If Travis Hayes’ debut album, Young Daze, captured the wistful optimism and possibility of youth, his second, Sleepless, is the sound of finding the strength to stand up after life has slammed you into the concrete one too many times. The album, written after the sudden death of a dear friend, encompasses what it is to be alive: the joy of love, the agony of loss, the terror of embracing hurt, and the ultimate release of healing. Sleepless is the sound of shedding one scarred and fractured skin, in order to crawl into another, stronger one. But for all its sadness, Sleepless is ultimately marked by a deep sense of hope; the will and desire to keep moving forward, even in the shadow of grief. “In the end,” Hayes says, “these were more than just songs. They saved my life.”
Through compelling songs and charismatic performances, singer-songwriter RIVVRS radiates an endearing and optimistic vision. His music connects the authenticity of Americana with the accessibility of pop, framed by the artist’s empathic voice and eminently approachable songcraft.
His latest full-length Cosmic Dream is due for a 2018 release, and the lead single from the project “Don’t Give Up On Me” is now available on Spotify and other listening platforms. While maintaining an extensive performing and touring calendar, RIVVRS previously tracked the EP Hold On, a full-length release Unfamiliar Skin, and a variety of singles to augment these projects. Now co-producing his next release in Utah with Joshua James, he says that collaborating with other songwriters is fulfilling. “Music is a connection, and if you're the only force it doesn’t always work. Co-writing is where I can get out of my head and open the creativity up into a place I won't arrive on my own."
A Northern California native now residing in Los Angeles, RIVVRS -- née Brandon Zahursky – has over 30 song placements on network television shows, and over eight million Spotify streams. Beginning with his debut single “I Will Follow You,” written into the script of an episode of About A Boy in 2014, these ongoing sync usages allow for a full time living as a musical professional. “It’s been a real privilege to continue without having to grind,” he says.
Buoyed by an animated onstage charm, he commands audiences with just his voice and an acoustic guitar, but he believes that his songs shine with a full band. “I love playing music with people. To me, that’s where the connection and chemistry come in, and where the songs open up.”
His early years were spent moving with his blended family across California, Washington and Oregon, then back to the Bay. It was a nontraditional upbringing. He remembers at one point staying in a halfway house with his parents, a shelter where addicts could get clean.
Raised on classic rock courtesy of his father, RIVVRS says that visual mediums were invaluable in his discovery of music; especially singer-songwriters with songs on television shows. “I didn’t set out to make placeable music, but because it’s what I like and listen to, as I began writing I had a simple way of structuring songs that applies,” he recalls.
Prior to his full-time career as an artist, RIVVRS worked in the wine industry. Leaving to travel with a friend, he couch surfed, played house concerts, and was performing at a coffeehouse in San Luis Obispo when another artist recommended that he attend the Durango Songwriters Expo near Santa Barbara. It was here that he came to the attention of the Hollywood music supervision community.
Moving to a new city, RIVVRS says that he has spent valuable time balancing the expectations and the realities in the City of the Angels. While he appreciates the creative energy of Hollywood, he is relocating over the hill to the San Fernando Valley, where green space is more prevalent. “I am at this point where there is such a silver lining -- so much change, and the opportunities to meet so many good people,” he confirms.
As he now expands his audience through successive national tours, RIVVRS moves into a new phase in his creative future. “I spent the accumulation of my young adult years catching up, and realizing that I could be the person I want to be,” he says. And he believes that interpretation is the power behind his music. “I hope people listen to the songs that I have, and can somehow hear what is happening in their own lives. Everyone wants to feel a connection.”
M. Lockwood Porter
The Berkeley, California-based singer-songwriter M. Lockwood Porter is part of a promising crop of up-and-coming Americana singer-songwriters. In the past three years, he has released two critically-acclaimed albums and performed all over the US, sharing the stage with acts like American Aquarium, David Wax Museum, Lee Bains III & The Glory Fires, Water Liars, Samantha Crain, David Ramirez, Aaron Lee Tasjan, and John Moreland. He has performed at festivals like Outside Lands, Noise Pop, Norman Music Festival, and CMJ. No Depression called Porter’s 2014 album 27 “a solid album worth your time, attention, and money." In a review of 27, Americana UK said, "Take care with M. Lockwood Porter. He is an important singer-songwriter.”
Like Conor Oberst or Jeff Tweedy, Porter’s songs are equal parts traditional songcraft and indie rock attitude. How To Dream Again was tracked live in three days with minimal overdubs. While Porter dabbled in lush country-rock and expansive power pop on 27, How To Dream Again sounds tougher and leaves more space. The band – consisting of Porter, Peter Labberton, Bevan Herbekian, and Jeff Hashfield, and John Calvin Abney – sounds tight and heavy, like Tom Petty and The Heartbreakers if they’d cut their teeth at CBGB. The acoustic songs are raw and haunting, recalling Springsteen’s Nebraska.
The heartbreak and existential crises of 27 have been replaced with boldness, wisdom, and a deeper level of self-examination. “I’m in love, in a very healthy, serious relationship, and I’m happier with where I’m at in terms of my music, but with being further along in my personal life come new questions like “How do you maintain what’s good about a relationship? “Burn Away”, “Bright Star”, and “Strong Enough”, all ostensibly love songs, are really about the uncertainty inherent in love – that there is no guarantee that it will last forever.
Porter – who has degrees in English and American History from Yale University and taught English at an inner-city middle school for 4 years – has also rediscovered an interest in social justice and activism. Porter spent the past two years reading extensively – progressive writers like Noam Chomsky, Naomi Klein, Ta-Nehisi Coates, and Thomas Piketty – and took time to rethink what he wanted to write about. “I strive for 100% honesty in my songwriting, and that means I write about what’s on my mind and in my heart. I spent most of 2015 thinking about how I should respond to what's happening in the world, so that ended up being a major theme on the record."
Porter also immersed himself in the works of topical songwriters – some obvious influences (Woody Guthrie, Bob Dylan) and others less so (Joe Strummer, Public Enemy’s Chuck D). In the process, he learned about Joe Hill – the protest singer and IWW labor organizer who was executed on highly questionable charges almost exactly 100 years ago. Porter wrote the song “Joe Hill’s Dream” shortly afterwards – at once an examination of Hill’s legacy and a critical look at the recent history of protest songwriting.
The album’s centerpiece, though, is “Reach The Top”, a five-and-a-half minute dissertation critiquing the philosophy underpinning the American Dream, tying together its myriad consequences – isolation, materialism, depression, suicide, drug use, destruction of unions, college debt, gentrification, police brutality, media distortion, and American imperialism – using nothing but his voice, a guitar, and a harmonica. This song alone is a strong case that this California-based Okie transplant may be Guthrie’s closest modern heir.
On How To Dream Again, M. Lockwood Porter blends the personal and political in a way that is courageous, moving, and representative of this historical moment. “I can’t have a conversation with anyone my age right now without talking about things like inequality, gentrification, racial injustice, student debt, or climate change. I wanted to make a piece of art that captures this time, where daily life is political.” Yet at its core, this album is a very personal statement from a thoughtful, daring young artist. “The album is called How To Dream Again because it’s about trying to change my priorities – from chasing dreams of individual success to dreaming about creating something bigger than myself, whether that’s being in love or building a better world.”