The last time I spoke to Run River North vocalist/guitarist Alex Hwang was last summer. The LA-based indie folk rock sextet were currently recording their debut LP with legendary producer Phil Ek (best known for his work with the likes of Built to Spill and Fleet Foxes.) Well… the band have been through quite a bit since then. Their self-titled debut was released by Nettwerk this February, debuting at #3 on Billboard’s Heatseekers chart; they’ve sold out shows in New York and LA, among other locale; premiered their “Fight To Keep” music video on Conan O’Brien Presents: TeamCoco; and they’re currently opening dates on Goo Goo Dolls’ acoustic tour (in addition to a handful of headlining gigs). I ask Hwang about all of this and what have been the highlights of 2014 for him and he tells me, “Pretty much all of that. This year has been really awesome so far.” He also tells that not only has the band enjoyed playing so many live shows, but that their most recent shows are even starting to re-shape the band.
“Putting our album onstage and allowing it to grow has been really great. The live shows we’ve been doing have really been a highlight. We’ve really been able to explore our sound. I’ve been getting more comfortable playing electric guitar. It’s become such a different beast from our album.”
However, when I ask Hwang about how the recording of their first album turned out in the end, he (as he did during our last chat) was excited to give Phil Ek a lot of credit for what he did for their sound and what he would seem to teach them as a band: “Working with Phil Ek and producing with him and having him push us and give us his influence and hone all the things that were good about our sound was just amazing. It gave us our perspective about what it means to be a band in the studio and to record an album.”
And while the sound of Run River North is often both wise and elegant beyond their years, they recently released a video for “Fight To Keep,” starring Diedrich Badar, of The Drew Carey Show and Napoleon Dynomite fame, that is a brilliant morbid, goofball farce about the band inviting Badar camping with the secret intention of cooking him, before he discovers their plot and manages to turn the tables and off Run River North one-by-one. When I ask Alex Hwang about how this came about he’s endearingly enthusiastic about this somewhat silly side of the band: “My sense of humor is kind of dark and I just wanted to get murdered by Diedrich Bader and see how it looks [laughs]. So it was kind of inspired by things like The Hunger Games and Battle Royale, but I was really just thinking, ‘What is there not enough of on YouTube?’ and I was like, ‘Obviously, musicians getting murdered by Diedrich Bader.’”
Run River North’s current run of dates actually wraps here in Philadelphia at the hyper-intimate Ortlieb’s on May 2nd. And while I think that the band’s sound is a bit epic for this Jazz lounge, I suspect that’s what will make the experience so incredible. I ask Hwang to characterize a Run River North live experience and he confirms my suspicions.
“It’s kind of like a river. A lot of places it’s quiet, and then it swells. It’s very dynamic. It’s an intimate, yet cathartic experience.”
Hwang tells me that this May date is unlikely to be Run River North’s only stop in the area this year. He tells me that not only are the band hoping to stay on the road for the better part of 2014, but that they also wish to encourage the regional followings that they’re already starting to grow: “We’ll be on the road a lot and just keep coming back to the cities we’ve played and try to keep building our fanbase. We want to make sure people experience the live show. In a time of MP3s and music downloads and things like that, we still think a live show isn’t something you can just click into.”