No River
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No River

Calgary, Alberta, Canada | SELF

Calgary, Alberta, Canada | SELF
Band Alternative Country

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"CBC Radio-Six Degrees Of Seperation"

Kenna Burima uses her knowledge of music to find a quick route, 6 degrees, between a Calgary musician and another well known band. She connects the musical dots for host David Gray. - CBC/Kenna Burima


"Gorilla House Art Studio"

Gorilla House live Art Studio - songs from No River's album "Don't Pray" - Gorilla House Art Studio


"No River perform Katie"

No River perform "Katie" @ 2012 Calgary Folk Festival Songwriting competition - winners of best performance. - Calgary Folk Fest


"No River - Swamp Days"

No River frontman Cody Swinkels made his way over to the Fast Forward Weekly offices to hand deliver this brand new cassette, and I’m glad he did. Swamp Days has no track listing and practically no other information either, but it sounds looser and more raw than previous No River releases. Likely self-recorded, the lo-fi nature of the cassette gives the band a little more edge, while the jammed out nature of the songs themselves demonstrate a looseness that recalls Neil Young and Crazy Horse’s longer passages. It’s less straightforward country, and more city-cruising country-tinged rock ’n’ roll with bizarre edits, creeping organs and backmasked guitars. Some of the songs could definitely benefit from editing as the run time gets a little long, but if this is the direction that No River is heading, expect good things. - FFWD Magazine


"Silly Indie Kids, Sled Island is for Country Bands"

Little did Cody Swinkels and Ryan Mueller know that when they formed a country cover band with a few friends, it would become something real instead of just a hilarious gimmick. Since their beginning early this year, No River (formerly known as The Bow River) have been rafting the rapids of Calgary's local music scene. Every show I've gone to has been packed with friends and strangers alike, all swaying to wonderfully-written country originals and covers that appeal to all types of fans, not just country ones.

"Bein' [in] a country band, I kind of feel like an outsider as far as the Calgary music scene goes," Swinkels says, referencing how most of his peers gravitate toward playing or listening to other genres of music. But his enthusiasm toward other local musicians is refreshing.

"I think . . . Calgary has been getting an amazing music scene over the past few years. There's so many good bands playing, which is great!" It's no mere coincidence that in the same past few years Sled Island has shaped Calgary, bringing in big name bands and booking them with local, smaller acts. This year's festival saw many shows that did just that, including No River. Booked to open for Justin Townes Earle, Swinkels recalls his excitement.

"I really respect his music a lot. I've been listening to him for a long time, even before [we started] the band," he says, grinning.

"It was an honour."

When small bands are booked with more widely-known bands, especially when these bookings are for venues such as the #1 Legion, Broken City or the ever-present Republik, something beautiful happens -- the audience is treated to an intimate show featuring a variety of bands they have and haven't listened to. The opening bands for these more prominent acts can then introduce themselves to a new audience. No River was able to experience this during their show at Republik.

"It felt amazing. A lot more people came out than I thought were going to."

"There was a handful of our friends," he admits, "but mostly it was people I'd never seen before in my life, so that was really awesome."

So what's next for No River, then? As Swinkels casually answered, a full-length album.

"We have an album coming out closer to mid-July. We're putting it out on CD and tape first," he says excitedly, "then we'll try to get someone to pick it up, put it out on vinyl for us." That's only if, he explains, they can't gather the cash themselves. Either way, No River are here to stay -- and might just carry you away. - The Gauntlet


"No River on Behind the Scene Podcast"

No River chat and perform live with Calgary Sound Rentals (podcast). Feature to be released mid-April. - Calgary Sound Rentals


"Pick of the Month (March)"

No River's "Don't Pray" is MOCM's Pick of the Month for March.

http://www.mocm.ca/Music/Title.aspx?TitleId=319191 - Museum of Canadian Music


"No River, no tears, no surrender, no apologies, no prayers, no fast ones"

When a stark, stripped down, slow-fi, alt-countryish band decides to call itself No River, you ponder whether there’s some kind of underlying meaning or reference with a significant story, place or person attached to that name. You imagine No River a desolate locale, a shortage of rain, sparse vegetation, cracks in the soil, the river’s run dry, there’s no replenishment, no life force, the town’s deserted except for the few desperados who somehow survive the harshness…

A smirk stretches across Cody Swinkels' face. "Well, it's pretty stupid how we got the name actually. We used to be called the Bow River, but we got threatened with an injunction by this band also called Bow River in Calgary who would play casinos and steakhouses every weekend. They said they’d sue us if we used the name, so we changed it to No River. Pretty dumb," he laughs.

