Tonight is a big deal for Danny Brunjes and his crew. It marks the long-awaited debut not only of his project, Rivers itself, but the band's first, eponymous release. Yeah, that's right, a double whammy. Friday is the act's first official gig, like, ever. We don't remember any local group in recent memory attempting to pull something like this off. We wondered if Brunjes and his band mates were nervous.
"Sure, it feels a little risky," Brunjes told New Times earlier this week while taking a break from his day job at FP&L. "We're shooting for the moon." In Rivers, Brunjes teams up with his former Under Every Green Tree band mates, drummer Jon Wagner and bassist Brent Ray, and adds a new collaborator in guitarist Eric Blythe. Brunjes said all of them are more excited than nervous. The quartet is content with the final product and eager to see the public's reception.
For Brunjes, Rivers' lo-fi, reflective, surfy garage rock is a return from a two-year hiatus from making music. He experienced some critical success with the former alternative acoustic project Under Every Green Tree but says he is much happier in Rivers. UEGT was more of a solo project for Brunjes, whereas Rivers is a full-on collaborative effort. Teaming up with Blythe has been instrumental. "[Blythe] is the mechanic behind this whole operation," explained Brunjes. "He hears things I don't and adds different elements to songs that I wouldn't ever come up with myself."
Rivers offers him a chance to explore stylistically too. Where UEGT was a folk experience, Rivers is more aggressive and "fun to play."
The band also took an unorthodox approach to the recording of the five songs that make up its nascent album. It rented out a cabin in picturesque Lake Lure, North Carolina, and set up shop there. Rivers embarked on a little musical caravan with guitarist Blythe, packing his FJ Land Cruiser with gear and trailing behind Brunjes in his wife's parents' Ford Explorer (also filled to the brim with equipment) all the way up to the lakeside town.
"I thought It was sort of a ridiculous idea and nobody would agree to it," explained Brunjes about the trip, "but everyone loved it." Brunjes said that being away from home really helped focus the Rivers boys. "When you rent a local studio, you have to schedule time and work it around your workweek. At the cabin, we were literally away from any distractions; we'd wake up in the morning, eat breakfast, and start work on recording, and we did that for a week straight."
With the help of local musical stalwart and the album's producer, Ryan Alexander (who will also be performing
with his troupe Civilian this Friday night), Rivers cemented a record that's refreshingly raw and unprocessed. "We didn't do a whole lot of postproduction; we wanted to create a record that sounded live, using the same amps we use at gigs." Alexander, a person who could easily be considered a mentor to the 27-year-old Brunjes, suggested that the group not use any scratch guitar tracks. Instead they experimented with utilizing live demos, recording guitar and bass parts live in a separate room while drummer Jon Wagner nailed down the backbeat. "We wanted this record to be a true reflection of us and sound honest and raw. It was great to capture that sort of thing in the context of being in the mountains."
After Friday night, Rivers hopes to continue playing around Florida. No word yet on a second gig, however. As for a full-on tour, Brunjes says Rivers is more inclined to spend time in the studio. "We don't want to tour for the sake of saying, 'We are on tour.' It has to be the right situation for us, our primary goal is recording, and we already started work on our next album."
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