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With a new album on the way, and a replacement female vocalist for their signature sound, Comrade Aleks talks to founder Christian about Croydon's The River.

Interview with The River.
"The River - from Croydon, South London - is one of those bands that seem to be recent and yet have been around for a long time. They'll celebrate their 20th anniversary in 2019, yet there are only two full-length albums in their discography. However, both 'Drawing Down The Sun' and 'In Situ' are perfect examples of nicely balanced down-tuned Doom metal with great riffs and melodic guitars played by Christian Leitch, heartfelt vocals performed by Vicky Walters, Steve Morrissey's vibrant bass and… well, their original drummer was Jonathon Gibbs, but since 2007 Jason Ludwig has been responsible for battery. And you know… Vicky was actually guest-vocalist for 'In Situ', and there's been a new front-woman in the band since 2018 – Jenny Newton. Of course, we've clarified this and other questions in the interview with Christian. Spoiler: new album is on the way."


The River: Stephen Morrissey (bass), Jenny Newton (vocals, guitar), Christian Leitch (guitar) and Jason Ludwig (drums).


Hi Christian! Thanks for your time and this opportunity to take a deeper view into The River. Time flies, the band has spent twenty years on the stage: how did it start for you?

We started as a continuation of a death metal band that ceased to be when the singer/guitarist joined the army. We were still having fun as a band so we carried on.

From the start the band performed really heavy and emotional doom metal. What formed your vision of the band? What kind of ideas did you want to express through it?

From the start we've only ever put an emphasis on writing for the sake of the song. Beyond that there's never been a vision or real need to express anything in what we do and however we've ended up sounding since has been an organic progression of that initial ideal.

So was it just fun to jam at your rehearsal place? Or did you get stressed playing your songs live?

Most of the songs are close to being finished by the time we end up in the rehearsal room. Once there we generally only tweak ideas and arrangements, there's not an awful lot of jamming going on. If something doesn't work for whatever reason then we take it back to the drawing board rather than trying to force the issue. It takes the stress out of things and makes rehearsing more fun. Similarly, playing live shouldn't be stressful so if something is well rehearsed but doesn't sound right on stage we'll judge the song on it's own merits. Sometimes it's just a case of a decent song not working in that particular environment, in which case we simply won't play it again.

You started with Daniel on vocals: he recorded two demos with The River, then disappeared from the Doom radar until returning in 2010 with Gallows God. What didn't work with him?

As I recall we started drifting apart musically and that led to apathy on his part when it came to rehearsing and the like. There was no falling out or acrimony it was just a natural parting of the ways.

The River - 'Inside The Flood Diary' (2006):


Vicky Walters joined in 2003 as your new vocalist, and, you know - it's kind of a big deal to have lady in the band after performing some time with the man at microphone. How did it happen? Did you feel this change was a natural one?

We knew Vicky's voice would suit the music so we asked her and luckily enough she agreed to give it a go. Vicky is a very dear friend so personally as well as musically it was the natural way forward. It never really occurred to us going from a male vocalist to a female vocalist would be considered a big deal.

Album 'Drawing Down The Sun' was finally released in 2006, what slowed you down? How long did you actually work on this material?

We were incredibly busy between 2003-2006. Jonathon joined on drums shortly after Vicky came in and we played a lot of shows from 2004 through to the middle of 2005. Unfortunately, Jon had to leave due to family commitments so we spent the rest of 2005 finishing the writing for the album. I think about half the songs were written, maybe two thirds, around the period Jon was with us. The rest were written in the seven or eight months between Jon's leaving and the album's recording.

Didn't you try to get Academy Studio, for example? Or was that too expensive?

We wanted to go back to the studio where we recorded Different Ways to be Haunted. We were more than happy with the sound on that demo and wanted something similar for the album. It didn't work out that way. The demo was recorded live with a guitar and vocal overdub and the instruments on the album were recorded separately. It seems the engineer we worked with both times was clearly more adept at live sounds. Funnily enough, Jon suggested recording at Academy for that particular demo. I think both logistics and budget made it more prudent to record locally. If we had gone to Academy for the demo maybe we would have done the album there too.


Main discography: 'Oneiric Dirges In Mono' (Demo, 2003), 'Different Ways To Be Haunted' (Demo, 2005), 'Drawng Down The Sun' (2006), 'Broken Window' (EP, 2008), 'In Situ' (2009), 'En No Ozunu' (EP, 2013).


Vicky's lyrics are quite emotional and realistic, did you discuss them with her? You know - pretty often doom bands write about more abstract things that express similar feelings.

I don't think we ever had a round table discussion about what the lyrics should or shouldn't be about. I think the subject came up once or twice and Vicky said she preferred that sort of sentiment. There was never much more thought on the subject beyond that.

