Since 2007, Toms River, New Jersey’s delightful folk rock outlet, River City Extension, have established themselves as a wondrous gem that continues to shine a bright beacon of light on the Jersey Shore’s lavishly innovative local music scene. With a charming and heartfelt sound that has been beautifully conveyed through their past work, River City’s passionate upbringing helped them captivate a hugely devoted and enthusiastic fanbase over the years, which continues to show an overwhelming amount of love and support for the group, even at their darkest moments.
After transitioning through numerous lineup changes since the release of the 2012 studio full-length, Don’t Let The Sun Go Down On Your Anger, River City Extension persevered forward by cultivating newer material over time that would be eventually incorporated into a new follow-up record that they just finished working on this past summer. With their third studio album, Deliverance, expected to be unveiled next spring, this anticipated record is a work of art that introduces avid supporters to a new chapter in the life of River City Extension moving forward.
A month before their sixth annual Holiday Homecoming show at the legendary Stone Pony in Asbury Park, I had the opportunity to speak with River City’s founder and leading frontman, Joe Michelini, about the surprises that are in store for this year’s holiday festivities, along with going through an in-depth breakdown of the writing process for Deliverance.
It won’t be long until River City Extension gears up for their annual Holiday Homecoming headlining show at The Stone Pony. What will you be looking forward to about this show the most?
I think the one thing that we’re looking forward to the most about this show is releasing some new material from our new record and having a chance to play it live and also, the band has going through significant lineup changes between Don’t Let The Sun Go Down On Your Anger and this record that we’re putting out in 2015, Deliverance. But with that being said, you know, we haven’t put out records with a bunch of different lineups, you know? This will be the first record we put out without the other members who were in River City and this show we will be playing at The Stone Pony will be the “live premiere” in New Jersey of the band who will be touring on this record and will be making records for River City Extension from here on out.
You guys actually finished writing your new record, Deliverance, in the summer. Tell me about writing process and as a band, how did your writing approach change since your previous two records?
This record was made in the studio with just myself, John Muccino [guitarist] and Patrick O’Brien [keyboardist] and we did it with a producer from Toms River named Pat Noon, who worked on all of the previous records. He’s either produced, co-produced or mixed anything we’ve put out. This is the first time we’ve worked with him exclusively to do this record. We had some friends come in and play bass and drums and some other stuff that we’re not good at.
But the writing process, you know, was different in a lot of ways. I wrote the songs over two years, you know? There were more songs written, but the 10 that we chose for this record were written over the course of two years. And they were written while the band was on tour and off tour, but really while we were going through the cycle of Don’t Let The Sun Go Down On Your Anger, while the band falling apart and then being rebuilt and changing and what we were going through as individuals and what we were going through musically, you know, had a lot to do with the themes on this record.
Ultimately, I wrote the record as an exploration of doubt—you know, that’s what the record is about. And different perspectives and different views on how to conquer doubt and if it’s worth it to conquer doubt or reason with doubt or give in to doubt, you know, which I think are all a part of the human condition.
It’s about all of those things and then, the arrangement process was kind of staggered because we would end up arranging some stuff with Mike Costaney [former drummer] and Colin DiMeo [former bassist] before they left. Some of their parts were kept in spirit, but not exactly, you know, they changed when we were in the studio. So a lot of the arranging happened between myself, John and Patrick and then, further arrangement in the studio.
Two big differences with this record—one is that John and I co-wrote one of the songs together, which was just a natural process and it just sort of happened that way. And we thought that we came up with a better song because of it, you know? And that doesn’t go for that way for every song. I shouldn’t be sitting here writing just all of John’s songs and vice versa, but it just so happened that it was a very natural process.
We collaborated on the first song on this record and it’s actually going to be the first song that we release for the record. And there’s a later track on the record where the first half is a violin concerto, followed by the quartet piece that John wrote, followed by a song that I wrote. And we decided to make all one track because we thought that they worked together so well. So in that way, we had co-written a second song together, even though we wrote the parts separately.
