The support that By The Rivers have earnt from their home city is absolutely unprecedented. In the time I’ve lived in Leicester I’ve never seen another band held in such high regard by their peers, friends, fans and the city as a whole. They’re making waves across the whole of the UK, but in their home town they’re a genuine part of the cultural fabric. Their earnest lyrics and songs that are best described, almost across the board, as ‘earworms’ endear them to thousands apparently effortlessly.
“Leicester has been a very encouraging & supportive city to have started what we have” explains frontman Nile Barrow “We’ll never forget that. I think people can truly feel that we’re doing it for the love of music and spreading a positive message. We have no time for egos, it’s all about positive movements.”
“If we can promote positivity, then I’m happy.”
It’s the commitment to positivity, and to music itself, that most sets them apart from their peers. This isn’t groundbreaking, but it’s never trying to be. They’re producing music they’re in to for themselves and their friends, and if you’re not in to it they’re unfazed. It’s an endearing quality to find in a band operating within a cut-throat industry beset with one-upmanship.
But having thrived in this city’s music scene, it’s nice to hear them talk openly about the way they see it having graduated to the national touring circuit. It may have seen a few years of stagnation, but Nile is up-beat about it. “The Leicester music scene seems to be thriving again, and it’s so great to see. There’s so much more expression it seems, too, and in a wide expanse of different genres. I think people are becoming more aware of their emotional selves, and musically, that’s a beautiful thing.”
In the last few years they’ve supported some genuine musical legends – including an arena tour with The Specials – but surprisingly, while clearly a turning point for the band, those aren’t the shows that resonated with Nile the most. “I think one of the key shows that had a big inspirational impact on me was supporting Groundation in London. Such an incredible band. I came away so buzzing from that show.”
For their Leicester headline date this winter – their third in the cavernous O2 Academy 1 – they’ll be joined by Brighton four piece Will and the People. The two bands have crossed paths many times before, and the camaraderie is palpable. “Those guys are so chillin. We met them first at Fusion festival in Germany” remembers Nile “then we found ourselves on the same bill at a lot of festivals, and just got on really well. I think we’re on the same wave, and I know this tour is gonna be witness to some special moments.”
For such a huge homecoming, it has to be more than just a regular show, and their choice of support speaks volumes for what they’re looking for in music themselves. “It’s a pretty special line-up including Leicester’s Ash Mammal. A perfect example of open expression – they’re making some pretty big waves!”
The band have another record under their belt which will be seeing the light of early next year – but the recording was something of a homecoming in it’s own right. “we came back to our roots, and recorded at Seamus Wong Studios in Leicester, with a great producer called Tom Excell. Everything just flowed. We were fresh from festival performances, still buzzing from those shows, and it just carried through into the studio.
“We went in a lot more open to writing while we were there, instead of going in with the idea that the tracks were finished. It brought a lot more to the session, and definitely opened my eyes to being more care free. Having creatively eccentric characters like Paul Wong & Tom Excell around really helped us to let go and be more experimental. You need that vibe around you. It can be so easy to go in too deep and sap the feeling from the music, there’s a fine line.”
“I sing as me, no-one else.”
The issue of cultural appropriation is rightly a contentious topic, and while all pop music pays a debt in some regard to Black music, By The Rivers must walk a careful line – but It’s not something that Nile worries about. “Y’know, I never actually see it like that, as we’re being true to who we are when we write music. We sing about our own emotions, in our own style, which I hope pays an honest respect to those origins, but I don’t think it ever steps into areas of being culturally inappropriate. I sing as me, no-one else. We’re so influenced by ‘Black’ music because it holds so much feeling, which stands above anything else in my eyes.”
While it’s 60’s roots are very defined, perhaps the genres ability to transmit a message has an important place in these politically tumultuous times? Nile sees it as an important outlet in the worrying 21st century landscape. “The style has a history of being the musical backdrop for lyrical positivity & political awareness and that has never been more relevant than it is now in the UK. Something is stirring, and more people are seeing the current state of our Government for what it is. If we can promote positivity, then I’m happy.”
So with the record due in the first quarter of 2017, and their huge headline tour out of the way? What can we expect next from Leicester’s golden boys? Well… It all comes down to work ethic. “Next year we plan to be as busy if not busier than ever, it’s the only way to be.”
By The Rivers play Leicester’s O2 Academy on Saturday 17th December.