The Hills and the Rivers is a super-group from Pittsburgh, whose music combines styles of Folk, Punk and Indie Pop. In a candid and honest interview, I had a conversation with Isaac, one of the band’s vocalists who explains a lot about what they do. Among other things, we also discussed the latest single “The Fool”, don’t forget to watch the video below.
1 – Who are the musical influences of The Hills and the Rivers?
We have a wide variety of influences, and different artists have influenced us in different ways. For instance, Sufjan Stevens, Leonard Cohen, and Neutral Milk Hotel have influenced the songwriting a lot, Rail Yard Ghosts, Pentangle, and bluegrass bands have influenced instrumentation, and artists such as Blackbird Raum, Fleet Foxes and The Mamas and the Papas have influenced the feel.
2 – What are the roles of each member of the band?
Isaac Hill writes most of the songs, though Heidi, Ian and Colin Hill contribute to lyrics and Chris Fazio(violin) contributes to music writing. Everybody pretty much comes up with their own parts to the songs. Isaac and Joey Shuller (banjo) do the booking, Faith Hersey (djembe) does the computer stuff, James Bristol (bass) does all the art, and Heidi holds down the merch, though we all help each other too.
Not really, though we do pick which singles to put out based on what is more friendly.
4 – Do you have any other types of music that you’re interested in besides Folk?
Sure! Though folk is a big genre, there’s a lot of difference between old time, bluegrass, traditional ballads, neo-folk, Irish music, singer-songwriters, folk punk… we listen to a lot of other music too. Everybody in the band has their own likes and dislikes, some are really into the Grateful Dead and Co., some are more into punk and metal, or ragtime and jazz, or EDM (when the chemicals are right), world music, African drumming, hip-hop (Wu-Tang for life) and there’s a big soft spot for late 90s early 00s lo-fi indie in a lot of our hearts.
5 – Would you say “The Fool” is the best song you have ever done?
“Done” can be interpreted in a few different ways. Our new album is certainly the best recording that we have done, but there are some songs in our previous albums that I wouldn’t place above “The Fool” or “The Magician” – though maybe at the same level. I’m very excited for our next single, “The Magician”, though “The Fool” has a groove that really gets me moving.
6 – At the beginning of your new music video, there is a hitchhiking scene. This is, however, dangerous in the real world. Do you agree or disagree?
It’s not much more dangerous than driving a car… you never know when a drunk driver will hit you, you’ll randomly develop narcolepsy and crash into a telephone pole, or a meteor will hit your car at just the right (or wrong) time.
7 – Can you tell us a bit about the songwriting process?
Isaac (me, the one typing this right now) writes most of the songs. First, I play around on my guitar or octave mandolin, then a chord progression or melody stick out and I follow it for a while. After the chord progression and melody are pretty much stable, there will usually be a few words that have been revealed. I then follow these words like a golden thread, uncovering and constructing a meaning out of the sounds. It is as much a discovery as a creation. Then I bring the song to my bandmates and they fill the holes and make it whole. Sometimes I will have other people in the band for parts of this process. It is one of my greatest joys in life.
8 – What has been the listeners’ feedback so far?
Everybody from young punkers to grandmas have been loving it and telling us so!
We have a wide variety of live shows and have played everywhere from street-corners, basements, bars, large venues to big festival stages. The setting and the audience impact how the live shows look and feel considerably. Usually though, we try to take the audience through an emotional and spiritual journey, starting with a bit of a blood pumper, go slow and pretty, build it up, bring it back down, build it up even higher, mellow out, then rise to a fever pitch and hopefully by that time people are either dancing in a frenzy or crying.
10 – Finally, would you like to reveal some exclusive details about your forthcoming album ‘The Fool And The Magician’?
We’re very excited to release this, our third album, into the world! It’s our best recorded and most coherent album to date. It takes you on a full fool’s journey of discovery, with themes arising and passing and coming back as you find what really keeps you moving down the road.