First off, thank you for agreeing to answering some questions and giving myself and readers at All About the Rock a chance to learn more about the band and your music. Your newest album Where Owls Know My Name is exciting and ambitious. I love it and am listening to it nonstop.
Thanks for having us and very glad that you like the new record!
What is the meaning of the band’s name Rivers of Nihil? How did you come upon it? How did your band start? What were your biggest challenges to date?
We formed in 2009. Our singer came up with the name and its one of those titles that is up for interpretation. I’ve always thought that it was metaphor for life: a river carrying all of the potential for life to thrive, but all for naught (nihil.) Civilization flows along (like a river) and has been given all of the opportunity to make this life a wonderful and amazing experience, but in many cases we throw it all away for petty nonsense and destroy what we have been given.
I would say our biggest challenge as a band has been dealing with our constant state of restlessness. We are never really content with the things that we do and we are always looking for what comes next. Learning to live in the moment and enjoy the present would benefit us a great deal I suspect. Also, we have been plagued by lineup changes. However, I think three albums in we finally have a lineup that gels together in a very musical and personal way.
Tell us about the album, the recording process and things that went on behind the scenes while recording.
We started writing this album in early 2016 after doing a few tours on our last album “Monarchy.” We wanted to approach this album in a different way than our previous efforts so it definitely took quite a bit more time to assemble the record. We didn’t want to have any parts on this record that felt forced or out-of-place for the sake of retaining our title as a “technical death metal band.” We completed writing in the summer of 2017 and began recording right away. I recorded guitar and bass at my home studio and then we went to Atrium Audio in Lancaster, PA to do vocals, drums, and mixing. Carson and Grant from Atrium did our previous album and really impressed us so we really wanted to come back for a second record. Working with those guys is always a pleasure and they totally get us, so everything feels very natural. While the composition of this record was tedious, actually recording it was a breeze thanks to those guys.
The evolutions between this album and your last is huge. How did you come upon this leap forward? Was it always your goal to create an album like this one? Was there any pressure not to be so experimental and push boundaries? How did you get your guest, who play unconventional instruments for metal (saxophone, cello, and trumpet), on your latest album? Any fears that there would be fan backlash and reject such forward thinking and experimentation?
We are never going to be the fastest, most technical, or heaviest band in the world. I think on this record we realized this and we decided to go with something that we ARE good at, which is being a weird death metal band. We toned down a lot of the tech that we had on our previous records in favor of better song structures, more unique instrumentation, and different sequencing. I think there was definitely some expectation that we would receive a backlash for all the changes, but strangely it never came. Everyone that played on the record was friends with us. My buddy Zach played saxophone, Justin from The Zenith Passage did a guest solo, Andy Thomas from Black Crown Initiate did guest vocals, Grant (our engineer) played cello, and my friend Sean played trumpet. A lot of bands go “out of their camp” to recruit guest artists, but we wanted to keep it “in the family” as far as guest work goes. It feels more personal this way. I would say at first there was some pressure to retain our previous sound, but as soon as we wrote the first new song on the record we quickly realized that this album was going in its own direction.
Can you tell me more about the overarching theme/story behind all three records and especially how Where Owls Know My Name comes into it?
I don’t write any of the lyrics so I can really only give you a shortened version of the story. Each of our albums has a seasonal theme. Our first record was a Spring themed album, our second was Summer, and Where Owls Know My Name is an Autumn themed record. The events of the first two records led to the main character in “Owls” being the only living being left on the planet. He has been alone for thousands of years and has slowly began to shift into the nature that surrounds him (yes, he is the guy on the album cover.) Each song on Owls is basically a memory that the he has of the man that he once was, the love and friendships that he had, and internal dialogues that he has with himself. At the close of the record this character finally dies and leaves the planet behind, completely uninhabited by human life.
The lyrics feel very personal on this record. I hear a lot about death, but also a bit of hope mixed in with the idea of rebirth and transitioning into something else. Describe your process or inspiration in writing these themes for your songs?
