River Whyless

Appeared in - 2019

We’ve been a band for about 10 years. During that time I can honestly say that I have never really doubted our ability to take our dream and turn it into a reality. Sure, there were periods where we were down. Moments of frustration, and in those moments of grappling, the only option was to work to pull ourselves up and to fix whatever problem was hamstringing our slow inevitable march towards success. I never thought about what was after music. Or even that there was an after music. For me, there was never a “plan B”. I think as an artist or entrepreneur you can’t have a backup plan. It somehow confuses and dilutes your primary goal.

That’s what makes it so damn risky. Anyway, we were driving home from a tough supporting tour, we were broke, which wasn’t uncommon. Halli had just moved to Oregon and we’d dropped her at a Motel 6 to spend the night before her morning flight. Watching her check into the motel as we pulled away felt like an ending. It was as if I removed a pair of tunnel vision goggles and could see the world and my life for the first time since we started this band. I felt incredibly small, fragile, irresponsible, foolish, at a loss for what to do next and very alone. The reality of what we had been trying to do for a decade came crashing down in an almost laughable way. We didn’t talk about it and I don’t know if anyone felt the same way but, at that moment, I changed. I could talk about this for hours. The funny thing is that a month later we had the most successful tour we’ve ever had. Without those tours and my wife’s steady support and understanding, I don’t know what would happen. Writing songs is pretty easy, making a career out of it is the hard part.

In the process of making Kindness, A Rebel — in part because it all happened so fast and frenetically — I feel I achieved a certain level of self-acceptance. Maybe this had something to do with changes in my personal life. Entering an MFA program for Fiction has helped assuage some of my creative anxiety at the same time it’s been tremendously humbling. Whatever it was, I felt Kindness, A Rebel was a letting go, an embrace of our weaknesses and a celebration of our strengths. We all have weaknesses, and it was something of a revelation to me to realize that they can be interesting, that imperfection is as compelling as the talent that surrounds it.

For the past two years I’ve been splitting my time between Astoria, OR, Asheville, NC, and life on the road. I’ve managed to create a different version of myself for each of these places– multiple personalities, if you will, resulting in the deterioration of my core identity. It’s strange (and sad) to say, but the only place that I felt completely “me” was in the making of Kindness, A Rebel. There’s something about creating music in the studio that allows one to forget the pomp and circumstance and be more present, more instinctual. Our songs were recorded quickly and viscerally, without the normal level of scrutinization, which I am most guilty of! I was more comfortable in the vast solitude of west Texas, with space and time to be imaginative and let my nervous system breathe. I meditated in the sun, and ate pecans off the ground. I played with five different farm cats, drank the best tequila, and at night, saw the Milky Way. I didn’t feel the death grip of social dread (“Another Shitty Party”) or fight the urge to jump on my cell-phone (“All of My Friends”). Making Kindess was a giant massage for my soul, and though I’ll have to readapt to the sporadic touring and traveling back and forth across the country, I have music and my bandmates to remind me of where I belong.

2017 was a year of change for me, full of milestones and undeniable reminders of the passing of time. To begin with, as we all know, the presidency changed hands. Regardless of who was taking his place, I felt the close of the Obama presidency in a deep way, a serious wake-up call to how quickly time is passing and how something you’ve intwined in your own growth and every-day life can simply run its course and be gone. Then in the following months, I got engaged, bought a house, began building a recording studio, became an uncle and most significantly, lost my father to a sudden and unexplained illness. He was an immeasurable source of love, guidance, friendship and support in my life, so this rocked me incredibly hard and shaped/colored the rest of the year (to date). I must add that my bandmates and manager were monumental in helping me through this experience.

Meanwhile, Halli had moved to Oregon, so RW was going through its own changes as well, beginning to work in a more structured fashion with definite “on” times and “off” times. This defined how we wrote this record — in concise, limited sessions of full-immersion, a departure from how we wrote records in the past, with much more time and reflection, drafting some songs several times over before arriving at an agreeable final version. Though I knew this new approach would require a certain amount of artistic concessions, I had always wanted to make a record this way so I was excited that we were taking that route. Of course, as we hurdled through the process, that proved to be true. We indeed had to make plenty of concessions. But having found a profound peace and beauty in the process of letting go throughout the year, and recognizing the growth that can rise in the place of what is gone, this felt natural and right.