Run River North discusses latest album and Asian-American experience

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Photo Credit: Courtesy of Catie Lafoon

Formed in 2011, Korean-American band Run River North got its start playing songs inspired by their experiences as children of immigrants. In 2016, the band released its sophomore album, “Drinking from a Salt Pond”. The Daily Texan spoke with lead singer Alex Hwang before the band’s performance at South by Southwest.

DT: When you all first started playing, was there an instantaneous connection, or did it take more time to realize that you all were creating really special music?

AH: It took a while. I think definitely during one of the first rehearsals it was like “oh this is actually really really fun,” and it seems like there’s something more here. It was interesting because we’re all Korean and looking around it was like “we’ve never seen this before.” In terms of what we were hearing, no one was actually telling our story specifically. There were just interesting ingredients, and we wanted to see what would happen.

DT: Your original band name was Monsters Calling Home. What caused the change to Run River North?

AH: Honestly, around that time Of Monsters and Men were picking up steam, and we were doing guy-girl folk vocals as well, so we just wanted to stay away from that as much as possible. It was also just an exercise in letting go of something and seeing if anything better could come from it.

DT: After your first tour, I read that the band was on the verge of breaking up at times. How did that change y’all as a group?

AH: It made us realize who we were. Being in a band you’re forced to see yourself interact with other people 24/7, and you haven’t really got anywhere to hide. It makes you grow up a little faster, and makes you figure out what your boundaries are, what you can’t stand about people and what you need to work on. It helped everyone be more honest with themselves and who they were. It helped when we were making music for the second album because everyone was way more honest about what they liked and who they were, and it came out in the music.

DT: Was “Drinking from a Salt Pond’s,” angrier, charged sound inspired by those times of tension? 

AH: Absolutely. One of the main things was that I didn’t want to play acoustic guitar too much because it felt like it was getting drowned out by everybody, and I really wanted to be heard. In terms of the themes, it was definitely inspired by the tensions in the band. It was very mature for the rest of the band to be able to work on songs that were potentially about them. It was this weird cathartic thing of just making music based on events that were happening right there and then. The music just felt authentic, and it felt good to be playing those kinds of songs. 

DT: How are your experiences as the children of Asian immigrants drawn upon in “Monsters Calling Home” and your debut album in general?

AH: The experiences were great, especially in the first album. Everyone was intrigued by the story given that there wasn’t really any overt Asian-ness to the music. It was a great way to just articulate a lot of stuff normally people wouldn’t hear about. What is it like growing up with immigrant parents? What is it like doing something as non-traditional as being in a band? It was just fun to talk about and vocalize out loud. 

DT: Was there any dissonance between you and your parents when you decided to pursue music?

AH: It went across the board. People like John, his parents were supportive from the beginning, and for people like Jennifer, there were a lot of questions like “How do you support yourself? How do you make money,” so there was definitely some dissonance. You’re just trying to figure out how to make yourself be heard as well as respect your parents and honor them. People vary in terms of their rebellion, or their parent’s acceptance, and making music about that helps make the dissonance better. 

DT: Who are the monsters in “Monsters Calling Home?”

AH: I feel like it’s everybody. At first you’re pointing the finger at your parents, and then you realize that if you just dig a little deeper, the finger just points back at yourself. Then you realize everyone has their own faults and everyone has their own demons inside, and it’s just about embracing it and incorporating them into who you are.

DT: What musicians do you all take influence from?

AH: It’s always changing. At the current moment, I’m really into Father John Misty. I know Daniel has been listening to a lot of Whitney, and we’re all excited for Fleet Foxes’ new album. Dr. Dog is also
another band we vibe off of. It just varies across the board.

DT: What are you most looking forward to when performing at South by?

AH:  It’s going to be interesting because John, our drummer, left, so we have a new drummer that we’re trying out as well as some new songs that we want to perform. We’re excited to see what this next step looks like.