got a permanent drummer in the form of Jason so no more added pressure for me!
In 2005, a three way split CDR featuring QUERCUS, OKTOR and THE RIVER was put out by FORESHADOW PRODUCTIONS. From what I have heard of QUERCUS' Kverulant demo and the descriptions I have read of OKTOR, it would seem that not many aficionados of "true doom" would have a favourable opinion of either band. What are thoughts on the "true doom" mentality pervading the scene?
Chris: I understand it most certainly. There's an awful lot of bands out there playing slow death metal or ambient drone funeral doom and apart from pace I really don't see the connotations to what people would call 'true doom'. The 3 way split we didn't have an awful lot of say in rather than simply agreeing to be on it. Foreshadow re-released 'Oneiric Dirges in Mono' and part of the contract was that the label was allowed to re-release it again as a 3 way label split if they thought the market was there for it. I haven't heard the other 2 bands as we didn't get copies of the split!
Building on that, why do you feel the brutally posh THE RIVER (and your divergent take on doom) has been so warmly embraced by the more "closed off" factions of the doom metal elite and their preference for muscular VITUSisms in their cup of doom?
Chris: Because we are a Doom Metal band I guess! Any sort of genre has rules to define it and we abide by them. If you look at any of the forefathers of the Doom genre; Sabbath, Candlemass, Vitus, Pentagram etc they all had their own sound whilst still having the fundamentals to appeal to the same genre of music. This is something we've hopefully achieved ourselves.
It may be annoying that I have Vicky's femininity as the focus for this next series of questions, so I apologize in advance. I will not pretend that I have followed THE RIVER since its inception, but my research notes tell me that you at one point had a male vocalist. What is the story with Dan? Was the transition to a female vocalist a conscious decision? What dimension is added to THE RIVER's music by having Vicky as a vocalist?
Chris: Dan was our original guitarist/vocalist from 1999-2002. He was a smashing fella to be around sometimes although he could also be bloody infuriating at times too! The reason he left was simply his heart wasn't into it. He was more concerned with how he looked than how the band sounded and towards the end of his time with us it was one excuse after another why he couldn't rehearse or even sing when he did turn up. He was more into the death/doom stuff as well which Steve and I wanted to get a million miles away from and didn't like being asked to sing rather than growl so I guess you could say musical differences played their part too. The decision to get a female vocalist wasn't a conscious one it was simply that Vicky was the only person we knew who could sing and thankfully she wanted to do it. I don't really know what a female vocalist brings to our sound as opposed to a male one as I judge singers on personal taste and talent rather than gender!
Although I feel that Vicky is an indispensable component of THE RIVER, I have come across cynics suggesting that her place in the band is merely a gimmick. Has the band personally endured such barbs, and if so how have you responded?
Chris: The only people we've had those sort of comments from have been female! No idea why! As far as having a female singer goes it would be the reviewers themselves who bring attention to her not us so quite what the bearing is for their 'criticisms' I really don't know. She is not at the forefront of our band pictures, she doesn't go onstage dolled up to the nines and scantily clad and we don't advertise ourselves as being a female fronted band so she must be a pretty understated gimmick! Also Vicky was a friend before she was the singer so to imply that we'd use a friend of ours as a gimmick to help us get somewhere shows a distinct lack of respect for us as individuals which I find exceptionally annoying. It also shows an ignorance towards our music and not particularly good journalism to focus so much on the vocals when the music itself is different enough regardless of the singer's gender.
Vicky, I understand that Fiona Apple, PJ Harvey and Tori Amos are as much an influence on you as anyone in metal, whether Ozzy or Patrick Walker. What is your background in music? How has the lack of a strong female presence in the metal scene contributed to both your vocal style and also your standing as a fan of the genre? How have you integrated the outlook of the female singer-songwriter and that of the conventional metal frontperson?
Vicky: I've always enjoyed music, but my real interest started when I was about twelve and took up guitar lessons. This led me to listen to more guitar-oriented bands like Sabbath and Metallica and it just grew from there! I don't think the fact that, proportionately, there aren't as many females on the scene, has influenced me in any way. I sing the way that I would in any band, be it metal or not! I've never really paid much attention to whether a band has a male or female vocalist, if it works then it's just good music as far as I'm concerned!
What was playing at Doom Shall Rise like? Do you have any anecdotes to share?
Vicky: I might get I trouble for sharing certain anecdotes...! Doom Shall Rise was an awesome experience. The passion and support for the music and the scene as a whole is so different from the UK. It was great meeting some of the guys from the other bands, and I think we all agreed that DSR was one of the nicest festivals atmosphere-wise of any that any of us had been to!