Again, I can’t really speak too much on the lyrics because I didn’t write any of them. Our bassist Adam Biggs writes 95% of the lyrics. However, I know Biggs went very personal on this record. While nothing is spoken about in literal terms, I think a lot of this record is about his life and what getting older means to him. I’ve always liked his lyrical style because it’s not traditional death metal stuff. It’s the kind of stuff that you would read in a real sad book or see in a David Lynch film.
How did you end up working with the album cover artist Dan Seagrave? The artwork is fantastic by the way. It feel very organic and spiritual but dangerous at the same time. And very metal!
Dan has done all of our records so far and he’s always a joy to work with. Essentially he reads the lyrics to our records and comes up with artwork based on that. We give him very few guidelines because we trust him so deeply as an artist. Rarely are there any revisions to his work that he sends us since its always so spot on with what we are looking for.
What are your influences, musically or artistically (books, films, etc.)?
That’s a loaded question! Musically we have a lot of older progressive influences like early Genesis, King Crimson, Gentle Giant, The Moody Blues. For heavy stuff Decapitated, Meshuggah, Gojira, and Morbid Angel will always be top dogs. As far as films go, anything by David Lynch, Darren Aronofsky, Paul Thomas Anderson, and Yorgos Lanthimos will suit me.
What recent albums/bands do you find inspiring today?
Steven Wilson, Ihsahn, Gojira, Mastodon, and Pianos Become the Teeth have all put out albums recently that I can’t stop listening to.
I really like the robotic/effect voice used in Hollow. What was the reason for using that and how did you get that sound?
I think that we put some kind of strange delay setting with a flanger on the vocals for that part. Not for any particular reason other than the fact that we thought it sounded neat. I think it also helps to convey a feeling of emptiness as well. Very dark, empty, hollow, whatever description you please!
I see some spiritual themes in this album. I see a theme of the futility of religion and belief and a general idea that current pain and suffering is temporary as we transition to other forms. Can you expound on these ideas and how you got to them?
Again, I can’t really explain too deeply since I didn’t write any of the lyrics. I do know that Biggs is by no means a religious person at all. I also know that the main character on this album retains a lot of his regret, anger, pain, suffering, etc. until the end of the record when he finally dies and moves beyond this realm. So maybe that could be a partial answer? Am I doing okay? haha.
Is the reference of ‘where the owls know my name” referring to the dream world or the stories we tell ourselves that are in fact illusions or facades of reality? Of course this is was just my interpretation. I was just wondering what the title of the album means to you? Were there any personal experiences recently that shaped the themes of this album?
I think your interpretation is pretty cool and it definitely could mean exactly that! The title of our new record is referring to a solitary place away from the rest of the world where one can go to reflect on their life. In this place the only creatures that are aware of your presence are the owls (general reference to nature.) I think that getting older has a lot to do with how this record came out. If we were all teenagers again I don’t think that we would have written the same album. I think a certain level of self loathing and regret was necessary to put this piece together.
How was the process of creating the music video ‘A Home’?
It was great. We once again recruit Dave Brodsky who has done most of our other videos. We rented out a warehouse in downtown Reading, PA for the day and spent an afternoon getting the footage. It went very quickly and we had a lot of fun!
How is touring going?
It been awesome so far. We have only done one US tour thus far on the record with Dying Fetus and Thy Art is Murder. This turned out to be our best tour to date. We have a US/Canadian headliner coming up in June with Alterbeast and Inferi. After that we have many other things lined up that haven’t been announced yet!
Who has the worst habit on tour?
I think we all have bad habits on tour. Our singer and our other guitarist like to take their shoes and socks off and stick their feet in our faces while we are driving, so that sucks. I don’t know!
What’s been the most embarrassing moment you’ve had on stage?
We have been lucky in this way and we haven’t had too many awful on stage moments. Any time that there is an equipment malfunction it totally sucks though, and that’s really what the vast majority of our embarrassments have been.
Anything you would like to say to your fans and followers?
Thanks for all the support and such a great response to the new record. See you on the road!
What does the future hold for Rivers of Nihil?
Gonna play some shows, have some laughs, see some friends, and then write a new record!
Thanks for taking the time to answer some questions. And thanks for the awesome music! I’m excited to hear the Winter themed album!
Me too! Probably time to start thinking about writing that soon…