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Their sound is echoing, if not a little haunting, but it doesn’t take long before their drumming beats lead into more uplifting energies. River Whyless creates music that takes you on a journey—through space and time, through emotions and stories. They spin songs out of the setting around them, from their North Carolina home, from writers’ philosophies, and from their own evolving experiences.
The four piece band formed in 2006, and has been playing in a variety of forms since college at Appalachian State University. From Boone, North Carolina, they moved to Asheville, and have just released a new, self-titled EP. In 2012, they also released a self-recorded, full length debut album, entitled “A Stone, A Leaf, An Unfound Door.”
The band consists of Ryan O’Keefe (guitar, vocals), Halli Anderson (violin, vocals), Alex McWalters (drum, percussion), and Daniel Shearin (bass, vocals, harmonium, cello, banjo). We were fortunate enough to have them join us in studio at WERS, where they played a few tracks off their latest effort.
The first of track, “Life Crisis,” is a track that begins with drumming beats and claps formed on a banjo using dowel sticks. The resulting sound is both subtle and powerful. The song soon evolves as Ryan’s, Dan’s, and Halli’s voices pick up. Their harmonies are intricate and spiraling, and with the beautiful violin, guitar, and drumbeat in the background, the track is one you could listen to in any mood and still feel blown away by their honest sound and vulnerable lyrics. Halli sings “Was I there that night/Did I haunt you/Was I there that night/Did I save you” which leads into the harmonizing chorus of “I will break you in.” My favorite lyrics come just a few beats later with “but if this time you feel your shell has gone too thin/I’ll lend you my skin.” It’s the sound of both failing and saving, of relationships and hurt.
From there, River Whyless honored us with a track off their first album, called “Cedar Dream Part III.” This was enjoyable to hear and exhibited just how the band has both evolved and stayed true to their original roots. The sound is, once again, stripped down though the melody is carried throughout the track with guitar picking. Echoing percussion fills the background and the song felt much like a story, leading us forwards, with appearances of nature and animals. They sing of the setting around them, of spotted owls and hens, before hitting the lyric “It’s the life we built on/it’s the one we died for.”
The band was named after nature. They told us that “River Whyless” came, unintentionally, from the saying, “you can never stand in the same river twice. We like to look at that as you always have to be moving forward.” They’re very much aware of change and continuity and how the only real option in life is to continue to move on.
“We draw from the wilderness,” said Halli, “sometimes, from different eras.” This idea is very much felt throughout all their songs. Each track has its own narrative but connects with the common thread of the natural world.
They rounded out the set with a solid track, called “Miles of Skyline,” which was, perhaps, the most energetic and upbeat song they played for us. The song has an optimistic feel to it, as if one is just sitting under the open sky and aware of endless possibilities. The guitar and violin ebbs and builds throughout the track and tells a story of easiness and happiness. It felt to me like the perfect song for a spring or summer day, outside among blue sky and sunshine. The sound felt eager for change and life.
River Whyless offers a much needed escape into the natural world. Their folk-rock sound is infectious, beautiful, and wandering. Add in their variety of instruments and honest song writing, and it’s no wonder how the band has made it so far. Here at WERS, we look forward to watching, and of course, listening, to River Whyless as they continue to grow.
By Ashley Kane