The Cherrywood, Clementon, NJ, July 24
Ever get the feeling indie bands are beginning to sound a little too, well, indie? You know, like their intentionally bad recording, reverbed guitars and whiny noir vocals might have been unique and hip a few years ago, but now has become more a caricature of itself? I know it’s not just me, because local five-piece Rivers Monroe is an indie that’s leaning in the opposite direction.
Their first album, Electric Life, is heavily produced and sounds, well, professional. Their vocals are heavy and deep. Their poppy mix of easy electric guitar and keyboards is reminiscent of many mainstream bands of the last three decades. Their music videos are clear, shot with real cameras, and in color. Their website doesn’t look like it was put together by David Lynch and Andy Warhol’s scientifically engineered spawn.
Still unsigned, they’re starting to get recognition because they’re sticking to normalcy. These guys are regulars at Philly’s hottest music venues, like the North Star Bar and World Café Live. They’ve also played live in Radio 104.5’s studios, and they even won Drexel University’s Battle Of The Bands last year.
Rivers Monroe founding members Mat Welch and Mike Reading caught up with Philly2Philly to talk about their new album, the music business as a whole, and their future plans.
First off, how is this summer looking in terms of recording and touring?
Mat Welch: Going good. Writing a lot of new music and doing local shows for now.
Mike Reading: We’re working on a bunch of new songs for our next album and just got done recording one with Grammy Award winning producer, Phil Nicolo at his Studio 4 location in Conshohocken. We’re going to have a five part rock-umentary on the making of the album from start to finish (called “Lost”), up through the music videos and behind-the-scenes stuff. We’re doing a few full band shows and a lot of acoustic shows over the summer. We finished in the top 10 for the NBC 10 Show’s Six Flags Singing Sensations competition and will perform Live on the 10 Show on August 28th (Friday).
What events inspired the songs on your first album, Electric Life?
Mike: The personal experiences we’ve had in life, including relationships, friendships, hard times, happy times, struggles, etc. Pretty much things that you deal with on a daily basis.
Mat: Relationships, technology, self-esteem.
You guys won Drexel’s Battle Of The Bands in 2008. What was that like?
Mat: Uplifting, encouraging momentum
Mike: It was a great experience. We felt very fortunate and privileged to have won. There were a lot of good acts that we competed against. It gave us some good exposure and allowed us to get some solid recording time at Range Recording studios where we recorded some of our E-Life album.
What can we expect from your new album?
Mike: Similar to the E-Life album, but deeper and more emotional. Hopefully some more about life experiences and overcoming struggles and hardships. A little bit more about what people are going through and their experiences in the present world.
Mat: It’s deeper, more personal, worldly. It’s about life, and the struggle.
I read that you guys met online at a tryout in New York City. Care to expand on that?
Mat: I’ll let Mike explain.
Mike: Mat and I began writing music together and had our own thing going for a little while when we came across Mat (Doc) Varga, Paul and Kirby at a show one night. We were all playing in our different bands and swapped info with each other. We wanted to put a new band together, so we reached out to Doc, Paul and Kirby to see if they’d be interested. We together in a rehearsal studio in Bensalem, Pa and after our first practice knew we had something special. The rest is history…
Where’s your favorite place to play in Philly?
Mike: Hmm… I would say that it use to be Grape Street, until that closed down. I would say that in the Philly area it would have to be ‘The Note’ (West Chester, Pa – Bam Margera’s new venue.) It’s a great place to play, in a great area, very spacious, and it has the ability to be an All-Ages or 21+ venue! Kudos to Bam for opening up a place like that. We need more venues like it!! In Philly itself, I’d have to say World Café Live or the North Star Bar.
How would you guys describe your musical style?
Mat: Pop, rock, electro, retro.
Mike: I once heard someone say we sound like a blend of new age alt-synth rock and 80’s rock mixed with pop, very mainstream and radio friendly. I guess I like that description since I still remember it… haha. People have told us that we fit well with and sound like bands such as, Bon Jovi, The Killers, Van Halen and Coldplay. I think our sound stems from our musical influences of multiple genres of mainstream rock, pop and R&B music that we all grew up with… We really listen to and enjoy all types of music that fall within various genres.
You guys are pretty snazzy dressers, too. How would you describe that style?
Mike: Retro GQ… is that even a real style? I don’t know, but it sounds cool and that’s what I think we are a combination of, so let’s go with that.
Mat: Retro sheik, so to speak.
What’s the creative process that goes into writing your songs?
Mat: Well, there are three ways we do this. Either one person comes in with an idea and we all vibe with it on our instruments, or we’re just jamming till something sounds good. Or we just sit around and talk about it and brainstorm.
Mike: The best way I can describe it is like a puzzle. It starts with a very small idea such as a progression or cool riff and then the other music elements are brought in and pieced together to make it whole. Just like putting a puzzle together, it’s a lot of trial and error. You try to put a lot of different pieces together until they fit just right. That’s when you know you have something good.
In your opinion, who’s the most overrated band out right now?
Mike: That’s tough to say. I don’t really want to offend anyone out there and I honestly believe that any band out there has worked pretty hard to get where they’re with the way the music industry is right now. The real question is ‘who is the most underrated band right now?’ There are so many talented unsigned bands out there that you’ve probably never heard of and probably never will—even here in Philly, our own back yard. With the way that the music business is right now, you really have to bust your butt if you want to make it. Even then, good luck. I think that’s a big reason why a lot of bands are turning to smaller indie labels and doing everything on there own.
Mat: Jonas Brothers – if you want to consider them a band. They’re more like a gimmick.
What’s a style of music that you wish would just go away?
Mike: I used to be a big fan of a lot of hip-hop and rap music about five or six years ago. I’m not a big fan of some of the new stuff though. It seems like a lot of the really talented artists have gotten more into production, label ownership and the ‘behind the scenes’ stuff, which is a shame. Also not a big fan of death metal. Still, I appreciate all forms of music I just don’t have to be a fan of them all.
Mat: Death metal. Just doesn’t feel like music when all you hear is screaming.
Could Lady Gaga be the next Madonna?
Ha ha. Lady Gaga is quite the hit maker right now, but keep in mind who’s producing her – Timbaland. She is definitely making a name for herself, but she’s got a long way to go before you can compare her to Madonna. If she can come out with another four or five albums that hit like her most recent, then we can start talking about a comparison.
Mat: Yes she is, but unlike Madonna, Lady Gaga is a musician who plays instruments and produces.
Where do you see yourselves in five years?
Mat: Hopefully headlining major shows all around the world, and having a very successful sophomore album.
Mike: I hope that in five years this band is doing something new and unique to the music world. I hope that we’re writing and recording songs that incorporate multiple genres and our songs are being played by people of all different walks of life from around the world. I’d love to see us headlining national and international tours, selling out venues and going multi-platinum. Part of our goal is to be the next ‘big’ thing in music and I truly believe that we’re poised to get there.