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Interview: Alex Hwang From ‘Run River North’

Run River North

With a month to go until the release of their sophomore album, Run River North are finally about to wrap up 18 months of writing and recording. We chatted to frontman Alex Hwang about the band’s upcoming album, touring, and trying to keep everything together.

Congratulations on your new single! What was the inspiration behind Run or Hide?

I think with our last album there was one particular outlet that I really wanted recognition from, and we didn’t get it, and we tried really hard to get someone to talk about it from their camp and they never got back. Then we heard back that they thought we were derivative folk, and obviously words can hurt a little bit. I just took those words in and I wrote this song to say that even if people don’t like our music or if people have certain opinions about it, I don’t feel like I should be afraid of that for anything else that I do. Some of those doubts are in my head and in our heads as well…it’s about hearing those voices in your head and not letting the haters or the doubts dictate the rest of your life, so I guess it was kind of a statement to say that I’m not going to run or hide from who I think I should be. That was one of the inspirations for it.

I think so many people are going to connect with that on a personal level. The song has more of a rock edge than the tracks on your first album, is there a reason behind that?

I personally just got a little bored of playing the acoustic guitar. Everyone else in the band has gotten louder and bigger with their own voices, and John is just incredibly huge on the drums. I couldn’t compete with the acoustic guitar and I feel like what we wanted to do was just have a little bit more fun on stage, have a little bit more fun with the song, and as I let go of the songwriting in the beginning stages, I felt like people in the band were more empowered to have their voice in the song. You can tell that in all of these songs, you can hear John being really proud of his bass line and Daniel actually have a guitar solo this time around. It is more rocky, but it isn’t because we hate folk or we hate harmonising vocals, I think we just wanted to have a little bit more fun on stage and that’s kind of where the rock elements came from.

I loved your debut album ‘Run River North’ when it first came out. What’s your favourite track to play from that album and why?
My favourite track to play from the album is actually Beetle. The reason I like it is because we do this kind of jam session in the middle of the song and as we’ve played it live it’s grown into its own beast. It’s five minutes where you don’t know what we’re going to play, and we don’t know what we’re going to play – we just know that there’s a certain amount of time to fill. It feels really spontaneous and every show is always different. At that point we’re just playing to each other and we’re not really pressured to hit certain moments. I feel like the audience really engages in those kind of moments where you just don’t know what’s gonna happen – it’s not prepared and it’s not planned, and that section always really gets to me. The lyrics of that song always remind me that I don’t know what my life is going to be about. I don’t know whether this is the best day of my life or the worst but I’m gonna keep trying anyway. It’s a constant reminder for me to be present and not to live for the future or live in regret of the past, but just to be in the moment, so that song means a lot to me when we do it live.

We got a taste of your upcoming album ‘Drinking From A Salt Pond’ when Can’t Come Down dropped yesterday. I love that song already, have you got a favourite from the new album?

I haven’t actually thought about it too much, but I think one of my favourites is Funeral Parade. We split the track up, Parade starts the album, and then when you go to the last track and let it play, the first half of that song starts playing, so if you have the album on repeat, the last song is the first song. That song means a lot to me. I wrote that song about being at a friend’s father’s funeral and it was the same cemetery where [another friend’s mother] was buried. It’s about trying to figure out what’s going on in everyone’s head when you’re at a funeral and even with what’s going on right now, there are so many people passing away who have been so influential in so many different areas; you just have to wonder “what would happen at my funeral?” or “what is it to celebrate someone’s death?” That’s my favourite song in a very sad, emo way. I think another reason why it’s one of my favourite songs is because it’s a great transitional song from our first album to our second. The funeral part of the song has an acoustic feel and it’s got the vibe from our first album. Then it just elevates into this parade of instruments and it’s a good transition into our second album for those who really liked our first one. It just does a lot of things for me, and so Funeral Parade would probably be my favourite, for now.

How would you describe the sound of the new album compared to other recordings you’ve done?

This feels like our band’s first album because a lot of the songs on the first album were ones that I personally wrote on the acoustic guitar and then everyone embellished, [whereas] this time around it feels like everyone wrote the songs together. There’s a lot of everyone else’s blood, sweat and tears in each song and so I think this feels more like a band album. The first one was definitely a collective effort, but this feels like everyone has ownership of it, so that’s the main difference. It just feels like everyone’s voices are a lot more pronounced in this one than in the first one.

‘Drinking From A Salt Pond’ is coming out soon, you guys have had a busy two years! How does it feel to be releasing your second album?

I feel like it’s long overdue and we’re so ready to have something out there. Not having something out meant that we weren’t touring, which also meant that we weren’t making any money. I feel like we were stuck in the laboratory, we were stuck with each other for so long, not knowing whether these were good songs or whether what we were doing was worth anything. I think the voices in your head get so loud that you just need to get out there and get some fresh air, so we really can’t wait for this album to come out so we can dialogue with people and see what other people think because as much as we think this is good, it doesn’t really matter unless it connects with somebody else. We’re just dying to hear what other people think about the songs and to play live shows because I think that’s where we thrive, and that’s where we’ll have the most cathartic release after the last year and a half of writing songs. We’re really excited. We can’t wait until we can start sharing it with everybody.

I’m excited to hear it! Who was your biggest musical influence for the album?

It’s definitely particular to me, there are five other people with their own influences that really colour the whole thing, but I was listening to a lot of Corduroy Kid and enjoying their blue-collar indie rock style. I’d maybe put Cage the Elephant in there too, bands that seem like they’re just having fun on stage. This may sound like a backhanded compliment, but they just sounded like a shitty band, and yet they were amazing. They weren’t trying to cover anything else, it was just, “Here’s the band, and here’s what you get”, and that’s the kind of spirit that I want my influence and my input to the band to be about. I wish I had something about David Bowie [laughs].

What are you most looking forward to about your upcoming American tour?

I’m looking forward to mixing up our old songs with our new ones. I think as we’re really comfortable with our new stuff, we’ve found ways now to transition and evolve some of our old songs to fit them into our setlist. At the end of our 2014 headlining tour, one of the resolutions I had was that I didn’t want to bring the same show to our friends and fans out there. I wanted to make sure that if they were going to pay money to come and see us, they weren’t going to see the same show twice, so I’m really excited just to give them a new show, something that has evolved, something that we really almost killed ourselves over. We almost broke up as a band about three times last year just to make this album work. I think a lot of that is seen in the emotion of the songs and a lot of what we have to say about this album comes from that place – relationships are hard, bands are hard, and none of our drama in the band is anything specific or particular to our band, but I think the fact that we are openly talking about it helps other people see that as glamorous as it might seem to be a band, there’s struggles in it, just like any relationship or organisation. I think what we want to show is that we’re still here, we’re still together and we’re still trying to do this. We’re really proud of the songs that we created in this space, so we’re just excited to share that with other people.

It sounds like it’s going to be amazing! Will we be seeing you in Australia any time soon?

I really hope so. I hope there’s some kind of petition that we can start off just to get plane tickets because that’s all that’s stopping us. We just need to find a way to pay for six of us to get to Australia and I think we’re gonna be alright, so hopefully very, very soon.

‘Drinking From A Salt Pond’ will be released on Friday 26th February.

Written by Jess Martyn