9:30 Club presents at U Street Music Hall:
Run River North
Tue, May 9
U Street Music Hall
Tickets at the Door
Run River North - (Set time: 9:30 PM)
“During the writing of Drinking From A Salt Pond, the band admits to flaring tempers and tense operations as they worked to redefine their sound, goals, and relationships…”
Run River North will be the first to tell you: it has largely been an uphill climb for the indie rock sextet from Los Angeles, a hero’s journey full of odds-defying opportunities seized amidst rocky naysayers and the snagging brambles of band life. And now, with their second full-length album Drinking From A Salt Pond, Run River North are poised to push forward and create their own wake as a major voice in today’s music landscape.
Since the band’s beginnings just over four years ago, their rise has been steadily spectacular, marked by appearances on national television, sold-out shows at historic venues, tours with rock and roll royalty and heaps of praise from fans and critics alike. As they blossomed, they embraced their initially folk-driven sound, which found its harmonic home alongside rootsy, foot stomping, sing-along-leading peers like Mumford & Sons, The Head and the Heart, and Of Monsters and Men. Powered by the acoustic-guitar-and-vocals songwriting of frontman Alex Hwang, their 2014 self-titled debut record, produced by Phil Ek (Fleet Foxes, Modest Mouse, Band of Horses), was released with their lineup rounded out by the strings duo of Daniel Chae and Jennifer Rim, Joe Chun on bass, Sally Kang on keys, and John Chong on drums.
As time and tours passed, the six lives spent in close-quarters began to grind the gears a little differently; their whole dynamic began to change. “When we became a band, we mostly played Alex’s songs in band form,” says Chae. “Since then we’ve all put our musical input into it, so the music has changed a lot.”
“We were tired of me on acoustic guitar and everybody singing harmonies,” says Hwang. “We were hitting a ceiling, and it wasn’t fun. We had always agreed this band was six-ways, for better or worse. So at the end of last year, after being in the van constantly, we said, ‘no more touring, let’s write new songs.’”
“We had to grow up pretty fast as a band,” says Chong. “So this past year, there were times when different perspectives and priorities have butted heads.”
During the writing of Drinking From A Salt Pond, the band admits to flaring tempers and tense operations as they worked to redefine their sound, goals and relationships. “We’ve had a lot of hating each other, almost kicking people out of the band,” says Hwang. “We’re being honest and that openness is one of the main thrusts for the album. Embracing the bitter with the sweet, not trying to hide the crappy parts…the crappy parts helped make the good.” Being open about its faults, the band recognizes how the turmoil has helped Run River North create something beautiful.
“The record we just made, it’s all the difficult stuff we went through so there’s a darker tone to the music. It works,” says Chae.
One of the first steps in leaving behind their folk roots was to work with new collaborators. Instead of the reverb-heavy, northwest sound of Ek, they recorded in Los Angeles with Lars Stalfors (Cold War Kids, HEALTH, Deap Vally, Matt and Kim) at the production helm. Stalfors opened their eyes to the upbeat energy and electric tone of indie bands like The Walkmen. Throughout Salt Pond the indie rock influence can be heard, with the band nodding inspiration to everyone from Cage the Elephant and Kings of Leon to The National, Death Cab for Cutie, and Cold War Kids, whose studio in San Pedro, CA the band borrowed to make the album. Also, in a move encouraged by their record label, Nettwerk, Hwang and Chae were sent to Nashville for a week in April 2015 to work on a few new tracks with two different co-writers, Lincoln Parish (formerly of Cage the Elephant) and the Kings of Leon collaborator Nick Brown.
“It was weird but at the same time it was really encouraging,” says Hwang of the co-writing. “It was like bringing our demos to a blind date.”
The first song from the Nashville sessions was “Run Or Hide,” co-written with Parish, and from first listen it’s clear that Run River North are exploring bombastic new territory. Hwang, Chae, and Parish came up with an organic way of working that was based on jamming and vibing together, and once the song’s melody was nailed down, the rest came easily. It was immediately hard-hitting than any previous song from the band, with a discernible strut serving as a sonic contrast. When the demo was sent home to LA, the rest of the band was shocked.
