Unearthing fog tinted memories, polaroids strung around the dashboard, the wind transforming into a magic carpet under your feet, leading you to the intricate heart of the band, Run River North. They will be performing in Washington, D.C., April 9 at U Street Music Hall.
The California San Fernando Valley based group started out five years ago under the name “Monsters Calling Home.” After a name change and ride to success with their song “Fight to Keep,” filmed in their Honda cars, the car company landed them a surprise gig on Jimmy Kimmel Live! where the intimacy of their lyrics and folky sound attracted thousands. The six member folk rock band quickly became a lightning storm-entrancing, hypnotizing all with their talent.
Now on their headlining tour with opening act The Lighthouse and the Whaler, The Writer’s Bloc got a chance to talk with Daniel Chae, the guitarist and violinist of the band. We chatted about the genesis of RRN, as well as the band’s visit to Hogwarts, the process behind the making of their second album and a bit of how it feels to be an all Korean-American band.
D: Hey Karla, how’s it going?
Thank you so much for doing this interview!
D: Absolutely, yeah let’s do it.
What’s the origin story of Run River North?
D: Sure. Run River North is Alex Hwang, the lead singer, wanted to compete in a talent competition, and he was usually a solo singer/songwriter but because the competition was at the Nokia Theatre, he wanted to play with a band. He basically got five of his friends that he knew that played instruments to play a song that he wrote called “Monsters Calling Home.”
We ultimately ended up losing to a boy with yo-yos doing tricks to music.
Wow. So, I guess afterwards, were y’all like, “we need to be better than him,” I suppose?
D: There was probably some of that, but I think some people who saw the competition wanted it to be a show; they were curious if we were going to play again, and so maybe a month later, we sold out the Hotel Café in Hollywood and that was really the start of things.
That’s awesome! I definitely didn’t know about that story.
D: We don’t talk about that one.
How have things evolved since you filmed the track “Fight to Keep” in your Hondas?
D: “Fight to Keep” was a song that happened a year after being a band, and I think that at that time we had so much—we were on the commercial, we were on Jimmy Kimmel Live!, all of this stuff happening just unexpectedly. Fast forward three years and a lot of things didn’t pan out the way we thought. The next three years was really us finding our own voice, touring the country a couple of times, finding out that we really need to invest, to “reap what we sow.” In that change and evolution, we learned how to be a band, how to play our instruments better. Our musical taste has evolved and what you get is our second album.
What was the process like writing and producing the second album, Drinking From A Salt Pond with your new producer Lars Stalfors (Cold War Kids, HEALTH)? Before, it was Phil Ek (The Shins, Band of Horses, the Shins), but now it’s a completely new producer.
D: Yeah, it was intense. A lot of the lyrics were very personal and a lot of them, to be honest, were about things that Alex was feeling inside the band, both good and bad. I can think of a couple of songs that are about certain band members. I won’t reveal that to you, but it cuts deep, you know; but I think what that adds to the product is integrity, transparency and something that people can relate to. Not just some happy, folk-sy record that exults you. I think it’s something that people can latch onto and we’re all very proud of that.
It definitely is very raw and a lot of people can connect to it because in close-knit friend groups there are always things going on.
D: Exactly. I don’t think anything that we have gone through is unique. I think it’s something anybody goes through in a relationship, friend, with their significant other and their family.
Is there any song on the album that wasn’t going to make it?
D: The songs that didn’t make it—they’re not on there; it’s not because of the personal nature of them, they just didn’t make it because it was the label’s call. But, in terms of us putting everything out there, we laid it all out.
That’s great because a lot of bands don’t do that.
D: Yeah and we have nothing to lose. I think I’d rather be open and honest than trying to sell an image to people that listen to our music.
You do the #MusicMonday on your Twitter—what are you currently listening to?
D: Everyone has such different things but I’ll tell you what I’m listening to right now. It’s Thao With the Get Down Stay Down. Simply because we were at SXSW and we got to see her play right before our set and I loved what I saw. She just released a new album and I’ve been listening to that nonstop.
How was SXSW?
