Running Forward with Run River North
Before we launched the Giant Robot Media beta we were thinking of doing collaborative events in Los Angeles. One of the first groups I thought of was Run River North. Their woodsy, warm, and eclectic sound is perfect for any evening. We teamed up, and together, along with the Wheelhouse in the Arts District, we put up a concert with craft coffee, bicycles, and good company.
Before they played their set, we got to ask them a few questions about the band and their stories: how they went from a viral YouTube video to SXSW.
Full interview on video.
by George Ko
Photos and Video by George Ko
GR: You just recently released your EP on iTunes. Do you mind talking about it?
Alex: So the Ep that we just came out with is mostly songs that didn’t make it onto our second album. So they are not particularly new, but some of them are just demos of songs that we had before on the second album. So even before this EP was out we’ve been playing most of these songs on the road and they’ve changed a lot. It was just a nice opportunity to package something with a cover that we never officially released and also push another single from the album. It really is an EP. It really is an extended play of the LP, in the sense that it’s like bonus material from Drinking From a Salt Pond (their second album).
Daniel: Going into the second album, we recorded 14 to 15 completed songs. Three of those songs, which happened to be our favorite, didn’t actually make it. Yeah, they are a little more artistic, but we enjoyed playing them a lot. So, we were happy to release this and push a single. So yeah, we accomplished many things with this EP.
GR: Cool, so what’s your origin story? How did Run River North come to be?
Alex: Jump in whenever you guys want.
We started first as a band called Monsters Calling Home. I used to work for Kollaboration, this non profit that puts on talent shows across the nation. I wrote this song called “Monsters Calling Home” with Joe— I didn’t write it with Joe actually. We went on a camping trip to Zion and we talked about our immigrant families, and I ended up writing a song on our parents and shared it with Joe. I demoed it with Daniel. From there Daniel and his violin circles— Jennifer’s actually the ring leader of one of the Valley’s organization of violins.
Daniel: Vice President.
Alex: Actually, not the leader.Vice President
Joe: She was the Vice President of Violins.
Sally: Oh yeah.
Jennifer: That never, ever existed.
Alex: And while that was happening Sally had just walked across the street with her bike, ‘cause she’s really good at riding bikes—
Sally: Really good—
Daniel:She walks bikes.
Alex: Yeah she’s a really good bike walker.
Joe: The bike rides Sally.
Alex:So from there we all were like, “ I have… parents.” So then we all decided to play for Kollaboration.
Daniel: It’s a true story.
Alex: And then what happened with Run River North? How did we get there Sally?
Sally: Just through a lot of songwriting and growing, being able to gain a team of managers. We decided to keep the story of “Monsters Calling Home” but we wanted to grow as a band. What’s chapter two look like for us? We thought the name Run River North encapsulates that well.
Alex:It’s also like the easiest name for Asian parents ‘cause its got like 5 R’s in the name. So, it’s really great.
GR: What’s your songwriting process like?
Jennifer: I think in the beginning it was more of Alex writing; he brought a general idea of the song with the lyrics since he’s mainly the songwriter. But sonically it’s more open to everyone and anyone that has an idea. They present it and we kind of just build upon that. That’s the beauty of being in this band. We’re all very open minded to different ideas: trying different things, trying different sounds. With that open mindfulness our sound naturally transitioned from folk, in the beginning, to indie rock, alternative rock. Yeah, the creative process is very open here and honest.
GR: Honest in terms of—
Alex:Well if you have a bad idea, we’ll call you out.
GR: Well, that’s a good way to know if you have a good song or not.
Daniel: It’s interesting. I was thinking about this today. We’re writing our third album. And I feel like because we’ve done this twice already, we kind of know what it takes to write a song. Everyone’s more confident with their songwriting. The way our band operates is very democratic. So, whatever serves the song the best will be what becomes. It’s pretty awesome seeing how different it is now versus what it was when we started the band. This is our craft now it’s pretty cool to see how far it’s come.
GR: Who or what are your biggest influences in terms of your sound?
Alex: I think before the albums, and before the label and what not, definitely for me it was a lot of Fleet Foxes, Tallest Man on Earth, Lisa Hannigan, and other cool singer/songwriters. And we got to work with Phil Ek who did the Fleet Foxes albums. Everyone has different ones. You name a band, someone in the band probably likes them— or hates them.
Daniel: I think collectively our musical influences are vast and encyclopedic, so collectively our sound can go in any direction and that’s half the fun of writing songs with this group.
Alex: We didn’t really name any influences though.
GR: Did you guys get your start in music from your parents? Did they make you play instruments growing up or was it a more natural process?
