LA six-piece Run River North would seem to always be on PHILTHY’s radar. We first met the orchestral indie folk rock band in the summer of 2013, when they were recording their self-titled debut LP in Seattle with renowned producer Phil Ek (The Walkmen, Father John Misty, Built to Spill). Since then we’ve caught up with them numerous times during the course of nearly-sold-out tours and appearances on the likes of Jimmy Kimmel and Carson Daly. Their classical-meets-modern aesthetic garnered them a loyal legion of fans (including my mom, who is obsessed with their first album). However, if you’ve heard their latest album, Drinking From a Salt Pond, which hit shelves February 26th via Nettwerk Records, it is not quite that… This February I caught up with Run River North vocalist guitarist Alex Hwang for the first time in about a year and a half and asked him what the band has been up to in that time and he laughs and tells me, “We almost broke up as a band then, while doing that, we made some really great songs, interestingly enough.”
Drinking From a Salt pond doesn’t completely abandon Run River North’s prior sounds, but it heavily supplements them with things reminiscent of post-grunge, ‘90s power pop, ’80 new wave, and even a bit of Brit Poppiness. When asked about how this shift occurred Alex admits that it has less to do with being ashamed of their past and much more to do with not wanting to repeat themselves: “It’s not that we don’t like folk-esque music, but we were getting a little bored with some of the things we were doing and we were also thinking about the live show. I mean, fans wouldn’t want to pay money to see the same thing again.” And in terms of what the band has been listening to recently, Alex tells me that Cold War Kids, Cage the Elephant, and Arctic Monkeys have been in heavy rotation.
The album was produced by Lars Stalfors, known for his work with Cold War Kids and Matt and Kim, alongside PHILTHY favorites like SISU, Deap Vally, and The Colourist. Alex tells me that while working with Lars the goal was to have the “shitty band tones” of The Clash’s London Calling: “He didn’t want to mask any of that. I remember he said, ‘You’re a shitty band,’ and I think he meant that in the best way [laughs].”
Although Run River North’s instrumentation tends to make people think of them in a serious tone, they have also earned a reputation for over-the-top, and often comedic, music videos over the years. Their recent clip for “Pretender” resembles absurdist horror, while the [black and white] video for “Run or Hide” blends a studio performance with avant-garde ambiguity in a way that Alternative Nation became famous for championing. Alex explains that, when approaching the videos, “An overall theme is trying to not give a fuck a little bit. I mean, we do have fun as well. But also, like with the video for ‘Run or Hide,’ we were showing off what we look like when the band plays live.”
Run River North are currently in the middle of a long stretch of live dates, which will have them headlining upstairs at World Café Live this Sunday, April 10th, and coming back to Philly on May 1st for Radio 104.5’s Summer Block Party at Festival Pier, where they’ll be playing alongside X Ambassadors. When I ask Alex what should be expected of the live show this time around he tells me that it’s likely unlike anything fans will have previously seen of the band.
“Everyone has an idea that we sound a certain way and we don’t sound like that at all [laughs]. Everything you think of a folk show is not gonna be there. Everyone is singing with their instruments. Everyone is expressing themselves to their own strengths. This time around it’s a lot of splashing. I don’t want to be calm anymore.”