One of the other things is that I had this idea while I was working on the record to add a string quartet. John is a composer apart from the band and I said, “John, how about I write this whole record and give it you and you can put a string quartet accompaniment and then, when we’re all finished recording the record, we’ll bring in a string quartet? We will have them play your accompaniment.”
One of the requirements for that was that we didn’t double any string parts. That they would play to everything on the record live, as if they were playing to a movie. And that was that—we did two or three takes to a song with this live quartet and that was the end of it. So, that gave John an incredible amount of creative influence on the sound of the record.
I think that going in, we also wanted to well-define what the pieces were going to be. You know, some you’re in the studio, it’s hard to know, “How big is too big?” or, “Is that what our band really sounds like?” or, “Are we adding too many guitar parts?” etcetera, etcetera. I think with this record, we sat down and made something that we think that doesn’t sound totally live, but has its moments where it sounds like a “live record.”
What should devoted River City fans expect from this record from a musical standpoint?
Well, we were thinking about “River City” a lot when we were in the studio. It’s a weird thing to say, but we were, even before that. I don’t know if that really influenced our decisions, but we did talk about that a lot while we were writing and recording, you know?
I think for some reason, we were so focused going into the studio, we knew exactly what we wanted to do, and came out with something that I really think sounds like a “River City Extension record.” It has some elements of everything we’ve put out and I think it has some newer elements too, but we left the studio saying to ourselves, “If everyone in the world hates this record, at least you know River City Extension fans are going to like it.”
Now, you guys have been putting on these special shows particularly aligned before the Thanksgiving holiday. Is there any personal significance around the timing of these homecoming shows as opposed to having a “holiday show” closer to Christmas or even New Year’s?
Well yeah, The Bouncing Souls own The Pony at the end of the year and there’s no messing around with that—we love Souls. One of the other things too, with doing a show the night before Thanksgiving, you can truly do a “home show.” For the most part, everyone’s home from school, they’re home to see their families from other places and it’s locals who are going to see this show because they are going to be in New Jersey the next morning, or New York, or Pennsylvania, you know? So, you figured we could do a totally local show and word has it that people like to get down and party that night.
In the past, you’ve had many New Jersey favorites like The Front Bottoms, Brick + Mortar and even Kevin Devine open for your Homecoming shows. What were some of fondest memories of putting together and playing these shows?
Man, they’ve always been great, you know? I think the thing I look forward to the most is choosing whoever is going to open the night because that’s us. Like, our agent doesn’t have so much of a say, the venue doesn’t have much of a say in it. As long as River City is selling tickets, we mainly get to pick whoever our favorite new local artists is and say, “Hey man, just come on and play a half an hour set, the people are aware of you,” and if their family comes out, it’s cool and even if they don’t bring people, it’s also cool. That’s the most fun for me every year is being like, “What’s the best new local band that we found?”
And they’re always not available either—we actually had a few people in mind this year, but we’re really excited to have Prehistoric Forest on. They’re a Toms River band that we’re really into now.
Right before the Holiday Homecoming show, River City will be playing a handful of tour dates on the East Coast, New England and the Midwest area. Would you also say that this brief tour will help you musically prepare and get excited for your triumphant return back home? Also, what does the future hold for River City Extension after these upcoming shows?
Yeah, we wanted to do some warm-up dates for The Pony for sure and we were lucky enough to be invited out by this band Augustana, who is taking us out on that short, little run.
And then, next year, will be touring the country and the record will be coming out in March. We will be touring in support of it and hopefully getting people excited about the band. You know, we feel closer to this record than anything we’ve ever made. We’re excited to share something with our fanbase that really sounds like who we really are as people and what we love about music right now.
River City Extension will be playing at Webster Hall in Manhattan on Nov. 20 and at The Stone Pony in Asbury Park on Nov. 26. For more information, go to rivercityextension.com.