I first came across Run River North on a list of indie Asian musicians that “everyone should know.” While there were a lot a great acts on the list like Yuna and WHOwho, Run River North definitely stood out the most to me. It was during a phase when I was after more of the folk-rock sound and was falling in love with any band that could personify that for me. Run River North did just that. Shortly after discovering the band, I went down that deep rabbit hole of YouTube videos, trying to learn as much as possible about them. The six members, with Alex Hwang on vocals, are all Korean-Americans and met within the church they grew up in. These religion and biblical themes make quite a few appearances in their lyrics throughout their first self-titled album, Run River North.
Before officially making that their band name, they were originally known as Monsters Calling Home. It was the first track that Alex Hwang created, and they first performed as a band together for a Korean arts festival in LA. After winning second place, the band continued to create music that found the perfect balance of creating a sound that everyone loved and that is also unique to just them. Their harmonies among multiple vocals within the band are beautiful and tantalizing, while the addition of two violins add an extra layer of depth.
Their debut album is the perfect introduction to the band, its collective members, and the trials they have been through to help them discover who they are. While supporting the album, they spoke about how being an Asian-American tended to blur the lines of cultural identity for themselves because they seemed to be two separate halves. Combined with lyrics like son, oh my son, won’t you come, won’t you come? from “Monsters Calling Me Home,” the band has perfectly blended this identity crisis with beautiful melodies and piercing lyrics. Fortunately, it is also easy to see that the band never gives up on their journey, and they always continue to push forward. In songs like “Fight To Keep,” there are even more outstanding themes of perseverance in lyrics like I’ll stand my ground ’til I hear the kingdom come. So I will fight to keep the fire burning in the night.
In their follow up album, Drinking From A Salt Pond, the band grows into a much more confident version of themselves, evident from their bolder choice in instruments and how they are utilized. While they maintain their folk-rock genre title, the band also chooses to emphasize the rock portion of it now. In songs like “Run or Hide” the introduction of keys is already a much more fun and upbeat tone. Alex’s vocals are also much stronger and lower, refusing to get drowned out in the instruments. You can even hear the gravel in his vocals during the chorus as he blares I’m gonna call this out. I’m coming back somehow. I won’t run or hide. Another great example of their progression as a band is “Pretender.” The use of the electric guitars and full drum set is an exciting development for a band that previously had a more mellow and smooth sound. It also has that beautiful word play of real eyes realize real lies.
The above picture is from when I saw them live with The Lighthouse and the Whaler. It was an amazing experience. I’m not really sure what I was expecting when I saw them, but they honestly did surprise me. Hearing them live made their songs sound so much fuller and greater than I was able to experience through just a pair of headphones.
I hope that you take the chance to check out Run River North and fall in love with them as much as I have. My personal recommendation would be “Lying Beast.” The subtle melody of guitar strings is instantly entrancing, and their the vocal harmony pulls you in even deeper within less than a second. The lyrics once again touch on their search of identity as an Asian or an American, but not fully one or the other. As the song progresses, it also builds into a strong realization of what they have been up until now, complete with drums and a full band. It’s the epitome of the band’s range as musicians.
PS I still have yet to post more about my trip to Colorado! I promise that will come soon so please follow along. There’s a link that should pop up on the bottom right hand side of the home page!