Alex: Did we all have the stereotypical second generation story? Some of us did to some extent. Daniel and Jennifer played violin for most of their childhood. I played saxophone in the orchestra.
Alex: But I played french horn parts because there was no saxophone.
So it was just long whole notes.
Sally’s become a musician, I think, in this band, and found her voice that way. I think there are remnants of the stereotypes in our lives, but I think being in this band has been a story of it in itself. I think that’s why the first album was all about our parents and the story, but everything else from now until we probably stop making stuff is about us creating a story that other people can bounce off ideas or say “oh that’s not me”. It’s been fun.
GR: A lot of people identify RRN as the “Asian American Band”. That’s awesome, but I gather after following you guys for a couple years that you would prefer people just to know you as a great band rather than be racially tied to your identity as a group. Do you mind talking about that?
Alex: It’s interesting because it’s very different. I think Joe’s experience at every show that we play is super telling of what we’re like. He grabs a drink with anyone that wants a drink.
And it has nothing to do with being Asian. It’s just like, hey the music is there, and if it's good, which is 100% of the time, he’ll have someone to drink with after the show. It could be a completely non-issue like that. I guess we could not want it to be about our race. But, in this business, you are seeing our faces, so we can’t take our face of. You just have to keep talking about it in an authentic and intelligent way. Something that I always thought of is the term Asian American; it’s actually a pretty recent term, like I think it’s just been used in the ‘70s too. In terms of questions, I think more of the Asian or American part, like what is that dash look like? That’s what we’re trying to figure out and what we’re writing a story for. There’s so much Asian and there’s so much American, and I think we’re just trying to figure out what that dash part is.
"That’s what we’re trying to figure out and what we’re writing a story for. There’s so much Asian and there’s so much American, and I think we’re just trying to figure out what that dash part is."
GR: Do you have a message for people who want to be musicians, especially considering societal pressures to do anything but that? Do you have any advice for someone who wants to get out of those pressures or how to build a career?
Daniel: Yeah I got this. I think if you’re absolutely obsessed and driven by something go do that. If you’re not, and you think it’s just fun, don’t do it. I don’t think any of us went into this thinking we would be musicians, but we stuck it through because we wanted it: we want to do this. We faced a lot of opposition. Whatever it is you want to do, do it, if not, you should probably figure out what drives you. If you don’t have that you’re going to give up.
"I don’t think any of us went into this thinking we would be musicians, but we stuck it through because we wanted it: we want to do this."
Alex: Actually, you shouldn’t do it. Don’t do it so we can do the show that you’re trying to get on because it’s already really tough. We don’t really make— it’s not like we’re supporting great brand lives. We’re doing this and every day is a struggle to make music. If you are questioning it, don’t do it. But if you have a good reason for me and you’re going to argue with me, then do it; that should be your reason to do it, because you really shouldn’t. There are a lot of things that are more stable. Something crazy in you has to be like yeah I’ll do it everyday even though it’s a struggle.
GR: Anyone else?
Joe: Don’t be afraid of rejection. Grow some balls and deal with it.
[Joe does a gesture, looks like he’s grabbing balls.]
"Don’t be afraid of rejection. Grow some balls and deal with it."
GR: Wow, that’s a little graphic. That should be the opening image for this article.
Alex: Grow some balls.
Joe: Grow some balls.
Daniel: Like basketballs?
Alex: Like cantaloupe, watermelon balls.
GR: I read somewhere you guys are big foodies. What’s everyone’s go to place after a concert?
Joe: If we had to pick a place to go, where would you go? (points to Alex)
Alex: I would go to In-N-Out or somewhere that reminds of home, like Korean food. Or Thai food, recently has been pretty good.
Joe: Or Tacos. Probably my go to.
Alex: Yeah sure.
Joe: Well, any kind of taco.
Daniel: I’ve actually never had it before. Hmm Roy Choi.
Joe: It’s good. It’s good Roy.
Alex:Or is it? We should try it.
Daniel: I guess I gotta try some.
Joe: Let’s go together with Roy (pause).
Alex: Where do you go Jen?
Jennifer: I actually go to Del Taco.
Daniel: That’s actually true because—
Jennifer: I LOVE Del Taco.
Daniel: —it’s hard to find it outside of California.
Joe: That’s dirty.
Alex: I’m learning something.
Sally: Chicken soft tacos.
Joe: I think Denny’s is kind of a binge.
Jennifer: That’s true.
Joe: It’s everywhere.
Alex: So we’re classic foodies.
High end shit.
Checkout Run River North here.
They got a lot of shows coming up, so get some tickets!
The music in the video is "Superstition" by Run River North.