I first met The Rivergods around fifteen years ago, when I wrote about them for No Depression in its first print incarnation. Sometimes, you get to meet people who are not only talented but genuinely good people. So I was happy last week when singer/songwriter/guitarist Ben Parent pop up in my IM to tell me the band had a new single up on SoundCloud, with a new album, State of the Union, to follow sometime in January 2017. Ben says the album is close to being done, they’re just putting the finishing touches on it. They’ve been trying to speed up the process a bit this time around. “The intent was to produce something of quality quickly,” he says, “and not labor over it for months and months, like we’ve tended to do in the past.”
The single, “Dress Like A Poet,” is a relaxed rocker, a little bit Tom Petty, a little bit Allman Brothers. A dandy Oscar Wilde graces the SoundCloud page, and the bridge borrows a couple o lyrics from “Patience” by Guns n’ Rose, which most probably marks the first time those two titans of literature have been linked in one project. I asked Ben a few questions about the song and the upcoming album.
How does one dress like a poet?
Dressing like a poet may be more of a state of mind than a fashion statement, as the song alludes to: “It’s not how you look, it’s how you look at things”… A way of seeing or perceiving the world that makes “the colors all brighter, the world more exciting.” A good long scarf doesn’t hurt matters, though!
Was there a particular inspiration for the lyrics?
I was thinking of some of those dapper 80’s pop poets like Michael Stipe or Morrissey (the ‘Keats and Yeats’ line is a nod to the Smiths) and also of some real characters I know in my own community, artists mostly. Folks that have a certain contagious magic about them… They waltz into a crowded room and bring it to life with their larger-than-life expressions and stories. Do they know something we don’t know? Is life that much more full for them? Or is it all just an act? In the first verse, the song’s protagonist is like that, looking in from the outside, wondering aloud. By the second verse, he’s found his groove, though.
How did Guns n’ Rose end up in there?
First of all, those may be among Axl’s finest lines. For reals. Those are some heartfelt words right there! Second, I don’t know… it just happened. I picked up this performing trick somewhere way back of mashing up seemingly incongruous songs, throwing a famous bit of lyric or chord structure onto the end of an original song. It catches the listener by surprise, they’re humming along and then… “Wait, I know that… what is that?” It can also serve to ground one song in the emotion of another, so a listener knows where you’re coming from. It works great in live settings, so I figured, why not?
I hear a few different influences here – the organ reminds me of Tom Petty, and that riff where the guitar and violin follow each other sounds like the Allman Brothers. Is this where the band’s sound is evolving? Is this a good example of what the new album will sound like?
Bil Groth (Rivergods’ keyboard player) and I are huge Benmont Tench fans. Bil is also an incredibly accomplished musician and arranger, and he took my guitar lead and charted out harmony lines for both piano and violin to compliment it. So, yeah, we ended up with these borderline Allman Brothers sounding riffs! They’ve gone over very well live. I think good musicianship can still impress people, particularly if it serves the song and is not about showing off. I wouldn’t say all of our music is evolving that way, but if you stick with it over the years, you do get better musically, and you want to play stuff that is more interesting.
Overall, the album, like some of our early records, is pretty diverse musically. There’s some driving pop-rock with distorted guitars, there’s also some straight up country swing stuff, and everything in between. One song, “Churches,” has a gospel feel that directly contrasts the lyrical intent of the song. Nancy has a breathtaking, “Let It Be”-style vocal number in the middle of the record called “Station Down the Line”. There’s some great rhythm textures on the record, too. We worked with an incredible producer, Carl Franklin, who got us to really understand the groove of our songs. We recorded mostly live, which was great. Vocal overdubs here and there, and a few extra keyboards and guitar solos, but most of it was live, playing together. On “Dress Like a Poet”, the organ and final vocals were overdubbed, but the rest was tracked live, including all those riffs.