Did the release change the situation around The River? Did you feel that you'd drawn people's attention?

It's hard to tell really. Jason replaced Jon around the time of its release, which enabled us to start playing live again, so to me it merely felt like we were back to normal. I couldn't tell you anything about sales or exposure. I don't pay too much attention to that side of things so I personally didn't notice any more attention on the band. From what I can gather we were getting a similar amount of gig offers and interviews to what we'd been getting prior to it's release. That's not a bad thing, though. It's good to be consistent!

You recorded second album 'In Situ' at Rosenquarz Audio, Germany. What took you there? How was this session organized?

We signed to The Miskatonic Foundation for the second album and it was their wish that we go to Germany. I think Rich got a deal with the studio that enabled us to spend a bit longer recording than we maybe would have done elsewhere. The mix really wasn't what we were after so we had to remix it elsewhere after the initial sessions.

The River - 'Broken Spirit Theory' (2009):


And this time Andreas Libera was your sound engineer there, and he knows a few things about Doom metal for sure. Was this session more successful, in your opinion?

Andreas had a very set opinion on how a record should be recorded and consequently how a record should sound. His approach didn't really suit our music or what we were trying to achieve, hence, as I mentioned earlier, the need to remix the album elsewhere.

Did you feel the band's progression on this album?

From a playing and technical perspective it has so much more going on. From a songwriting perspective it feels forced in places and I think that's noticeable.

About the same time, you joined Patrick Walker's Warning and - after that disbanded - 40 Watt Sun. How did you get involved in that? How would you sum up the experience?

Warning had a European tour booked that their drummer Stu wasn't able to make due to work commitments. Patrick had called me a few months in advance and asked if I'd help out. It was meant to be just for that tour but as Warning started getting more show offers it became apparent Stu's work was going to continue being a problem. By the end of the year Patrick had grown tired of what Warning had become, to other people as well as himself, and felt the need to express himself in a newer, fresher environment, free from what he perceived as the musical millstone he believed he was pulling along at the time. It was a strange time joining a band that was getting more and more popular yet losing more and more heart as it went on, that's for sure.

By the way, is there any news from the 40 Watt Sun side? Do you and Patrick plan to record some new songs in near future?

That's a question you'll have to ask Patrick.



Your next EP, 'En no Ozunu' was named after a Japanese ascetic and mystic, and it's a totally instrumental recording; only the 'Medley' track has some speech samples. What's the concept behind this recording?

There's no real concept to it really, it's just another recording. After Vicky left I was more than happy staying instrumental. It felt natural and as such we rewrote some of the earlier music to reflect the shift and have something to form a base on. Around that time Steve had some health issues that left us unable to rehearse for a few years. By the time he was on the mend we decided to record what we had, the main reason being it was a while since we'd done something. The idea was then to carry on in this way as we had more than enough material for another album. Steve got cold feet about staying instrumental, though. The thought of it never really sat well with him for one reason or another, so he dug in about finding a new singer before we recorded anything else.

New vocalist Jenny Newton joined The River just a year ago: does that mean we'll get the chance to hear some news from the band soon? How far are you from a third album?

There's a third album already in the pipeline. We finished recording a demo last summer and sent it out to gauge interest in what we're doing. Thankfully we had a few labels express a fondness for the music which in turn gave us the confidence to record a full length. We're still at the mixing stage due to financial and time constraints, but we worked hard to get the right tones through the board and hopefully post-production and mixing should be a simple enough task. Once it's finished we need to decide who we're working with and from there we're hoping for a summer release with some shows to support it. We'll see!

Christian, you and Steve Morrissey remain the only constant members of The River over the years. Are you both responsible for songwriting? Do you allow other band members to take part in it?

Steve will put ideas, rather than actual music, into the pot. Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn't and as such I've been guilty in the past of writing music to keep other people happy. That's something I've stopped doing and ironically enough, everyone is much more comfortable with how we sound now. I'm more than happy for the others to contribute to the songwriting but it rarely happens.

Christian, how does your environment reflect in The River? Let's say, how much of the UK is in your music?

I think consciously or otherwise the world around you will have some degree of influence on what you do. The artwork we use certainly reflects the environment around us. We've always used urban or rural photography but I don't know how much of the UK itself is apparent in the actual music. I like exploring and getting lost but I think that's more for the soul. Although I suppose that in turn should help with creativity. I guess the short answer is, I really don't know!


Click HERE to discuss this interview on the doom-metal forum.


Visit the The River bandpage.

Interviewed on 2019-02-25 by Comrade Aleks Evdokimov.
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