D: It was great! We got to play a lot of great shows and play in front of a lot of people that we usually don’t get to play in front of. We got free stuff, like shoes and stuff like that. We greatly enjoyed SXSW.
I’ve seen that a lot of the concerts that you have currently played at, the crowd has been really expressive and responsive. Has there been a moment that you felt chills during the first run of this tour?
D: In every show there has been a moment where the crowd takes over because they are singing so loud and it’s the ultimate surprise. It’s always a feeling of excitement and gratefulness and euphoria because we don’t know who listens to our music, you know, even fans that come out to shows, we’re always wondering why they are there. For example, in New Orleans, there was maybe 100 people, and to us, that might not sound like a lot, but to us, how do 100 people know about us in New Orleans? In fact, in New Orleans they took over a song that probably no one expected them to take over and I was just blown away and it completely changed my attitude. I was kind of down, and after that, I was blown away, like the love we get from our fans is unbelievable.
Yesterday, the band went to Universal Studios and visited Hogwarts. What was your favorite thing to do and what Harry Potter House are you?
D: That’s funny. I am … let’s see, I didn’t get to go but I’ll speak as Joe. So Joseph Chung, who plays the bass, his House is Hufflepuff, and I think his favorite thing was to drink Butterbeer. He can’t stop talking about that.
Is there something that you geek out over like Star Wars or anything like that?
D: Yeah the band currently has an obsession, it’s pretty embarrassing, with the game Super Smash Brothers 4. We are so obsessed about it that we brought the game console and play it inside the van and when we get to the hotel, we play it. Wherever we’re staying and there’s a TV, we’ll play the game, it’s really quite sad.
At least there’s something that all of you can enjoy! I know that you talked about that the new album draws upon a lot of the experiences that happened in the band, but were there other places you drew inspiration from, like poetry or other artists?
D: I don’t think anything in particular. Alex writes most of the lyrics and he reads a lot. I think writing to him is therapeutic. When he’s able to write out his thoughts—I wouldn’t say there are any influences in that sense but he is naturally a writer. No real influences.
There’s a photo of you on Twitter falling asleep to one of the Democratic debates. Some people might say that just by being a person of color, that it’s a political act. Do you think that RRN is political, since every member is Korean-American?
D: I wouldn’t say we are political, but I would say that these issues impact us in a more intense way. I would say these issues impact us directly because we are living, we experience on a daily basis prejudice, profiling. This could be controversial to say but I’m not afraid to say it—I firmly believe that if there were three white people in this band, we would be a lot bigger. I believe in our music, but we get a lot of, you know, a lot of heads turned away because they aren’t used to seeing Koreans playing rock music. That’s not a slide on White America, that’s just the state of our society, that’s just where we are. Because it impacts directly, I think all of us are more sensitive to politics and social issues.
The band doesn’t look like a mainstream band, people respond differently to it. Thank you for answering honestly to the question because it’s really important to have representation in the arts. You’re touring with The Lighthouse and the Whaler—what are you most looking forward to on tour?
D: Hanging out with them! They are probably our closest band friends; we are all similar in age and personality and we try to hang out even when we’re not touring. We’re all so excited, it’s just going to be a fun time touring with them. I’m trying to come up with games that we can play on the road, like if there’s a keyword of the day where you have to use that keyword in your live set and whoever says it more, like those types of games. I don’t know, like they have to say “octopus” in a natural sentence and whoever says that the most in a day, wins.
When do you know RRN “makes it,” or is there no finish line?
I think we will know we made it when we are headlining any major music festival like Lollapalooza or Bonnaroo. If we are at the top or maybe near the top, at the third line on the poster, I will say that we have made it. But I want to say, though, that this may sound cliché, but you know, I think we have already made it — just the fact that we’re still a band and we get to tour and play music as our career. It may get tough financially sometimes but the fact that we’re a band, a six Korean-member band, playing rock music, with selling out the Great American Music Hall, I think we made it.
Featured Photo Credit: Courtesy of Justin Higuchi’s Flickr account.
Karla Casique is a sophomore journalism major and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.