Written by Travis Shosa
This Album Auto-nalysis interview was originally published on COUNTERZINE on July 27, 2019. It has been re-edited and adapted for Stamens/Pistils/Parties.
Album Auto-nalysis is a regular feature where we ask some of our favorite artists to breakdown their albums track-by-track, to provide further insight into the thoughts, feelings, and artistic processes that went into making them. For this edition, we asked Shiraz Dhume, Joseph Freeman, and Matt Kranis of LA-based indie/power pop band River Gods to detail their new album Let Me Live.
Shiraz Dhume: “This song is actually one of the final ones written and recorded for the album. Because we already had a good idea of the track listing at that time, I was already writing it with the idea of it being the album opener. It went through a few iterations–with some push-back from Matt specifically early on–but I’m happy with how it opens up the album now.”
Joseph Freeman: “There were several earlier versions of this song that I liked a lot, but our drummer Matt held out. I’m very thankful that Matt won out on the debate because Shiraz went back to the drawing board and cranked out the version that appears on the record. The version that is definitely the best.”
Matt Kranis: “We had some back-and-forth about this one from the start, but in the end I think it’s a great opener to the album. We were able to piece together a few different melodic ideas that were knocking around from other demos to something that comes together really well. Shiraz’s vocal part for this one is constantly stuck in my head, which is always a good sign.”
2. “Stressed Out”
Shiraz: “This is the oldest song on the record, one that I wrote almost three years ago. It began as more of a writing exercise and I never thought it could be a River Gods song. It’s simplicity and specificity made me feel very vulnerable as a songwriter. But I kept revisiting it over time and eventually re-contextualized it as the thesis for this entire record.”
Joseph: “This was one of the first songs we produced for the new record and it was my first time producing for the band in general. I had a new workflow in mind for us with this one–a workflow where we would track very tight, focus on getting the guitars very polished and upfront. Our first album was much more loosey-goosey, trying to create a record that felt live and organic, so I was nervous going into production with a more “produced” goal in mind. But it turned out better than I could have hoped, and the team felt confident committing to this tighter sound.”
Matt: “We have been playing this song live for so long. I believe we played it at the release show for our LAST album back in 2017 or so. I think “Stressed Out” really captures the essence of the band well.”
3. “Cut Thru Me”
Shiraz: “This is my favorite song on the record. I wrote it as a companion piece to “Stressed Out”–challenging myself to once again come up with a simple, catchy, specific song. Mollie Jane from The Band Milk really fleshed out the harmonies on this song in a fantastic way. I also owe a lot of the success of this song to Cam Wisch who mixed the album. I took a lot of cues from Cam’s work with Cende while writing this album and it was such a slam dunk to get to work with him. This song is very much inspired by his songwriting.”
Joseph: “This was the song for me that defined the album’s identity. Once Shiraz pitched this one to the band I thought, “Yep, this is the vision. This is the sound/style/feeling/mood we should build off of to make this record.””
Matt: “If you listen closely to the final chorus, you’ll hear my very first vocal part on a River Gods tune!”
4. “Sun Potion”
Joseph: “The ending of this one contains my favorite riff on the album. Matt’s drum part at the very end still confuses me as well. It’s one of the tracks I point to when I’m trying to show my non-music friends the quality of drummer I get to work with.”
Matt: “When we’re writing/rehearsing songs, we all have a lot of freedom in working on parts and trying stuff out, and I really took advantage of that with this one. Trying to keep things relatively straightforward on drums in the first two-thirds or so of the song but changing it up to build momentum towards the end.”
Matt: “I got to sing a bit on this one, which was very fun! When we were doing the vocal tracking for this—at the same time we tracked “Cut Thru Me”—I think the guys were a bit unsure of what was gonna happen when they stuck me in front of the mic. But I like to think it turned out pretty good.”
Joseph: “The thing I love most about this song is Matt’s vocals.”
Shiraz: “I love Matt’s vocals on this one.”
Shiraz: “My biggest critique of my own songwriting is that I often feel unfocused lyrically. I have a hard time sticking to one subject and that’s something I challenged myself on with this album. I think I succeeded the most with that on this song. It’s hyper specific about love, lust, longing, and ultimately, infidelity. I’m hoping that I can use this one as a benchmark going forward on my actual lyric writing.”
Matt: “I’m glad Joseph got a vocal spotlight at the top of the song. I think his voice compliments this part well and contrasts nicely with Shiraz’s vocals later on in the song.”
7. “I Don’t Wanna Die”
Joseph: “This is my favorite song on the album and my favorite lyrics of Shiraz’s. The C-section moves me every time. Shiraz’s lyric writing process always blows my mind. He swears that he just kinda spits out whatever comes up first. But then we get a song like this? Good lord. Will be forever honored I got to work on this tune.”
Matt: “When Shiraz first showed us the demo for this one, it seemed like a real outlier. Like it wouldn’t quite work as a River Gods tune. But through the writing and rehearsal process, I think we were able to develop something that feels unique and original without feeling out of place. I love the decision to have lap steel guitar in the intro and then having it come back in the very end of the tune. We really didn’t hold back on trying things out across the album and this song is a great example of that.”
8. “Let Me Live”
Shiraz: “I am amazed that this one made it onto the record. With every other song, there was a huge amount of planning, scrutiny, writing and re-writing, demoing and re-demoing. This one came together in such a haphazard way. Obviously it re-utilizes the C-section from “Infatuation” but Joseph’s guitar part came from him just noodling around in between takes on “Infatuation.” I liked the part a lot, so we just wrote it down real quick to remember it. Eventually, we revisited that noodling part on an acoustic guitar and the structure of the song came together in like one session with no demo or prior writing. A huge part of this song, too, is our friend Caden from Sob Sister who wrote a beautiful counter-melody to the main vocal part. This song would be nothing without Caden’s genius vocal work and Joseph’s fluke of a guitar part. For me, it’s a huge testament to the raw talent in my friend and peer group.”
Joseph: “This one feels like a Christmas miracle. The only song that Shiraz didn’t demo, we just went into the studio with the idea. Recorded it entirely in one five-hour session, this one just came together very quickly. One of my favorite songs of Shiraz’s.”
Matt: “This song and “Infatuation” are such perfect bookends for this album. I love how things come full circle, bringing back a melody from the first song but with a different tempo and arrangement to finish things off.”
You can follow River Gods on Facebook, Instagram, and Bandcamp to keep up-to-date with the band. Further reading available via Nerdist (“Stressed Out” video feature) and Hullabaloo (interview with Shiraz and album premiere).
Travis Shosa is the founder and editor-in-chief of Stamens/Pistils/Parties. Formerly the runner of COUNTERZINE, he has bylines at Pitchfork, The Alternative, and Post-Trash among others.