What follows in this post was a very cool thing for me to do, given how much I admire Rivers of Nihil, and I hope it’s also a very cool thing for you to read. It’s an interview with one of the band’s uber-talented guitarists, Brody Uttley. This is the kind of interview I feel lucky to do — because the lameness of my questions was surmounted by the thoughtfulness of the answers. And if for some reason you haven’t yet caught on to what this band are doing, I’ll give you a chance to experience your own Eureka! moment at the end.
Islander: Thanks for making time to talk with me. We’ve been following you guys for almost two years at our site, and it’s been a blast to watch what’s happened to you, though I’m sure not as much of a blast as it’s been for you.
Brody Uttley: No problem man! Always great to talk with those who have been watching us grow since the beginning. Things have definitely been very intense lately, between recording the album, doing three tours, and trying to make time for our commitments at home.
I: I went back and re-read our first post from January 2012, and the writer wrote this: “I had the good fortune to see Rivers of Nihil open for Boston slam heavyweights Dysentery a week or so ago, and their precision is unmatched by the vast majority of their peers. It seriously sounded like I was listening to a really loud CD, and anyone who’s played in a band knows that that’s an impressive feat. Mark my words, if they keep this up, this band is going places; talent like this doesn’t go unnoticed for very long.” Does that show seem like ancient history, given what’s happened since then, or does it seem like yesterday?
B: It honestly seems like it was just yesterday, even though we have grown so much as a band and as individual musicians, it feels very recent that we were playing that show. We keep in very close contact with all of the Dysentery guys, as well as the Cognitive dudes who were also playing that show. We keep our oldest friends close, as this industry is constantly shifting and you can never really tell where your “new friends'” intentions lie…
B: Indeed it has, but many people who were around at the beginning are still here and working with us now. You just have to watch out for people who blow smoke up your ass and tell you who their “important” friends are and this new “thing” that they are in on.
Smoke and mirrors, haha.
I: Well, you guys have always had an obvious DIY ethic and an underground mentality, as far as I can see, and it doesn’t seem like that has changed.
B: For sure, in the end the only person that you can truly depend on is yourself, and in this situation, your band. Ninety percent of the people out there are only in it for selfish reasons. I’m sure I sound like a crazy old guy who just discovered infowars.com!
I: Ha! No, it doesn’t sound crazy to me, just realistic. I have no personal experience, but just from observation it seems really important for musicians who begin to enjoy some success to stay grounded in what’s real. You’re probably tired of explaining how Rivers of Nihil managed to get signed by Metal Blade, but I have to ask. As we all know, talent alone doesn’t translate into success — you still have to get noticed. I read somewhere that Erik Rutan helped open some doors for you at Metal Blade. Is that right?
B: Yessir that is correct. Back when MySpace was still “thriving”, Erik sent us a message telling us how excited he was about our first EP that we released and that he would one day love to do an album with us. From that day on we dedicated everything to getting a record deal so that we could do an album with Erik. He eventually ended up pushing some of our pre-production through to Metal Blade (and a couple of other labels) and we started getting offers thrown at us. He was definitely a huge part of getting this band off of our asses!
B: Yep, it was totally random and unexpected. I remember getting a phone call from our other guitarist, Jon, and him telling me to, “DUDE CHECK THE MYSPACE MESSAGES!” We were speechless, first off that anyone would ever care about us, and second that it was Erik Rutan of all people.
I: I assume you chalk up that wild good fortune to clean living.
B: Haha, I’m not really sure. I guess we were just doing something that caught his ear, and after working with him I have learned that his ear is a tough thing to please. So it was a real compliment for sure.
I: I have to say, I’ve seen Hate Eternal a few times, and Erik Rutan’s stage persona scares the bejesus out of me. He couldn’t possibly be that frightening offstage, but still — what was it like to work with him in the recording process? Was he a harsh taskmaster? (I saw Jake flubbing his vocal lines in one of your studio videos and I feared for his safety).
B: Rutan is one of the nicest and most honest dudes I have had the oppurtunity to meet. However, he is easily one of the most musically militant dudes in history. If there were any notes that sounded out of tune, any string noise, any mispronounciation, he would catch it and make you do it over again. In the end it paid off, because now we have a product that we can honestly say, “I did that” about.
I: He obviously had a strong feel for what you were trying to do, or I guess he wouldn’t have gotten behind you. With his background, he seems like the perfect guy to work with, given your band’s style. Changing subjects a bit, the band was on tour in August and again in October-November. Were you happy with how the shows went?