“Almost everyone else was really scared,” says Hwang, “‘this is not your voice, this is not who we are.’ I was confident it was a really good song and that we were gonna keep it. There’s nothing more aggressive on the record, and that groove on the verses is bigger than the band. The band can’t contain the song.”
“I loved it!” says Chong emphatically. “Alex has a very wide range of emotion when he sings—soft, whispery things; really bombastic; rough—this song showcases all of that. I got really excited. When we recorded it, it really showcases more groove. Joe, our bass player, is solid, and the way the melody is created in the verses really adds to that. There’s a really cool contrast happening, but the choruses hit hard.”
The other song written in Tennessee was the Nick Brown co-penned “Can’t Come Down,” a track with pop qualities that the band does not shy away from recognizing. For that they leaned on Brown heavily, who served almost as a mentor to Hwang and Chae during the sessions, teaching them about pop hooks, authenticity, and Southern tradition. Deciding to go all in on a pop song, the trio rallied behind Brown’s catchy melodies and licks, and what they ended up with is a happy medium that “still sounds as Run River North as possible,” according to Chong, while simultaneously reaching for the rafters.
“We really gelled with Nick Brown,” says Hwang. “We had the same idea: ‘We have enough songs that exemplify us, so let’s try our hand at writing a pop hook.’ With that mentality we came up with ‘Can’t Come Down.’ Nick wrote the hook, Daniel and Nick wrote the music, and a heavy collaboration on lyrics from everyone. It’s the first song I ever sang the word ‘baby’ in.”
With those songs firmly planting the band’s flag in new ground, it is Hwang’s “29” that may be the best indicator of the band Run River North are becoming. A piano and drum fueled anthem examining the ups and downs of transition, it finds the singer posing multiple existential questions at once. “Everyone’s always talking about how if you will something, it’s gonna happen. But, sometimes it doesn’t!” says Hwang. “That was a realization I wanted to play with: ‘Your words are cold like the wind…’ It’s kind of like saying, ‘I don’t care what you think,’ but it’s also a reflection about my words. What I do can be just as insignificant as anyone else. So what are you gonna do about it? You’re 29. ‘I know it’s home, I know it hurts/I know I’ll end up at the bottom/What if I leave?’ What if we go on this tour and we don’t end up anywhere? The brutal question is, who cares, and why does it matter? Not answering that in the song really helps. The music is still upbeat, it still has the ‘oh’s’ going on, it’s an anthemic thing. I’m still energetic, I’m not some old dude at 29.”
“29” was written on electric guitar, a tool Hwang has been using more frequently since the end of the debut album’s touring cycle. Originally intended for a more somber feel, at the suggestion of their producer Stalfors, the tempo rose to meet Hwang’s intonations. “It became this song with so much energy,” says Chong, “it’s probably the fastest song we’ve ever done as a band. It’s new territory for us; it’s very fun. It’s a good transition, with lulled verses and really upbeat instrumentals and choruses. This is a good appetizer for our old fans, as this is who we’ve become.”
Embracing their natural growth and learning to ride the waves of their personal and musical evolutions with open hearts and nimble hands, Run River North have created a sophomore album that will propel them to the forefront of today’s landscape. Although at times the rushing water of their rise will pool into depths tough to swallow, they have learned to lean on each other and to trust themselves along the way in order to make something lasting and truly beautiful.
“From the start, we always said we wanted to play on the biggest stages possible,” says Hwang. “That’s still the same. But it isn’t some self-indulgent dream of becoming rock stars; we still want to support our families with this, we still have the parents that sacrificed for us and we want to honor them. For us as a band, at times it’s felt like we’ve been drinking from a salt pond—and yet, we still created something pretty fresh that we like and are proud of.”
