INTERVIEW: BRODY UTTLEY (RIVERS OF NIHIL)

To put it mildly, Rivers of Nihil are a band who have intrigued me immensely since around the end of 2015. My old band opened for them in Niagara Falls in the midst of their Monarchy tour, and just seeing their musicianship and professionalism in action was enough to get me on board. They are the epitome of progressive metal in my opinion. To refer to them as a death metal band, or even a technical death metal band (as most do) doesn’t seem fair, since they offer such an eclectic range of talents and styles embedded within their sound. I was honored to share the following words with guitarist and founding member, Brody Uttley, someone I also had the chance to meet in person back in 2015. I’ve missed so many RON shows since, and simply cannot wait to breathe in the masterful songs they’ve crafted for their latest album, The Work. If you’re a fan of this band and you haven’t heard the latest record yet, prepare for a sonic assault designed to make you question any former knowledge of this band’s limits you thought you had. So, without further ado, I’ll let Brody tell us the story of Rivers of Nihil as only he can. Let’s get into it.

1. Without giving away any coveted industry secrets (lol), how did the initial deal with Metal Blade come about for you guys? What was it that really reeled them in to sign the band?

Actually it was a few things. Initially, Erik Rutan reached out to us on Myspace after we released our first EP, Hierarchy, probably some time in 2010 or 2011. He told us that he thought we were an awesome band and that he would love to record an album with us one day. We were obviously super surprised and very stoked about this. From that point we sort of lit a fire under our asses to get to that goal of doing an album with him. A few years passed and did a bunch of DIY touring in addition to another EP entitled “Temporality Unbound.” While we were touring on that second EP we met our manager, Ben Umanov, at a show in NYC at a venue called The Lit Lounge while we were on tour with The Binary Code in 2011. He was a big fan of what we were doing and he reached out to us a few months after that show to see if we would be interested in having him on board as our manager. After meeting Ben things started to move pretty quickly. I think between him and Rutan we sort of got in Metal Blade’s ear enough to get them to take notice. We also recorded early versions of Rain Eater and Soil and Seed that later ended up on our first full length, as well as a re-recorded version of a song called (sin)chronos from our 2011 EP that we did a self funded music video for. All of this stuff together seemed to pile on hard enough to get more than a few labels interested in what we were doing. We ended up signing with Metal Blade Records in 2012 and recording our first album with Rutan in 2013 down in Florida at Mana Studios.

2. Many say that The Work is an undeniable display of RON’s ever maturing sound. Do you perceive your discography this way, or have you guys been making conscious decisions on song structures and themes since the beginning? Do you make conscious efforts to evolve and experiment, or has each album just been a natural occurrence?

I think that the evolution in our sound is basically the sound of us all getting older and learning more about ourselves as people, musicians, and a band. We never really discuss in any sort of specific terms what an album is going to sound like. It just kind of happens one day. We find ourselves in the midst of 4 or 5 new songs and kind of just roll with whatever new sonic element those songs have in common. On The Work the first song that was completed was Episode. After finishing just that one song I was pretty aware of the fact that this new album was going to be different. That song set the tone for everything that came after. It has the slower spacious moments that you can spot all over The Work, as well as the enormous driving heavy sections laden with massive sets of auxiliary percussion and atmospheric guitars. We knew we wanted to make something that sounded larger than life this time, we just didn’t know how we were going to do it. It kind of just came out that way.

3. What was it like working with Erik Rutan (Morbid Angel, Cannibal Corpse, Hate Eternal) shortly after signing with Metal Blade?

Hard. He really kicked our asses super hard when we may have been feeling a little bit of cockiness from recently landing that record deal with Metal Blade. You know, you’re a local band forever and then one day you’ve got a record deal and you’re 21 and going to record an album with Erik Rutan. It can go to your head when you’re that young and inexperienced. I think we went in there thinking it was going to be a walk in the park but it absolutely was not. He pushed us all insanely hard and taught us a lot of very important lessons while we were down there. We all left with our feet completely on the ground. Rutan was the best “welcome gift” that we could have gotten when we became a signed band because he basically kicked the shit out of us and got us ready for the real world. We came out of there a better band with our feet on the ground and eyes to the sky.

4. Do you consider Monarchy or Where Owls Know My Name to be your “breakout” record? When did you notice a huge spike in your fanbase?

Owls was definitely the breakout album. That was the first album where we could really see a noticeable difference in the amount of people coming out to see us, as well as a general change in the temperature of the rooms that we were playing in. Just felt a lot more excitement from the crowds in general and noticed a lot of new types of fans coming out to the shows, not just exclusively tech death fans. We also did our first headlining tours in the states and Europe on that album and a lot of the shows sold out. We knew something had definitely changed.

5. Since The Work has been out for a little while now, which of the singles have you received the most praise for, or have things been pretty evened out?

