The River Cult Interview

Super pumped to catch up a bit with the boys of River Cult who are making some noise out of Brooklyn with their record “Halcyon Daze.” The record is out today and the boys were kind enough to tell us a bit about it. So thank you, Sean Forlenza (Guitar/Vocals),
Anthony Mendolia (Bass) and Tav Palumbo (Drums) for taking the time to do this!

WH: First off, congratulations on the album!! It’s a very impressive debut. You mind telling us a little on how the writing process went?

Sean: Thanks! Basically one of us comes in with a riff, or a partially finished song, and then we all work together to complete it. We always try to record while we write, and then listen back before the next rehearsal. Sometimes things spontaneously come together perfectly during a section we are just jamming on, so we go back and try to recreate it, perfect it, and then set it in stone for the final version. The lyrics and vocal melodies usually come much later once the music is totally done.

WH: How WH: did the title “Halcyon Daze” come to be and what is the meaning behind it?

SeanIts a pun on the phrase, “halcyon days,” which refers to a sort of, “golden time period,” of the past, implying that things were much better then than now. I believe this to be a flawed way of thinking and serves to distract people from dealing with the present, and puts them in a sort of dazed state. The song, “Halcyon Daze,” touches this subject, but is more specifically about constantly seeing shocking and violent images from far away places in the media and the disorientation that it causes the viewer. In the song, the protagonist starts to question the reality around him and feels he can’t trust what he is seeing in the news anymore because it is so starkly different than his immediate situation that he cannot relate to it at all.


WH: The Sophist is probably my favorite track off the album. You mind telling us a little about the lyrics and how you approach writing your lyrics?

Sean: Thanks, that was a tricky one to put together! We had a lot of ideas going on but were finally able to refine them into something that flowed. “Sophistry,” was an ancient Greek school of so called philosophers that would use fallacious and deceitful rhetoric in order to win arguments. True philosophers of the time, like Socrates and Plato, spoke against the sophists because they valued deceitful rhetoric over truth. The song, “The Sophist,” is comparing that idea to people who talk way too much and argue about things they don’t really know, simply for the joy of winning arguments. As for my approach with lyrics, I start by just singing random words at rehearsal to get the vocal melody and structure together, and then I think about different themes and slowly start writing the lyrics. Its kind of a long process that I can’t rush, even though our lyrics are sparse.

WH: Likelihood Of Confusion is another strong song. Can you tells a little bit how that song came to be?
Sean: Anthony came in with the main, opening riff of that one and then we all started working on it together. We finished it pretty quickly.. one of those riffs that kind of writes itself. For the long, spacey ending, we were originally thinking of it as a segue for a live set to flow into the next song seamlessly, and ended up keeping it that way for the album because we really liked it. Its a lot of fun to just space out on that part and lay it on thick. The lyrics are about sobriety being boring and just waiting to get lifted.. basically, haha. Its meant in more of a playful way though, ant not about about serious addiction, like the last track, “Point of Failure.” The title is actually a term in copy-write law, the likelihood of confusion of two things with the same name. I thought it was funny to think of it in the context of getting stoned or something.. the likelihood of lighting up and throwing it all into confusion!
WH: You guys use dynamics really well to shape your songs. Is that something you try for or does it just happen naturally? 
Sean: A little bit of both. Its something that happens naturally because we use pedals as part of our songwriting, and kicking on a fuzz or cutting it, or switching between two different dirt pedals on a dime, all adds to dynamics and happens naturally as we write. That being said, we also have moments where we are like, okay.. this part goes on too long with the same vibe, how can we switch it up? And sometimes instead of adding a new riff or section, dropping out or kicking it up can add the new element we were looking for. We much prefer to use dynamic changes like this in our songwriting as opposed to making something overly complex and adding too many notes. Its more about trying to capture a feeling or a vibe.


WH: The tones on “Halcyon Daze” are stellar. What kind of gear are you all using?  


Sean: I’m playing a heavily modified ’02 Les Paul R8 though a Cornford MK100 and an Orange PPC412. I used a ton of pedals on the album.. so I may be missing a few: Swollen Pickle fuzz, MASF Wata Fuzz, CAE Overdrive/Boost, CAE Wah, Earthquaker Devices Disaster Transport analog delay, and Boss CE-2W, DM-2W, RV-3 and DD3. I also used a Death by Audio Echo Master for some of the vocal tricks.


Anthony: I play a 91 Gibson Thunderbird through an Orange ob1-500 head into an old ampeg 8×10 cab. I run a couple pedals including a black arts toneworks pharaoh fuzz, blackout effectors whetstone phaser and a boss rv-3.

WH: What do you hope listeners get out of Halcyon Daze?
Sean: We are just hoping people put it on and really get into it. We wrote and arranged the album in a way so that it flows and takes the listener on a trip. We are really just writing music we would want to listen to ourselves, so I hope others feel the same way. We just want people to sit back and dig it!

WH: Which one track off “Halcyon Daze” is your favorite to play live?

Sean: I’d have to say, “Point of Failure.” I really love playing the trippy, repetitive ending and getting really lost in it and then exploding into the loud, heavy riff from the chorus in the beginning of the song. Its a killer way to end a set. I also really like singing that one.
Anthony:  Also Point of Failure. It’s just a real fun song to play and has a great vibe.
Tav: All that droning on the toms makes the title track a fun one for me, also probably the most exhausting.

WH: Speaking of playing live, are you guys planning on doing any  touring?


Sean: Nothing solid right now but we are planning on focusing on playing outside of the NYC area and doing a string of shorter tours. We would also love to be able to book something in Europe, but that is a long term goal at this point. 

WH: What sort of approach do you all take to your live performances?

Sean: We try to weave all the songs in the set together with either just one break without pause. Sometimes this happens naturally with the way the songs are written, or we have to change a thing or two to make it work. I think its much more impactful to present a set this way, given the dynamics of our music. We also try to play as loud as the venue lets us! Much to the sound person’s chagrin.

WH: How long have you all been together?


Sean: We formed around August of 2015, so about 2 1/2 years.


WH: Tell us how the name River Cult came to be?

Sean: We just kept bouncing ideas off of each other and ended up with it. I’ve always had a sort of obsession with rivers so I wanted that to be in the name. NYC is obviously separated by rivers, and my friends jokingly talk about having to schlep across two rivers just to see each other. “I came two rivers for this?!”

WH: Who are some of your biggest influences and why?

Sean: So obviously Sabbath/Sleep, etc. I also really love how Boris structures their songs and take a big influence from Wata. But for my guitar playing I love Keiji Haino, Daniel Ash, Robert Smith, Michio Kurihara and Takashi Mizutani just to name a few in a broad spectrum. John Coltrane has also had a life changing impact on me. Lyrically I’m more inspired by literature, but I love how Bobby Liebling sings and the subject matters he touches upon.

Tav: Jaki Liebezeit and Dale Crover are some of my favorite drummers. I think they represent two ends of the spectrum I try to draw from; from heavy handed flams and pounding to tight trance inducing repetitious grooves.
River Cult’s record release show for  “Halcyon Daze” will be at the Sunnyvale in Brooklyn with Somnuri & Aux Era on March 15th. I would like to thank them for taking the time to chat with us. You can head here and buy yourself a copy of “Halcyon Daze” and checkout our review of it here. 

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