From The Horse’s Mouth: Ryan Stier (The River Monks) on Home Is The House

The River Monks (photo by Graham Gardner)

The River Monks (photo by Graham Gardner)

The River Monks, whose full length Home Is The House is coming out on CD, vinyl, and digital formats on May 20, are a Des Moines sextet with an organic interplay of instruments, rich lyrical imagery, and layered vocal harmonies that build on the foundation laid by artists like Sufjan Stevens and Good Old War.  The album, mastered by Doug Van Sloun at Focus Mastering (Bright Eyes, Cursive, Tokyo Police Club, Damien Jurado), is a megafolk earworm sure to delight fans of thoughtful and provocative Americana

Ghettoblaster recently spoke with frontman Ryan Stier about the record.  This is what he told us.

When did you begin writing the material for Home Is The House?  

We began work on the song “I Am A Lake” in 2011, which inadvertently became a foundation song for the album. It seems to help lasso a lot of the diversity of the album together.

What was the most difficult song to take from the initial writing stage through recording and mixing?  Why was it so troublesome?

There weren’t really any songs that gave us a ton of trouble. We live in several different states, so we had to go into recording overly prepared. I’d say “Wish The World Was Still Flat” was a song I struggled with personally, letting myself settle with the arrangement. We actually added some guitar and updated the vocals in our final recording session, a bit of inspiration happened to strike us. I’m definitely more at peace with the final arrangement, it turned out to be one of my favorite recordings on the record.

Which of the songs on the record is most different from your original concept for the song?

Definitely the last track, “Apnea.” This song actually spawned from a completely different band I was with before River Monks. We were called Belle Cheer, we didn’t last very long, but I wrote a handful of songs. We were going for a “geek rock” kind of thing. The song started off on a very different path, to say the least. The last part of the song starting at the a Capella section is the part I borrowed.

Who engineered and/or produced the record?  What input did they have that changed the face of the record?

Most of the album was engineered with Darren Hushak ( Darren is amazing to work with, he basically just let us do our thing and voiced his opinions when he really felt like it. The rest of the album (mostly our other songwriter Nick’s songs and most of the drums) were engineered by Brooks Edwards and Nick (who are roommates and run Peachtree Studios out of their home in Nashville). Brooks’ help was very important to us, he is a very intelligent and talented engineer. Nick also mixed the album, and although I’m biased, I think he’s a next-level talent when it comes to mixing. He brought a lot of life to our mixes, and included so much creativity and diversity. I’m extremely proud of the album, and a lot of that comes from Nick’s work. 

Did you have any guest musicians play or sing on the record?

One of our engineers, Darren, is a talented trombonist. He put some filthy tracks down on “Mouth” “Apnea” and “Wish The World Was Still Flat”. This January, three of us met in St Louis (we have members living in Iowa and Nashville, St Louis is our halfway point), and a dear friend of mine (Kevin) allowed us into his cozy apartment to put the final touches on the album. We recorded some gang vocals, and Kevin (a very talented musician) inevitably sang with us.

Have you begun playing these songs live and which songs have elicited the strongest reaction from your fans?

We’ve been playing many of these songs for a long while. Most have been a part of our tour repertoire for at least a year, some longer. “Wish the World” and “Take Me Now” were recently added after we arranged them for the album. “I Am A Lake” seems to stick with our audiences the most, it’s one of our most requested songs for anyone that has seen us live, so we’re very excited to release it finally! We’ve put together a diverse album, I think we all have different favorite songs to perform, and we’ve received an equally diverse reaction from our audiences.

Is there an overarching concept behind your new album that ties the record together?

Home Is The House isn’t just the name of the album or a line from one of
the songs. Home is a theme throughout the album. We’ve all relocated within the last few years, some within the state, others out of the state. But it goes beyond that. We’re digging into “home” as a word and every possibility behind its definition.

(You can find out more about The River Monks here: media page, facebook, and bandcamp.)