We played all three of the new singles on the tour that we just got off of and they all went over really great live. Stacking those songs up next to the tunes that we were playing off of Owls I noticed that we were actually getting much bigger reactions from the new songs than we were from the older stuff. Seems like this new album brought in a bunch of new fans who have never listened to us before and a lot of them were seeing us for the first time. Couldn’t be happier with how this stuff is translating live.

6. Some bands have more success playing out of town than they do in their hometown. Does RON play consistently solid turnout shows in Reading, PA? What is the metal scene like there? Did you have to do your first few tours or weekend warrior outings to really get the fanbase going?

We used to play in and around Reading a bunch, but then most of the venues around here started closing down. The main venue that we played at was called “The Silo.” It was a staple in the local scene and they would have shows there most nights of the week. Local bands as well as international bands would come through there on the regular and most of our early “big” shows took place there. We got to play with a lot of bigger bands there early on and I think that those shows were really a great opportunity for us to get our foot in the door and see what the “pro” world was like before we fully entered it. Sadly that place closed down and now there is really only one venue in town to play. We try to hit Reading once every couple of years to make it count, but generally the progressive metal scene here is not spectacular. Black Crown Initiate and us are both from Reading originally, but most of the members of both bands, as well as many of the people from the old scene have moved to to greener pastures in different parts of the country. We haven’t played in Reading since probably 2018, so I’m sure we will be playing a local show soon. I’m just not sure how it will look. Especially in a post 2020 world.

7. I started learning songs from Monarchy on guitar recently. Is drop F# your common tuning, or do you guys mix it up here and there. I find it interesting that you guys are only a hair away from 8-string tuning on a 7-string guitar.

We’ve been in drop F# since our inception in 2009. How that happened is this: I wanted to use 6 string guitars in C# standard and our original guitarist wanted to use 7 string guitars in drop tuning. I thought drop tuning was for posers and he thought 6 strings were boring. So we landed on 7 strings with both C# standard and drop tuning. Joke is on me now because he’s not in the band and now we are stuck with that tuning. But anyway, yeah we probably should just use 8 strings but at this point we’ve got so much stuff in F# on 7s that it would be a major pain to transpose that stuff over to an 8. Nothing we do makes any sense, but luckily we only have to bring 2 guitars on tour because everything is in drop F# or G# standard.

8. How do your songs typically come together? Is it a collaboration in the practice room, or is it more one member bringing the skeletal structure of a completed song into the space?

Usually I will demo out entire songs instrumentally at my home studio then send them off to the guys to get their opinions. Everyone writes their own parts (bass, drums, vocals, etc.) but I will usually lay down some basic grooves and bass lines just to get the point across until we get into the studio. Adam, our bassist, writes most of the lyrics and usually ends up coming in at the very end to work on that stuff once everything is completed instrumentally.

We’ve tried writing in a room together. In fact, that’s how we wrote most of the songs on our first album and on our two original EPs. The idea of 5 guys in a room writing together is a much more beautiful thing in theory than it is in practice. For us, writing in a room together usually consisted of everyone playing over each other, lots of shouting, and not being able to hear anything. It would take us months to get songs done, and a lot of the time the songs wouldn’t make any sense organizationally once we finished them. I’ve found that writing within a DAW is a much more logical approach for a band like us that has so many moving sonic parts.

9. What sort of bands did you play in before RON?

Adam and I played in a thrash metal band together called “Dissian.” Before that I played in a metal band called “Shadow Battalion”, which would have been my first band. Adam played in various death metal bands, same with Jake. Jared has probably been in more bands than anyone on the entire planet and he is still in several other bands outside of Rivers including Flub, Luck Won’t Save You, Grindfeld, and The Undying.

10. Do you dabble in other instruments?

Yeah I mess around with synthesizers and the piano quite a bit. I originally started off on the piano. I took lessons for 4 years before realizing that I wanted to be a guitar player. Truth be told I wish I could play drums. That’s the instrument that I really wanted to play as a kid but my parents just weren’t having it. Still to this day I enjoy a nice sounding set of drums more than I do just about any guitar.

11. Finally, what was the recent tour with Black Dahlia Murder like? Furthermore, what has live music been like for you in the wake of the worst months of the pandemic?

It was fantastic. Probably the best tour that we’ve ever done. Half of those shows were sold out and every show was a ripper. It was a major boost in morale for all of us I think. Being able to go out there and play to packed houses every night after that awful year was such a fantastic experience. There was a pretty decent chunk of 2020-21 where I was certain that we’d never get back on stage again so it was great that the tour went as well as it did.

The whole thing felt like a real return to the “normal” world. Yeah, there were some things that were different out there but in general it was very easy to forget about the the last 18 months while we were out on the road. People were having a blast at every show and everyone was being so nice. You could really feel the good energy in those rooms every night. People were out there to have fun, see their friends, and enjoy live music. I hope this continues.

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