the AU interview: Joe Michelini of River City Extension (USA) talks The Unmistakeable Man and Soundwave

Ahead of the band’s visit to Australia, we catch up with frontman Joe Michelini to chat about the inspiration behind their debut The Unmistakable Man, the recording of their sophomore album Don’t Let The Sun Go Down On Your Anger, how the band came together, and the resurgence of Americana music.

Hello, how are you today?

Good, how are you?

Good thank you, before we start I just wanted to say that the Unmistakeable Man was probably one of my favourite discoveries of last year.

Well thank you, thank you.

How did the band (River City Extension) come about?

The band started with me playing shows by myself under the name River City Extension in a town Toms River in New Jersey, where I am from and as we started to gain a local following I realised that for what I wanted to do with this music I really needed to expand and work with other musicians.

It was a kind of a one person at a time sort of thing, meeting people at shows and through school, until we got to eight members and cut it off. And sat down to make that record The Unmistakeable Man, and that kind of set everything in stone.

How would you describe the bands sound?

It’s always a weird question, because, whatever do you describe something like that as, will be relative to whatever the listener is listening to at the time. But I’d say it’s an orchestral folk rock band, something along those lines.

What was the inspiration behind the last album The Unmistakable Man?

I think the last album had a lot to do with growth and spirituality and just coming into myself. What’s really interesting about writing music at the moment is I’m 23 years old and there are so many major shifts going on in my life at the same time that there’s always something to write about. During that time there was a lot to write about. At the same time it was the wonder of writing for the band for the first time, and what we were going to be capable of doing as a group of musicians, and what emotions I was going to be able to capture using that group of musicians and the sound we all produced together.

How has the response to the album been?

Positive as far as I know, it’s hard to see from the inside you know, but then it may always be that way. It just keeps you humble and working. I know we were able to record a second full-length record and we’ve been blessed to be able to do that and I suppose we’ll put that out and see how it goes.

Excellent, and I was just going to ask whether work had begun on the follow up?

Yeah, we just finished recording it, and it’ll be out early this summer 2012. Which I think will be early winter for you guys.

Yeah, it will be. So is it going to be following along the same sort of sound as the first album?

We went through a few major shifts on this record, I think what people most need to recognise is that its not necessarily permanent and it doesn’t define the band. When you get the opportunity to make a record its kind of a snap shot, you know, of what you were listening to, what you were reading, what you were feeling and what you were writing about. It’s funny when bands put out records and they freak out “ah they changed their sound” but they didn’t, they’re just a person and they grew out of the person.

We’re not going to abandon the unmistakeable man and the feelings out of that record will continue in our live shows. As far as I care anyone can make a mix tape playist however they want of the two records. I think it’s a nice successor to the first record, but its more influenced a lot by American music, where the last record was influenced more by world music. This is more of an Americana record, with my interest in country and 50’s pop music thrown in there.

What sorts of bands and records were you listening to when you went through the recording process?

I’m glad you specified the recording process. I was thinking about that a lot recently. What I was listening to during the recording process was not what I was listening to when I was going through the writing process. During the recording process, I was really inspired by this record Metals that Feist has put out, and the way that she recorded that record, which was so dry, but allowed the musicians to create the dynamic on their own. I was super inspired by that, I was super inspired by Annie Clark who plays under the name St Vincent and the stuff that she does. Also Jim James and My Morning Jacket were a big inspiration on this record. Them and Townes Zan Vandt I guess, I’ve been listening to a lot of Townes Van Zandt.

How do you approach the songwriting process?

It’s still a growing process for me. For this record it took on a life of its own. I thought I knew what I wanted it to be and then it kinda formed its own thing. Which are the way records are you know. It’s like a living and breating thing, that you have this weird distant relationship with, because for some reason its closer than any relationship you’ve ever had with any one thing, and then at the same time there’s just this mystery to it. I imagine it’s the way most people would refer to their relationship with God or their God, or whatever it is, you know its like having faith, it’s like something you don’t fully understand. That’s the real definition of what we have on this record, its faith. I thought about what I was writing whilst I was writing it, I was able to look at it a little bit more objectively. This record is interesting, that’s coming out now, because we’re able to close the door on a few things. This will be last record for a couple of different processes in the writing approach. For example, to be a little clearer, it will be the last record with content regarding my private spiritual life. Because I believe that’s a hole writers get stuck in, and I don’t want to get caught trying to convince someone that I’m feeling something that I’m not actually feeling. And because everything on this record was so genuine I did not want to run the risk of trying to exploit that emotion or that aspect of my inspiration.

This will be your first trip heading down under, what are you most looking forward to?

Yeah. Food. I’m looking forward to the food. I am like totally a food and beer person, I love travelling because I get to try all the different food. As much as I am looking forward to being in Australia and all the unexpected things that will come at me no doubt, I’d say I’m most looking forward to trying some Australian Cuisine.

You’re here for the Soundwave Festival, are you going to be doing any of your own shows whilst you’re here?

We’ll be doing two Sidewave shows with a UK band called Attack Attack but those’ll be the only ones.

Soundwave Festival is a bit of slightly heavier, more punk rock kinda festival – do you see yourselves as a natural fit for the festival?

I see it as an opportunity to reach people. That’s pretty much how I see it all the time. Because nothing is ever what you think it is, and nobody is whoever you really think they are anyway. When all you have is your intentions and you really don’t know how it’s going to get received or by whom, I’ve found that the best thing to do as an artist is to just pass absolutely no judgement and to go play for people who want to hear music. And if there are people who want to hear music who are at the festival, I don’t care how they dress, what they call themselves or what they normally listen to; I’m just pleased to have the opportunity to communicate with them.

Last year was a good year for you in terms of touring and being on the road. I think you played the Newport Folk Festival, how was that for you?

That was a great great experience. That was the best experience I’ve had as a songwriter last year. It was just playing for people who were really so soaking themselves in emotion and music. What an inspired group of people so eager to listen and to be excited by the world, and that was exciting for me.

Americana and more traditional music seem to be going through resurgence in popularity at the moment, what do you attribute that to?

I don’t know, I think there is something special to the beginning of everything and there’s something special and real about Americana music. And I believe that as our nation goes through a lot of changes, without getting too political with this answer, but as we go through a lot of changes and future generations are hitting the ground running with the advances with technology, decisions are being made quicker and we’re advancing as fast as ever. I think we just turn to our roots and have created an identity for ourselves. And it just so happens that the identity of this new generation believes in a simpler and kinder America, and I believe that that is a message which a lot of Americana music has been known to portray in over the past couple of decades.

What does the future have in store for the band?

We’re just going to be touring as much as we can. I’ve started writing again already. So I don’t know, who knows? We’re not going to lie down, we’re going to keep doing what we’re doing, as long as there are people that want to hear it and even when there aren’t I think theres a side of us that just needs to do this. We’ve just been so blessed to have people interested in what we’re doing at the same time. So god willing that continues. We’re going to keep making music you know we’re going to travel further, work harder and play our hearts out. We’re going to strum until we bleed.

Well that seems as good a place as any to draw things to a close, thanks for your time and enjoy the tour.

Thanks, I appreciate the interview. I’ll see you down there.

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Simon Clark

Books Editor. An admirer of songs and reader of books. Simon has a PhD in English and Comparative Literature. All errant apostrophes are his own.

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