B: Yeah man, all in all, the shows on all of the tours were very good. Aside from some van and trailer issues, we were pretty much trouble free. The first tour we did was with Wretched, Allegaeon, and Abiotic, and this was the longest tour we had ever done up until then (34 days), so it was a good oppurtunity for us to get used to the “way of the road”, haha. The next two tours were shorter, but totally amazing as well.
Touring with bands like Dying Fetus, Exhumed, and Beneath the Massacre is still a strange experience for us because those are some of the bands that we grew up listening to.
I: Speaking of sharing the stage with legendary bands, I saw that you opened for Morbid Angel not long ago in Philly. There’s definitely some Morbid Angel in Rivers of Nihil, especially in “Soil & Seed” off the album. Did you have any chance to interact with them at that show?
B: We played with them last week at the TLA. It was an awesome thing to be able to say, “hey, I played with Morbid Angel”, but sadly we did not get a chance to interact with any of them. Getting to watch their set was so cool though, because we definitely do cite them as one of our biggest influences. Even after playing music for as long as they have, it doesn’t really seem like they have lost any intensity or precision with their live show. Inspiring for sure!
I: Are you going to have some time to catch your breath and attend to personal stuff for a while before hitting the road again? (Though I will note that none of your tours so far have brought you to the great Left Coast, or the Pacific Northwest, where I live, in particular — which is something that must be remedied.)
B: We don’t have anything lined up right now until the Spring, and even those tours have yet to be announced. Right now most of us are just working and spending time with our family and friends. We would definitely love to get out to the west coast, becase yes you are correct, we have never made it over there! Some of our favorite bands are from out there too, so it will be fun to maybe do some shows with them!
I: I hope that will happen … and soon! Without meaning to pry too much (and if I am, please just say so), what do all of you do when you’re not in Rivers of Nihil mode?
B: Not prying at all! When I’m home I enjoy spending time with my girlfriend, teaching guitar lessons, lifting, and doing some recording on the side. Our singer Jake is very much into meditation and new age practices. Jon, our other guitarist, likes to sell expensive pants at his job at Diezel Jeans and go to shows. Our drummer Ron likes to cook and spend time with his girlfriend, and our bassist Biggs likes to play video games and hang out with his girlfriend.
I: There seem to be a lot of girlfriends and not much meditation or expensive pant wear in this mix.
B: HaHa indeed! All of our girlfriends are very supportive of what we do, which is an important thing to have when you lead this kind of life. I’m pretty sure that they would all be very pissed if any of us were to “give up” at this.
I: That is a great situation to be in. So, switching subjects again, I like to pick the brains of musicians about what music they’re into, so bear with me while I throw a few questions like that at you. First off, without feeling any pressure to rank anything, what are some of the 2013 albums that you’ve really enjoyed — metal or not?
B: Some of my top releases of the year include: Steven Wilson – The Raven that Refused to Sing, Black Crown Initiate – The Song of the Crippled Bull, Fallujah – Nomadic, Revocation – Revocation, and the new Sigur Ros album.
I: And are there any unsung bands you’d like to recommend to our readers?
B: I would definitely recommend checking out Black Crown Initiate. They are my best friends and some of the most talented musicians I have ever met. They have some big things on the horizon, so I am sure that it won’t be long until you are seeing their name everywhere.
I: Tell me three things that you have sworn to yourself you will never change despite being signed by a label like Metal Blade, even if you get bigger than Godzilla (or Gojira).
B: Hmm… Well, I can’t say that everyone in my band would agree with me on these things, but I’ll just go ahead and say them! First, I would never want to have clean vocals in our music. I think that some bands can do this and some bands can’t, and there are way too many bands that try this in death metal and can’t do it. We are one of those bands that can’t do it, and I would like to keep it that way.
Second, I never want to use Kickstarter or Indiegogo. I think too many bands (big and small) are abusing the shit out of these mediums and it’s taking the hard work out of making music. I mean, come on, $500 to go out to dinner with someone? Sorry, but I’ll just work a little bit longer at my day job and feel good about making that $500 on my own, knowing that I didn’t snatch it from some poor excited kid who worked HIS ass off for that money.
Third, I never want to take myself seriously (like WAYYY too many people in this industry do). Let’s face it, we are all grown ass men screaming into microphones like idiots, so how serious could we really be?
I: Thank you again for your time Brody, and best of luck to you and the rest of the band. If there’s anything you’d like to say to our readers in parting (including whether you’re working on new music), please feel free…
B: Thanks for having me and thank you for your wishes! We will do our best not to fuck it all up. We are currently writing material for a new album and even though it is VERY early, you can never give yourself enough time! Be sure to check out our new album entitled, The Conscious Seed of Light, out on Metal Blade Records!