Music streaming giant Spotify hasn’t always been well-regarded by musicians and songwriters, but fast-rising folk-rockers Wild Rivers credit the service with providing a crucial career boost via the 30-million-plus streams their music has received.
Reached during a recent tour stop in Los Angeles, singer and co-songwriter Devan Glover explains, “We have Spotify to thank for a lot of the word-of-mouth our music has been getting. We were pretty lucky that, in the early days of Spotify playlisting, some of the songs from our first album [2016’s Wild Rivers ] got picked up by those lists.
“We’ve primarily toured in the U.S.,” she continues, “and we started by looking at the back end of Spotify and seeing where the listeners were. Our strategy was to go where the people are, so we started by touring the major U.S. cities that were listening, and it’s grown from there.”
“It’s nice not to limit ourselves to a specific genre, because it takes the pressure off when you’re writing.” – Devan Glover of Wild Rivers
Wild Rivers are currently on the road supporting their recently-released EP Eighty-Eight, mixing Stateside gigs in with nine Canadian shows in November. The EP’s five songs showcase a band with a refreshingly eclectic, roots-based sound (one self-descriptor is “folk ‘n’ roll and country soul”). Describing their musical influences, Glover says, “We all converge on folk and Americana, from classic folk-rock singer-songwriters like Paul Simon and James Taylor, to modern artists like The Lumineers and Of Monsters and Men.
“We mostly listen to Canadian artists, like Donovan Woods, Andy Shauf, and Neil Young. We toured with Donovan earlier this year, a very cool experience.
“Individually, we’re all into very different styles of music, and I think you can hear on the EP how our different influences play into it. When we were writing and recording, we brought in elements we’d never brought in before, with different production notes, too. It’s nice not to limit ourselves to a specific genre, because it takes the pressure off when you’re writing. You have the freedom to be creative without thinking, ‘How is this going to fit into an album?’”
Adding to the musical variety on Eighty-Eight was the use of three different producers – Skylar Wilson, Dan Horth, and Jack Emblem – with sessions taking place in Nashville, California, and Hamilton. “We wanted to try out some different producers based on how the songs sounded,” says Glover. “Because they fell on the cusp of different genres, we thought it’d be cool to find producers who specialize in those areas to complement those styles specifically. For instance, Skylar works out of Nashville, so he was able to give that sound for songs with a live country and rock feel.”
Working alongside Glover in the Toronto-based Wild Rivers are singer-songwriter and multi-instrumentalist Khalid Yassein, bassist Andrew Oliver, and drummer Ben Labenski. The group evolved from what was originally a duo project, Devan and Khalid.
“Khalid and I met we met at Queens University in Kingston,” Glover recalls. “We started playing together in our second year there, as a fun hobby thing, going to open mics and coffee houses, and we had a residency at a bar. We played mostly covers, plus one or two originals, never thinking it’d become a full-time pursuit.
“When we graduated, we both said, ‘Let’s just record an album and see where it goes from there. That’s when the rest of the band came together. Having the drums, bass, and the electric guitar elements just seemed to elevate the songs so much, and that was very exciting.”
Initially, Yassein was the primary songwriter, but that process is now much more democratic, says Glover. “For the first album, Khalid wrote most of the songs and brought them to me. We would take them to the finish line together, arrangements-wise, then bring them to the rest of the band and build them out that way.
“On this new EP, it’s been nice for all four of us to collaborate more. Khalid likes to start on guitar, playing around with chord structures and guitar chords and riffs. He’ll then work on the melody, then fill that in with the lyrics.
“I’m different,” she continues, “in the sense that I’m mostly a vocalist, so I tend to gravitate toward the lyrics first. I’ll write notes on my phone, or poems, and I may bring that to Khalid, who’ll have some input in editing those lyrics and finding chords to match. It happens differently with each song.”
A core feature of the Wild Rivers sound is the imaginative and empathetic vocal harmonies of Glover and Yassein. “That came naturally from the start,” says Glover. “The first time we met, I went to Khalid’s house and he said, ‘What do you want to sing?’ We chose a Coldplay song, ‘Strawberry Swing,’ and the moment he first came in on harmony just felt very special, natural and very comfortable.”