Swinkels is a charming creature. A feisty frontman, he stands out Bohemian punk. A bit old school and rough around the edges, he wears his battered acoustic Harmony guitar, straight from the ‘50s, like a badge of honour. Although clearly good-natured you also get the sense he's a cocksure rascal who likes a good sparing match.

Prior to No River Swinkels played in the hardcore outfit Act Fast!. On this sunny afternoon, I was late for the 1 p.m. interview. At 1:15 Swinkels sent me a text: Where are you fuck face?

It’s quite a jump from hardcore to Americana, a term Swinkels prefers to identify with instead of roots. “I listened to a lot hardcore,” says Swinkels. “But I’ve also loved this country band Lucero for a long time.” When he mentioned to Ryan Mueller, the other singer and guitarist in No River, that he wanted to try something country, Mueller suggested they start a funny cover band to get some Stampede gigs. The first No River show, over two years ago, consisted of Replacements, Garth Brooks and Jawbreaker covers. They still do a Replacement song, “Can’t Hardly Wait.”

“Anyone can take the Replacements as an inspiration,” declares Swinkels. “They got country shit, punk shit, rock and roll shit. They pull it all out.”

Lawrence Nasen, the multi-instrumentalist who plays banjo, lap steel and lead guitar, breaks his silence and pipes in, “I think we all listened to stuff like Uncle Tupelo and the Silver Jews but we had never played that music in a band before. All of us also listened to older country music and rediscovered it together.”

The goofy, country cover idea went on a couple months after Stampede until they decided it was too stupid of a routine and time to write their own tunes. They strung together a handful of originals, which Swinkels claims were “stupid” as well. But a new CD, Don’t Pray, is ready for release and reveals that for all the shit-talking aimed at themselves, No River actually writes meaningful music that packs a punch.

Leading off the CD is “Miss Tennessee,” a remorseful look in the mirror that’s brutally honest.

“Miss Tennessee is no one,” explains Swinkels. “Miss Tennessee is just a haunting figure that fucks you over when you get wasted. There’s a girl, a good friend of mine, that I kept telling was an idiot after I had way too much whiskey. But she’s not stupid, not at all. The song is about getting older and realizing that you can only apologize for being an asshole drunk so many times. After a while, it doesn’t mean anything anymore.”

I’ve been drinking and calling out my friends all night
Guess we ain’t what we used to be
Everyone knows that I’ve never been in a fight
But if I was you, I’d fight me

And Miss Tennessee won’t let me sleep
You say that I’ve changed
And I can say I’ve stayed the same

No River’s songs are filled with trouble brewing, breakdowns and regrets. The wild ass behaviors get the street rat locked up overnight in “Five Open Warrants” and “living on restless time” surely has some sort of bad consequence. They play these songs with conviction, like they mean it, like they’ve lived it and are going to drag themselves through the torture a few more times.

There’s a recklessness inside the stories and in the delivery that renders the music brash, upfront and full of open wounds. No River plays country punk with a raw, tattered intensity, an unrefined quality that doesn’t try to clean itself up, surrender or beg for forgiveness. They might not apologize, but they’re willing to admit failure, fucking up and the damage done.

The CD is also littered with tender moments, often enough the tough guy is reduced to a pile of romantic rubble. Tears don’t flow, but the strain shows, and the cracks in the amour, the vulnerability, a beautiful display.

Swinkels, nods, “Yeah, we have a super, hard time not writing really, slow sincere songs that we think about. It’s a big problem trying to write songs that will fit in the set to liven things up. I wish we could find a balance between the ballads and the fast ones that are just kind of silly.” - Beatroute


"Country songs for non-cowboys"

Contrary to what the cowboy hat you get upon arrival as a high-profile guest in Calgary might suggest, there is a big disconnect between the actual backgrounds and interests of the people in this city and the wild west images we are encouraged to identify with. As No River bassist Stewart Elton points out, “Most of us grew up in the suburbs playing video games.”

In reality, all the country-themed fanfare has almost nothing to do with creating a sense of community through collective identity, and almost everything to do with projecting an identity to outsiders — to give the impression of a shared history and a collective myth that is false and illusory to all but the Stampede tourists who fly in, hit Lammle’s for some boots, drink terrifying amounts of alcohol, yell “yee-haw” every eight minutes and fly out again 10 days later.

Considering the lack of authenticity that gets more and more pronounced with every new godawful cowboy-related image (need I mention the fibreglass cows?), the idea of a country band in Calgary as genuine and vital as No River is almost unthinkable. What started as a half-mocking country cover band thrown together to make some extra cash during Stampede took an unexpected turn when singer/guitarists Cody Swinkels and Ryan Mueller sat down to write their own songs.

