Run River North is a six-member indie folk-rock band, that formed in San Fernando Valley, California in 2011 under the name Monsters Calling Home, made of friends: Alex Hwang (lead vocals, guitars), Daniel Chae (vocals, strings), Jennifer Rim (strings), Joe Chun (bass, vocals), John Chung (drums, vocals), and Sally Kang (vocals, keyboards).
They have been described as having “a powerful alternative, folk foundation” by LA Record (live review). “The overall catchiness of the music being played is shadowed by the intimacy of their lyrical and instrumental intricacies. From fiddles to pounding bass drum, this band builds, explodes, and soothes from one song to the next.”
They have also been featured on the Wall Street Journal, “Snappy rock and chamber folk frames their tales of their parents’ dreams and struggles to find purchase in America.”
Oh, and they just happen to be Korean-American.
They are currently trying to push their single “Monsters Calling Home” off of their self-titled debut album, which was released in February 2014, and touring the East Coast with the Goo Goo Dolls. Despite their full schedule, I got the chance to conduct a phone interview with member Alex Hwang.
How did you guys come together to form this band?
It started when I wrote a song and wanted to enter it for the Kollaboration competition. It was being held at the Nokia Theatre. I got together with some friends, the same friends that are in the group today, and it took off from there.
I heard that you guys used to be called “Monsters Calling Home,” so why the name change and why “Run River North”?
Actually, because the name sounds similar to “Monsters and Men,” we were always getting confused with that group. So we just let go of the name and when we did, I think we came up with one that was a lot more descriptive of us as a group. Especially when it comes to live shows, it really exemplifies what rivers are like: there are quiet moments and bombast moments and all this movement. I think with Run River North, we’re just flowing with it. Also, Monsters Calling Home is in our repertoire and it’s still a song and it’s still a story we like to share, but Run River North is much more descriptive of our band as a whole.
Are there any artists or groups that you look up to at the moment or that might inspire you guys in writing songs for the album?
For the songs on the album, I listened to a lot of Arcade Fire. I love singer-songwriters that tell a lot stories, but as a group there was a lot of collective input this time: Cold War Kids to Death Cab to Modest Mouse, and other big bands with beating sounds but great songwriting. Bands like that.
You’ve mentioned in a previous interview that you want Run River North to stand on its own as a group of artists and not just be known as “that Asian group.” Any comments on that?
It just seems like that there are a lot of bands out there that are made up of a lot of white people and nobody calls them “that white band that plays rock music” and understandably so because there are not a lot of bands like us, but at the same time we don’t want to be seen as a band that tries to show up and say “You should listen to our music because we are uniquely all Asian.” We would like to be a band that can back that up and say “You should like us because we play good music.” A lot of people seem to want to shorthand us and have an easy way to describe us. We would like to say that we like our music and we work hard on our music. We would like to be described as artists that work hard on their album.
You guys are touring with the Goo Goo Dolls right now. How is that experience?
Yeah. It’s great. They’ve been great. We actually get to play on their set. We help out with some of their songs and that’s been fun. They’ve been taking real good care of us. Their crew and the band themselves, they’re always looking out for us and always making sure we’re taken care of on the road. Yeah, it’s been good.
You guys have a lot of gigs and sets lined up this year. Any more future plans for this year?
Just to play more gigs and to be on the road as much as possible. Even now, our sound has been evolving ever since our record was released. The record was recorded last year and since then we’ve been doing a lot of cool stuff, like I’ve been incorporating a lot of electric guitar into the show. Our live show is always getting more interesting. That’s where we think we do the best, when we’re in front of a crowd and engaging in a live show. I think we’re trying to play as many sets as possible and seeing where we go from there.
So, no plans to release any more new music this year?
We’re looking to release something for Monsters Calling Home because that’s the single we’re pushing on the radio right now, but in the mean time, whenever we’re inspired by something we might make a video or something. You can probably look out for videos for other songs or life on a road.
What movie would you like to be in and why?
As a group, I think we’d be in Forest Gump or the Power Ranger. I would really love to be Tom Hanks as Forest Gump. You know what. Never mind, I scratch that. I would actually love our group to be in Jurassic Park. It’s a great movie and I think that dinosaurs and Jeff Goldblum is a beautiful combination.
If the group was in the movie Jurassic Park, who do you think would “go first”?
It would probably be me. I would somehow find my way around the Raptor cage. Either that or I’d probably be hanging around Jeff Goldblum so much that I’d lose all my senses and be disorientated and then a T-Rex would bite my head off.
If you had to choose one, out of the songs you guys have released so far, which one would you say describes the group the best?
Off of the album, I would say “Lying Beast,” because it really incorporates a lot of stuff we do as a group: a big story being told, little hints of Korean traditional folk melodies, some big bombastic moments, a lot of vocal harmonies that we worked really hard on, sweeping violins. There are a lot of good things.
In our live shows, we’ve been playing Beetle in a really interesting way. There’s a huge instrumental section in the middle that we really like to get lost in.
I’m out of questions. Anything else you would like to add?
Recently, I’ve really been into Orangutans. I just think they are mysterious and beautiful creatures and they always have this look on their face like “Why are you staring at me?” I think sometimes as a band, when we get on stage we probably get that look too, because everyone is always wondering why there are so many of us on the stage. But also, I just think that they are just really dangerous, but majestic creatures.
Would you liken your group to orangutans?
(laughs) I don’t think that the rest of the band would agree on that.
Well, with your description, your band is already getting that look when you get on stage and you guys can be dangerous because you have something to prove, something to show…
That’d actually be cool. Maybe that can be a new genre of music, “We play Orangutan Music.”
Do it. Make it a thing.
Well, thank you for taking time to do this interview with me.
Cool. No problem. It was a lot of fun.