Arkells - (Set time: 8:35 PM)
Emerging at a time when the internet had thoroughly disrupted the way we make, consume, and think about music, the Arkells’ 2008 debut, Jackson Square, inherited the dying-embered torch for a certain old-school, rock ‘n’ roll ethic—and poured a fresh gallon of gasoline on the flame. They came from a notoriously tough industrial outpost—Hamilton, Ontario—armed with songs about punching clocks and punching faces. And though they were spurred into action by the mid-2000s Canadian indie-rock renaissance—back when bands like the Weakerthans, the Constantines and Wolf Parade were channeling punk-fueled passion into anthems for the overeducated and underemployed—the Arkells were also keen students of the classics. They named songs after John Lennon and pinched lines from Elton John, and if you got them drunk enough, they could play you an hour of spot-on Motown covers.
But while their Canadian indie antecedents had either broken up or gone on indefinite hiatus by decade’s end, the Arkells gamely inherited their mission, and—with the release of 2011’s Michigan Left and 2014’s High Noon—achieved the sort of national success that their underdog heroes always deserved but never experienced. With four Juno Awards and a gold record under their sweat-rusted belts, the Arkells have proven there’s still a place for passionate, no-bullshit rock ‘n’ soul in the mainstream—last year, they were the most-played band on Canadian alt-rock radio.
But there’s just one problem with the popular perception of the Arkells as Canada’s saviours of rock music: these days, they’re completely bored by rock music.
“It’s a weird time to be a rock band right now,” observes Max Kerman, the Arkells’ singer, guitarist, and chief songwriter. “And to be honest, I don’t really listen to a lot of rock music right now. I listen to Drake and Kanye. It would be so boring if we made a mid-2000s-style indie record. All those bands that I grew up with and shape the way I think about being in a band—the Cons, the Weakerthans, Wintersleep, Broken Social Scene—that’s not really what I listen to anymore. They’re in my DNA, but I just feel like rock has gotten so conservative and doesn’t know where to go. It’s just dull to me. Top 40 pop is way more progressive.”
Now, lest those comments suggest the Arkells’ new album, Morning Report, is loaded with bass drops and AutoTune, let us be clear: like the band’s previous releases, the record showcases the intuitive interaction between Kerman and Mike DeAngelis’ intertwining guitars, Nick Dika’s urgent basslines, Anthony Carone’s dulcet keys, and Tim Oxford’s lockstep drumming. But there is a more irreverent, adventurous ethos at play that reflects Kerman’s current musical interests—and that goes well beyond calling the first song “Drake’s Dad.” There are click-tracked rhythms, subliminal samples, electronic pulses, and sax and violins threaded into the richly textured mix, which more readily recalls the cut-and-paste approach of a hip-hop beatmaker than the plug-and-play impulsiveness of a live rock band.
Arkells’ preceding release, High Noon, was recorded with indie-pop architect Tony Hoffer (Beck, M83), a partnership that yielded their biggest radio singles to date in “Come to Light” and “Leather Jacket”. But while logic would suggest not messing with a winning formula, the Arkells only returned to Hoffer’s L.A. studio for one Morning Report track; another was recorded in the same city with producer Brian West (Sia, AWOLNATION), while the remaining cuts were split across two sessions in Toronto with alt-rock veteran Joe Chiccarelli (The Strokes, My Morning Jacket) and Gus van Go (The Stills, Wintersleep)
“I feel like some bands keep putting out the same record over and over again, because it’s comforting to keep working with the same people,” Kerman says. “But there are lots of talented producers out there, and everyone’s good at different things. Like, Tony Hoffer is at the top of the pile for synth stuff. But we also know Joe Chiccarelli gets wicked drum sounds. People think, ‘Oh, the record won’t sound as cohesive if you record it with different people.’ But hip-hop and pop artists get away with it all the time. Everybody in modern music is making music on airplanes!”
Certainly, Morning Report is the most Arkells’ eclectic album to date, from the piano-pounded, “California Love”-schooled swagger of “Private School” to the devastating, slow-burn ballad “Come Back Home” to the silver-lined break-up song “My Heart’s Always Yours,” the sort of ascendant, blood-pumping anthem you can easily imagine sparking an arena full of waving illuminated smartphones. But if the Arkells have mostly scrubbed away the surface soot of their Hamilton-spawned sound, lyrically, Kerman’s songwriting hits even closer to home.
