With their third album just over the horizon, I spoke with Rivers of Nihil guitarist Brody Uttley about continuing to live up to the considerable hype, crafting their sound, and what’s to expect on the new album, due out March 16th.
Hey, what’s up guys—hope all is well! For anyone reading this who might not be familiar with the band, tell us a little about Rivers of Nihil and what you guys are about.
Hey man thanks for having us. We are a death metal band that formed in 2009 from the ruins of two failed local bands. We released two EPs over the next three years and did a bunch of DIY touring across the East Coast and Midwest.
In 2012, we established contact with Metal Blade Records and signed with them late that year. We released our first full length record through Metal Blade in 2013 entitled The Conscious Seed of Light, which was produced by Erik Rutan (Cannibal Corpse, Hate Eternal, Goatwhore, Morbid Angel, etc.).
We hit the touring circuit pretty hard after that, and in 2015, we released our second full length entitled Monarchy, which was produced by Carson Slovak and Grant McFarland (August Burns Red, Black Crown Initiate, LIVE, Everclear).
After another heavy dose of touring, including our first European run, we went back into the studio in late 2017 to record our newest full length Where Owls Know My Name, again with Carson Slovak and Grant McFarland at Atrium Audio in Lancaster, Pennsylvania. That record will be coming out on March 16th of this year through Metal Blade Records.
So I know RoN is managed by Ben of Metalsucks.net. Can you talk a little bit about the genesis of that relationship and how it’s been working out for you guys?
A mutual friend of ours, Jessie Zuretti from the band The Binary Code, is responsible for our chance meeting with Ben. His band was being managed by Ben at the time and we were out on a short tour with them. When we played a show in New York City at the tiny venue called The Lit Lounge, Jessie told us that their manager was going to be at the show. We really didn’t think anything of it and we just played our set. At the end of the night Jessie introduced me to Ben in the dark, dingy, and spooky back room of the venue. Ben told us that he enjoyed our set and we shook hands. I was sure that I would never hear from him again.
Then, a few months later, we got an email from Ben basically asking if we would be interested in working with him as our manager. From there things really started to move quickly for the band. Ben has really been like the sixth member of the band in many ways. Our relationship with him is more of a friendship and feels totally natural and totally un-“manager-like.” He always offers good advice and he’s a super great dude to have on the team.
It’s not really any secret, you guys are heavily hyped in the death metal community right now. After putting out two critically-acclaimed albums do you feel an increased sense of pressure to outdo yourselves when you head into the studio now? Or does that kind of stuff not really phase you?
Honestly, it’s not really something that we even think about. I know it is totally stereotypical to say “we make the music for ourselves,” but it’s completely true. We really haven’t heard too many bands out there that are making the kind of music that we want to hear, so I guess our solution to that problem is just to make the music that we want to hear for ourselves.
This new record, in particular, was a completely relaxed and natural feeling process. I’ve noticed with us that our best results usually come from everyone in the band feeling relaxed and having a good time. I think that it definitely shows on this record, especially with all of the new elements, that we were all having a good time making the music and trying new things. I’m glad that people seem to be enjoying the new stuff so much, but even if they didn’t I know that we would still be happy with what we created.
One of the things that I’ve always loved about your first two records is that the songs have both an immediacy and a subtlety to them. The songs are written in a way that sticks with you instantly, but there’s also a frenzied technicality to them that requires a bunch of listens to properly appreciate. What do you think you guys are able to do so well that other tech-death bands are not able to figure out? How do you find the balance that many other similar acts seem to lack?
I think that Rivers of Nihil has always been somewhat of an oddball band in whatever “scene” it is that we are part of. We have never really been able to be classified as a full blown tech band, old school death metal band, prog metal band, etc. I think we’ve always just taken parts of every style of heavy music and brought it into our sound.
We have also really been focused on writing songs that will stick with listeners because at the end of the day a good song is what is most important. We realize that we will never be the fastest, most brutal, most technical, or most progressive metal band out there, so instead we focus on what we are good at: writing good songs that get stuck in your head.
On this new record in particular, I feel like there are some moments that don’t sound like anything that has been done before in heavy music and I think that it makes sense that we were the band to do it because really, we’ve always been just a little weird and difficult to pigeonhole into a specific genre. On this record, I think that we’ve finally found our own sound, and I think that people are going to recognize that.
Your next album, Where Owls Know My Name, is due out on March 16th on Metal Blade Records. The excellent lead single feels not so much a departure from the band’s previous sound but an evolution of it. What else can we expect in terms of the sonic direction of the new project? Any more sax solo-esque curveballs?
There are definitely many more curveballs to be thrown on this record. The lead single on the album is a good warmup for what is to come. We figured that by releasing a song that still preserves a good chunk of our “typical” sound, while also introducing new elements, that listeners might ease into the rest of the album a little better.
Just think of the leading single as your first puff of weed, and the rest of the record as your eventual experience with LSD when you transcend space and time only to realize that you are woven into the very fabric of everything that makes the universe what it is… Damn that sounded cool!
I can’t really give too much away since the album isn’t out yet, but I can definitely tell you that the sax comes back again on the record along with many other new elements that I think people have been waiting for and will be excited to hear.
Now time for a slightly more serious question. On the new song “The Silent Life,” the lyrics refer to “a life erroneously lived.” What do you guys deem to be a life erroneously lived? Do you think there’s an inherent, set meaning to life or is it kind of just whatever meaning you want to ascribe to it?
I don’t think that life has any set meaning at all. People can use their time here to do great good, great evil, or nothing at all and in most cases they will be forgotten within a few centuries or less.
I’m somewhat of a “pale blue dot” ideologist and I pretty much see everything that we do here on planet Earth as being insignificant in the grand scheme of the universe. Sometimes thinking like that gets a little too dark though so I should probably just stop there…
I think that “a life erroneously lived” could really just be referring to someone who has lived their life in a constant state of regret and nostalgia without really doing any of the things that they truly wanted to do, at least in the context of this song. Our bassist Adam Biggs writes the lyrics, so I can’t comment on specific meanings without sounding like an idiot.
Throughout RoN’s work I feel like I can pick out a few bands that were probably of some influence. Decapitated, Suffocation, and even some early Between the Buried and Me come to mind. But I want to know some artists that have inspired you guys that no one would ever think of—especially some non-metal influences.
Definitely a lot of the early prog bands. Adam and I in particular both grew up with dads that force fed us music from the golden age of of that genre. Bands like: King Crimson, Yes, Gentle Giant, Pink Floyd, The Moody Blues, David Bowie, Frank Zappa, Jethro Tull, and early Genesis are always going to be heavy hitters for me.
I’m also a big fan of industrial and electronic music, post rock, and ambient music. I feel like some of that sound has definitely made its way into our style. Some of my favorites include: Sigur Ros, Explosions in the Sky, This Will Destroy You, Slowdive, Mogwai, Russian Circles, Caspian, Nine Inch Nails, Boards of Canada, Aphex Twins, and Swans.
You guys have a tour coming up with Dying Fetus soon, which has to be awesome, they’re a legendary band. What’s your favorite band that you’ve toured with just purely in terms of fun/hanging out?
That’s a tough call because so many of the bands that we tour with become like family to us. However, if there was one band though that I would have to say has been sort of the “ultimate homie machine,” it would have to be Revocation. Those dudes are always so much fun to be around and they have helped us out through many difficult times and situations including helping us find our new drummer, Jared Klein.
Brett from Revocation has become one of my good friends and he’s my “go to” guy for advice on anything relating to music or the industry. They’re the best people and I’m super stoked that we got the chance to become friends with them.
Thanks for your time!