“I hadn’t written a song ever; I don’t think Ryan had either,” says Swinkels. “I didn’t even play guitar. We just sat on the couch, said ‘Let’s write some country,’ and wrote ‘Calgary Bound’ and ‘5 Open Warrants.’”

Those first two originals were the prototypes for what, a couple months later, would make No River a band that could elicit the kind of fist-pumping, ecstatic, shouting reaction from crowds that is usually reserved for only the most raucous punk rock bands. In part, this is no coincidence — Swinkels, Mueller and some of the other members grew up in the Calgary punk and hardcore scenes, wading through the mess of disingenuous identities, including the cowboy myth, looking for some truth.

“In my old band I would write hardcore lyrics and think of really heavy hooks and stuff that people could think about,” says Swinkels. “Having that background, it’s definitely important to me to have that same mentality in this band.”

“I listened to tons of old country when I was younger, and it never struck me as cowboy shit,” he continues. “It made me feel like I was listening to punk.”

The band has just finished recording their debut album, Don’t Pray, which they recorded themselves in lead guitarist Lawrence Nasen’s basement over the past six months. Considering the rawness and passion that characterizes their live shows, the album is a surprisingly restrained document of the band’s sound, though no less indicative of their ability to communicate emotions and ideas with punk’s immediacy and country’s wistfulness.

“We wanted a dirty sound to begin with,” says Swinkels, “but somewhere in our decision making we decided to get the most pro equipment. We were all pretty confused about what was gonna happen. I think we bought all the stuff and it was like, ‘We can do anything.’”

“I don’t think that the songs were compromised or changed really,” says Elton. “It’s a sweet album to have for the first one, because it’s full of these polished heartbreak hotel ballads, and now we can make a rowdier, rougher album next.”

While the band agrees that the material may take a more upbeat direction, Nasen says the band often writes songs fairly spontaneously, starting with a mere fragmentary riff or vocal line and getting to the finished product swiftly, without stopping to consider if they sound country enough.

“I think the songs will have a country tinge to them for as long as the band goes,” says Swinkels. “But it shows more that we are trying to be like ’90s alt-country. Uncle Tupelo was also a weird band, and the Silver Jews are a really weird band. You can’t point your finger to any Jews song and name what genre it sounds like.... I honestly don’t know what genre we call ourselves, because I like to think we could just try to do anything. I like finishing a song and saying ‘Oh that sounds like a soul song’ or ‘that sounds like a garage rock song’ or something.” - Fast Forward Weekly (FFWD)


Discography

Recorded and produced by ourselves (No River), our debut album "Don't Pray" was recorded in 2011, in a basement studio in Calgary. The album displays the talents of songwriters Swinkels and Elton; encapsulated in a mix of warm tones, folk instrumentation, haunting melodies, swelling organ lines, and guitar hooks. The record was mixed by Calgary based folk musician Jon Gant and mastered by Jamey Harrow (Chad VanGaalen). Through the !earshot program our debut album ("Don't Pray") charted on university and college radio stations across the country.

In July of 2012 we released "Swamp Days", a limited run EP.
http://www.ffwdweekly.com/article/music/record-reviews/no-river-swamp-days-9387/

As a band we are planning to record our second full length album early in 2013. The songs presented on the forthcoming album reflect our increased refinement of arrangement, lyrical content, textures, and instrumentation. The album is scheduled for digital distribution and release on vinyl in mid-2013.

Photos

Bio

No River is an alt-country roots/folk project comprised of Calgary musicians Stewart Elton, Trenton Shaw, Cody Swinkels, Chris Nevile, and Lawrence Nasen. Formed in the summer of 2010, the project developed in part around songwriter Cody Swinkel's desire to chronicle his experiences while living in a derelict turn of the century Alberta farm house over several cold winter months. What began as a collection of musical interpretations quickly transformed into a more powerful expression of life growing up in a prairie town and conveys emotions of youth, love, defeat, death, recklessness, heartbreak, and optimism.

As a band, we have both refined and diversified our sound, while challenging ourselves to develop music that remains rooted in the idea of simplicity, but that carries an increased dynamical and textural complexity. As a collective group of musicians drawn to roots, folk, and country sounds, we find a pleasure in the challenge of keeping our songs minimalistic and genre specific while at the same time expanding them sonically.

Since forming in 2010, our band (No River) has performed over fifty live shows throughout the province of Alberta and western Canada. As a band we have found ourselves becoming an active and prominent part of the folk/roots music movement that has been taking place in Calgary over the past three years. As individuals, and as a band we have taken a proactive approach to fostering this genre of music in Calgary by performing at several fundraising events to support the Sled Island Music and Arts Festival in 2011 and 2012. In the summer of 2012 we performed at the Calgary Folk Music Songwriting Competition and won best performance under the pros and prose category.