Steve: It was one of the best festival's I've been to let alone played. It just felt right being there as everyone was there for the same reason...to worship at the altar of Doom.
We played on the Friday night between Well of Souls and Mirror of Deception which surprised us as we expected to be an opening act (being a demo band). It was great to play in front of so many people and I think we went down well enough.
My highlights of the weekend was seeing Warning, Place of skulls, the Gates of Slumber and Mirror of deception put on amazing shows and making new friends along the way. What more do you want from a festival, good music, good beer and a great atmosphere! Hopefully we'll be back to the chapel one day.
It looks like you have busy month coming up, traveling up and down the British Isles playing alongside WARNING and AGAINST NATURE, plus a couple of shows supporting the mighty PAGAN ALTAR. How have you been preparing? Do you have any new songs ready to be unveiled?
Chris: Just rehearsing as normal! We are playing new songs on the tour as well. We're going to play a different set each night so one day we may play virtually all new songs and then the next virtually all old. It all depends how we feel on the day I suppose. The new songs are more diverse and dynamic than our old stuff so it will be interesting to road test them and gauge people's reactions.
You can always count on MISKATONIC to put out quality releases. Would you care to describe how you were signed by Rich Walker? How does it feel to be working with him for your next full-length? Any hint on what likely goodies will be included with the Die Hard Edition of the release (assuming there is one)?
Chris: Steve was speaking to Rich at the last The Gates of Slumber gig in London and mentioned that we were looking to record another demo in the near future to use as a promo tool to see about getting a new label. Rich said not to bother as if we could wait until next year before recording he'd get us to do a full length album for Miskatonic. He came down to see us play in London a couple of months later so we played 4 new songs in the set to show him what our new stuff sounds like and that was that! Obviously it's an honour to be on Miskatonic, as you say the quality and pedigree of the bands and releases on the label are second to none. I have no idea what the die-hard edition will be like if it is released as such but I'm sure it will be pretty special!
What sort of direction will this next album be taking?
Chris: As previously mentioned the new stuff is more diverse than 'Drawing Down the Sun'. We've got some faster stuff, some slower stuff, some stupidly heavy stuff, some acoustic stuff and everything in between! The album is pretty much written now except for some lyrics and we just need to rehearse and tighten up the arrangements. I'm really looking forward to recording the new stuff actually!
The downloading culture in metal has drawn the ire of many. What are your personal thoughts on the issue, especially now that you are working with one of its most vocal opponents in Rich Walker?
Chris: As a way of promoting bands, mp3s and the like are a useful tool but I don't see them as anything more. I don't own a computer or an mp3 player or anything like that so downloading really has no effect on me. If it gets to the point where you can't physically buy a vinyl or CD then obviously that's a shame and I'm in the shit! But I don't think it will ever get that far, there will always be those who want to own the real thing other than a lifeless, poor quality file on their computer.
Steve: It's is a great way of promoting but I personally find the whole music down loading culture quite annoying. It's one thing to put a few sample tracks up for people to here what you sound like and a glimpse of the new directions you may be taking but to have page upon page of sites that can download your work for free is wrong in my book. People seem to forget that bands put a hell of a lot of work in to their music and the smaller labels who put their own time and money in recording and promoting these bands, without regaining the investment many labels will go under. Luckily there are a lot of people out there who do support the underground and who rather have an original copy!
The THE RIVER "VITUS" logo was pretty neat. Will it be making a reappearance, perhaps on a t-shirt?
Steve: We had T-shirts of the Vitus- River made a few years ago, they seemed to go down well as we sold out of them pretty quick! We will be using the design again in the future when we sell out of the current design or if the demand is there, maybe we'll do the logo in gold or silver rather than plain white.
Thank you once again. It has been an honour. If you have any final comments, go ahead. Up the Hatters!
Thanks again for your time and we're glad you've enjoyed the music. We have now recorded a 10" for The Church Within Records (Germany) which is due out soon. It has a re-recorded-slower-than-the-album version of 'Broken Window', a re-recorded-with-completely-different-to-the-album-ending version of 'Inside The Flood Diary' plus a brand new track entitled 'To Bring Closure' which we've been playing live recently. It sounds monstrous, stupidly heavy yet crystal clear at the same time. We're also playing out live as often as possible so if anyone's interested in playing some shows with us then get in touch! and indeed Up the Hatters!
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