Brian Motyll started Riverhorse as a solo project and released an impressive set of tracks on his first LP, Opal. Now Riverhorse has returned with two new members, Scott Ahlgrim and Austin O’Connor, and a new album Who Gets The Last Laugh on Doomsday? The album is a set of songs that meld the Americana rock stylings of Jim James (My Morning Jacket) with the melancholy 90’s alt sound of bands like The Jesus and Mary Chain and Mazzy Star. There’s a nostalgia to the album that makes it feel like it’s been part of the soundtrack to my life for as long as I can remember making it an instant favorite. I was lucky enough to sit down with Motyll and chat about Riverhorse’s transition into a trio as well as the inspiration behind the new album.
Why don’t we start off with an introduction and give us a little background about Riverhorse.
Brian Motyll: We are Riverhorse. Three twenty-five year old best friends from Joliet, IL with a groovy lullaby-ish sound and a love for gritty ambience and good times!
I know the project started out as a solo act for you, what was the catalyst from going from a one-man act to a trio?
Brian: It happened very naturally. I honestly couldn’t even pinpoint when it became official, but at some point it did. Scott and I had been jamming acoustically a little bit in his apartment and decided to try and throw some drums on a few of the recordings that became Opal. Same thing for “On A Windy Tree”. Somewhere toward the end of that project, Austin started jamming on Scott’s roommate’s bass equipment and we just started playing shows together. We have all been very close friends since age 14 (even longer for Scott and Austin), so it was very easy to connect and vibe with each other. It feels really good. We often talk about how lucky we are to get to do so many cool things as bandmates AND best buds.
What was the experience like going from doing all the recording Opal on your own to working on your newest album, Who Gets The Last Laugh On Doomsday? as a band?
Brian: The new stuff is all written for a band. I still play solo occasionally, but it’s a lot harder now without the guys. I love everything we do together and it’s not the same without them. We recorded all the drums (as well as trumpet and piano) with David Francis at Third City Sound in Joliet, but everything else I still engineered myself. Austin came over and we knocked out bass tracks pretty quickly after. The difference between this and previous projects is I really had some extra ears to bounce production ideas and sounds off of. I was sending the songs to Scott daily, and three of us spent a lot of time in my car after practices listening to the album as it progressed. It was really nice having that. Especially because we all shared the same vision for what it is. I learned a TON from this album.
What I really love about Who Gets The Last Laugh On Doomsday? is that there’s a sense of familiarity or nostalgia to it even on the first listen. Yet it still manages to feel very fresh. What’s the inspiration behind the album?
Brian: I’ve always been really drawn to lullabies and all things that are simple and melodic. The kind of music you would fall asleep to or hear in a music box. The album is heavily inspired by a lot of instrumental music that does have that sense of innocence and nostalgia that always makes me feel like a child again. Gives that sense of adventure and imagination we all seem to lose as we get older. The Icelandic band Amiina always does that for me. It becomes very easy to daydream. That was a goal for us melodically. The whole album is supposed to be feel like one big bittersweet late night daydream where maybe you’re able to envision an alternate reality or a world where things are different. Lyrically, it plays around with a sense of memory and emotion through little moments in life that everyone has experienced.
What do you hope listeners take away from the album?
Brian: I hope people can dig into it and reflect on their own lives to see how chaotic and beautiful life can be. Life is both harsh and rewarding, and that will never change. These songs were all written as I was going through a bout with depression and uncertainty with the way things were, but at no point did I think my life was bad. The concept of a young couple on the eve of the apocalypse is all metaphorical for when things seem their worst, but there’s always something to look back and smile about. I think good memories generally outweigh the bad ones. It’s important to make sure you have lots of them, because when it comes time to pay your tab, the memories you’ve created are all you will have left. Go out smiling.
If you had to pick one song off the new album that might entice someone to listen to the whole thing, which song would it be?
Brian: It seems everyone has had a different favorite song, but for me personally it is “Names”. Those lyrics are really important to me. It’s written in three parts. In the first verse I was imagining myself laid out on an autopsy table with all kinds of people trying to harvest my organs. Trying to remove me from myself piece by piece. But I’ll never let that happen, always stay true to your heart. In the second I imagine an afterlife with everything beautiful that’s been taken with you. When you get to run around carelessly and child-like once again. The third is about doing everything in life whole-heartedly. Whether it be a relationship, playing in a band, having a close group of friends.. be the best you can and do it for you, even if nobody else cares.
I know we’re still pretty early into 2018 but do you guys have a favorite album of the year yet? Or is there a release that you’re really looking forward to for this year?
Brian: We have been so busy with our own stuff that we haven’t really had time to explore what’s been going on. But we are very heavily involved in the local Joliet music scene. We got to share our album release show with some of our favorite people, John Condron & The Old Gang Orchestra, at the stunningly beautiful Rialto Square Theatre. It was an incredible night and the turnout was amazing. Their album Dead Tree has been on repeat in all of our cars since it’s release. Also looking forward to other local bands and friend’s putting out albums. I know The Big Lagniappe and Colonel Chloroform are working on some stuff that’s going to be outstanding and refreshing. The music scene here in Joliet is quite possibly one of the best in the country, and I say that very confidently. If you’re every around the area, stop by Chicago Street Pub and say hi. Always someone worth seeing performing there. 2018 is going to be a big year for Joliet music.
What’s next for Riverhorse?
Brian: Hoping to book lots of shows and get out to Chicago more often. Even hitting some of the neighboring cities. There’s a whole other world we haven’t explored too much yet. Planning on doing some more media, videos and various recordings. We have also been talking a lot about going back and taking a few songs from Opal and On A Windy Tree that we really love and re-recording them as we play them now as a band. That will probably happen this summer. We are looking forward to anything and everything that comes our way. Most of all, we plan on having a fun year.