“A lot of the songs are about me and characters in my life: my friends, my family, my girl,” Kerman says. “I find all those people really compelling and I like writing about them. And a lot of times, they’re songs about what happened the night before. So that’s why it’s called Morning Report: you text your friend the next day and it’s like, ‘Give me the morning report!’”
Sure, sometimes those dispatches concern tales of last night’s debauchery—the album’s bottle-popping opener, “Drake’s Dad,” is indeed based an actual (and rather inebriated) encounter with the elder Mr. Graham in a Memphis bar during an epic road-trip bachelor-party bender for Kerman’s friend. Or, in the case of “Private School,” they take the form of sly social satire, with Kerman recounting the experience of being stuck at a high-society party surrounded by well-meaning people who are totally oblivious to their privilege, and who name-drop books they’ve clearly never read in an attempt to seem more hip.
“I was kind of getting sick of indie rock being so self-serious,” Kerman says. “With ‘Drake’s Dad,’ I wanted to have a song about how much you love your friends and love getting drunk with them and getting up to trouble. There is a real magic to that. It’s hard, because when you’re a privileged white guy and you’re writing a song about getting drunk with your friends, you can sound like a frat boy, and I don’t like that either!”
But Morning Report balances the champagne-room revelry with more sobering examinations of a time in life that doesn’t get much play in rock music: your late-twenties, that sometimes traumatic transitory moment where youthful exuberance gives way to mid-life crises. It’s the time when all your friends start getting married, your parents suddenly decide to get divorced, and long-distance relationships hit their shit-or-get-off-the-pot breaking point. But while melancholic, meditative moments like “Passenger Seat” and “Come Back Home” provide unflinching portraits of marriages on the brink of collapse, rousing, soul-powered sing-alongs like “A Little Rain” pay poignant tribute to the friendships that help you through the tough times, and provide that much-needed shoulder to cry on.
“That’s another thing that’s so conservative about white-guy indie rock,” says Kerman. “What makes Drake so awesome is he just puts all his emotions right on the table for you to see. All of these songs and stories come from a genuine place for me.”
The morning reports we get from our friends may arrive through smartphone screens, but the songs on Morning Report all chronicle face-to-face interactions—with all the intimacy, intensity and awkwardness they entail.
“This is our weirdest, funniest, saddest record yet,” Kerman concludes. “And therefore, our most honest one, too."
Cobi - (Set time: 7:45 PM)
While singing the blues in smokey bars throughout Northern Minnesota, 12‐year‐old Cobi always had a vision of touring the world. He was eight years old when a family friend first taught him a few basic chords on the guitar. With money earned from mowing lawns, Cobi soon bought an electric guitar and began teaching himself to play his new instrument by ear, relaying heavily on his Godfather’s extensive eclectic music collection.
Cobi went on to team up with five other musicians in Boston to form the group Gentleman Hall, a synth heavy alternative rock band who would later sign with Island Def Jam Records. With local radio play and multiple TV syncs, the band performed at the Billboard Music Awards and were named "Best Breakout Boston Artist” at the MTV VMAs.
Cobi left Gentleman Hall in 2014 and moved to Los Angeles to follow his heart and desire to play his soulful style of rock and folk.
In 2016 Cobi toured as a guest vocalist for the electronic act Above and Beyond performing at iconic venues including Royal Albert Music Hall, The Hollywood Bowl, the Sydney Opera House, the Greek Theater and more.
Cobi's debut single was released on May 6th 2016. As powerful of a song as they come, ‘Don’t You Cry For Me’ caught the ear of industry veteran Lyor Cohen who immediately signed Cobi to his new label 300 Entertainment (alongside Grammy nominated artists Fetty Wap and Highly Suspect).
The track features a seventies vibe with a piano and moog under Cobi’s soaring vocals complimented by his layered backing vocals. The track reached #1 on Spotify’s Most Viral Chart (World) and has surpassed 8 Million streams to date.
Cobi is currently on tour with his band, performing at venues and music festivals throughout the US and Canada. He’s set to tour alongside Boy & Bear October 2016.
U Street Music Hall
1115 U Street NW
Washington, DC, 20009
U Street Music Hall
1115 U Street NW
Washington, DC, 20009