The Run River North that arrives in Birmingham on Sunday isn’t really the Run River North that formed in Southern California in 2011. The parts are the same, sure, but the band is now much more Arcade Fire than Mumford & Sons.
“We broke our fiddles,” said lead singer Alex Hwang. “We need[ed] to get an electric guitar. We need[ed] to get new instruments. We just got bored, I think. We toured that CD as much as we could and after coming back from those tours, we felt like we wanted to do something new and not new, in a sense. Everyone is an equal partner in this band, and we all decided to put 100 percent of ourselves into the whole project — the songwriting, the music writing. It was no longer just me coming up with the music. When everyone decided to step up and make this the first band album — that was the difference.”
Hwang had been the primary songwriter on the band’s eponymous debut. But as his band sought new direction, he relinquished much of that control in an effort to create something new. “Something new” produced this year’s Drinking from a Salt Pond, which in turn produced “Run or Hide,” a song ready-made for Top 40 radio that has seen heavy rotation at stations such as Birmingham Mountain Radio.
“Absolutely, that was difficult,” he said of giving up control. “I think there’s a lot of ego that you drop. But if you see it as a relationship, it’s the same thing. When you decide to have a conversation with the person that you’re with, I think you lose some of what you’re saying. But when you start listening to other people, the conversation is more interesting than a monologue. When I let go of that, there was more elements and deeper layers and sound coming from the whole band, as opposed to just me telling everyone what to do.”
Hwang and guitarist/violinist Daniel Chae went to Nashville to write a few songs with Lincoln Parish (formerly of Cage the Elephant) and Kings of Leon collaborator Nick Brown before recording with Lars Stalfors (Cold War Kids, Matt and Kim). The session produced the record’s two best songs: “Run or Hide” and “Can’t Come Down.”
“We were getting a little bit of cabin fever,” Hwang said. “We had written and worked on demos as far as we could within the band, and it almost broke us up because we were stir crazy from not getting any outside opinion. It felt like a ‘Why not?’ moment. ‘Why not go write with other people?’ If anything, we learned how other people write songs. It was a great opportunity to learn what other people’s process was. They thought they were going to get some folk songs, but it was really encouraging to see how they reacted to the demos and appreciated the direction that we were going.”
The six-piece band’s youngest member is 22, while Hwang is 30. Eight years may not seem like a huge gap later on, but for now, it can be a challenge.
“It causes obvious tension,” he said. “You have different life experiences. And having girls in the band is always an interesting ingredient in relationships. People have different perspectives and it makes for a healthy tension in the group.”
But the band won’t be turning its back on its former self.
“We’re so very proud of what we did before,” he said. “Some of the songs have gotten a little edgier. We’ve done a lot more things to incorporate some jam sessions. We stand behind the work we did before, but we have a lot more to choose from.”
The pivot in sound, however, did change the feel of what the band does live.
“It’s very different,” he said. “Even before we made the change… I told the band, ‘I don’t want to go back on tour and make people pay the same amount of money or even more money for the same show. I want to make sure they get their money’s worth.’ I feel like we’re a different band. People are enjoying the show, and I feel like it’s because we’re enjoying the show and having fun onstage. We all know onstage that these are great songs and we’re waiting on other people to catch on to that. I feel like what we’re doing is contagious and I can’t wait for people to see our live shows.”
Run River North comes to Syndicate Lounge on Sunday, April 17. The Lighthouse and The Whaler open the show. Doors open at 7 p.m. Tickets are $8 in advance and $10 at the door. For more information, visit facebook.com/thesyndicateloungebham.