January 12, 2021

It’s been one heck of a year for blues rock twosome When Rivers Meet! It started off with the British husband-and-wife duo busily touring while beginning to plan for their debut studio album We Fly Free; electing to work tirelessly on social media during the pandemic, releasing an EP in May, being highlighted on BBC Radio2’s The Blues Show; and finally seeing the album released in November amidst considerable music industry interest, drawing effusive praise from all quarters. Chris Kimsey, producer of the Rolling Stones records went so far as to say “The performances are exemplary, the sound is magnificent, the songs are gorgeous. I love the drama. I love everything!”

I was lucky enough to review the album, so I was delighted to be offered the chance of chatting with the twosome!

When Rivers Meet is essentially a duo, Grace and Aaron Bond, but they augmented their line-up for the album, recording this during the summer whilst maintaining safe working practices. As a result, We Fly Free has a satisfyingly solid sound. Grace takes lead vocal on most of the album and plays mandolin and fiddle, while Aaron handles guitar, adds rich harmonies, and sings lead on two tracks. The pair were joined by friends Adam Bowers (bass, drums, organ, piano) and Robin G Breeze (bass, organ, piano) to create a contemporary blues rock sound that has echoes of 1970’s classic rock together with hints of the 1930’s blues that inspire them.

Photo: Rob Blackham

Aaron and Grace possess a clear flair for songwriting and arranging. On the album, things move nicely from loud to quiet to loud to even louder, with enough variation and breaks to hold the interest. While lyrically the duo don’t stray far from classic rock themes, the feel will transport you back in time while hurling you into the present by way of Grace’s impressive lead vocals. Witness the track Battleground (see video below), which is as good a slice of heaviness as you could wish for and a standout. “You make the ground shake up,” sings Grace over percussion which sounds like it could have been recorded in a vast underground vault. Instruments bleed into each other, creating a dense and all-encompassing canvas, full of enough dark hooks that it’s difficult not to get swept along.

Chatting to them, I break the ice by focussing on music rather than them being married: “Hi you two! I’m not going to ask the hackneyed “how did you two meet”, but it strikes me that you’ve worked very closely as a musical partnership for a few years, would it be fair to say you’ve got similar, and probably similarly eclectic musical tastes?!”

They come back on both scores – “Hey Velvet Thunder! Yeah, we have played music together for a few years and we’ve been together as a couple for even longer!” Aaron goes on to add “We originally met in a pub! Grace came to work in my local and the rest is history. We have similar musical tastes, although we have introduced each other to lots of new music over the years. The pub we met in was an old school rock pub which led Grace into loving G’N’R, Thunder, Metallica, bands which I had been into for years. Although Grace did introduce me to Bonnie Raitt.” This intrigues me as to how their musical style might have changed since they first started, and whether it is still developing:

Grace says “When we recorded The Uprising and ‘Innocence of Youth’ EPs, we really felt like we were finding our sound. Even more so with our new album. We were clear on what we wanted to achieve with the album and the EPs helped to put us on the right path. For years we’d played music and written music together, but we hadn’t struck on a sound we loved. As I play violin and mandolin, they weren’t traditional instruments to throw into a blues rock sound either! – so it’s taken us some time to work it out, along with finding the right vibe for the songs themselves.”

Photo courtesy of Rob Blackham

I also get the feeling that they’ve done the traditional groundwork of getting out there and doing as many gigs as possible – but maybe not in the most traditional way! I ask “So! When and why did you hit on the idea of the VW campervan?!” Grace replies “We absolutely wanted to do it properly and get on the road and play! After years of doing music alongside a day job, we went all in and quit our day jobs in 2019. We got our old VW panel van for £1500 and converted it into our mini gig bus (we literally slept with Aaron’s guitars). We travelled all over the UK and had plans to play in Europe last year. But along with everyone else we had to adapt when COVID struck so we’re embracing being 100% online for now.”

This makes me ponder the logistics of it all. Musicians very often create something in the studio, then take extra players along with them when performing live to give a beefier sound – it feels like they’ve almost done things the other way around. I ask whether it was always just the two of them touring, there’s not exactly a whole lotta space for extras in the VW?! (It certainly conjures up a whole meaning for the phrase “tour bus”!!). Aaron confirms this: “Yup you got it! It just wasn’t viable to travel with other musicians, and we really wanted to play as many gigs as we could to get a feeling for what people thought of our songs. Playing them live is totally the best test for new songs.”

“We were also especially lucky to find Adam our producer, as he’s also an amazing drummer and bassist, not to mention keyboards. We really didn’t want to go in the studio and just layer tons of parts down because it would lose our rawness. With Ads, he comes to it from a Producers perspective, every part is well thought out and only there for a reason.”

I’m still intrigued by the spatial issues relating to the VW: “On a similar theme, you couldn’t exactly go back and trash the hotel room after a gig! (do people still do that?!) – not much space in the van to cool down in?!” Grace laughs “Oh man, we’re just not that rock n roll!”

We then move on to talk about social media. Stating the obvious, the first lockdown put an end to all live music, and Grace and Aaron made a conscious (and very successful) decision to really make the most of online channels, which isn’t always as easy as it might appear. I ask whether they were able to bring skills from their previous lives into doing this? Grace replies “We learnt a long time ago not to just feed off an audience. Although we’ve always been lucky with the reactions we’ve got from people when playing live. Before lockdown one gig would be to hundreds of people, then the next you’re playing to 30 people in a quirky music pub on a rainy Wednesday night. We learnt to bring it and not rely on feeding of an audience, and to give it 100% at every gig regardless! This helped when it came to playing to an iPhone from home. There was no way we could accept writing 2020 off when it came to growing our music! – so we committed to adapt to online and make the most of the time!”

Photo: Laurence Harvey
Photo: Terry Crouch

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As I said, working on-line brings its own challenges and it occurs to me that, given the duo have been doing a live stream on Facebook every Saturday at 8pm BST for their “Rock The Lockdown” series – and attracting hundreds of thousands of views on a weekly basis – it must entail an awful lot of hard work to keep the “show” sounding fresh for regular listeners/viewers. I ask them how they managed that, and back comes the disarmingly honest reply: “We have no idea! It helps that we really enjoy the live streams and people can see we’ve got such great fan base who come and join us every week.”

I move on to the album We Fly Free and explore its development. Right across the music industry, there’s been a lot of anxiety across the industry when producing “hard copy” during the pandemic, across the whole spectrum from musicians, record companies, PR folk, publishers etc. I ask Grace and Aaron whether there were any problems with releasing We Fly Free in November, and had they got over the excitement / rush of it coming out yet? The response is emphatic! “Vinyl… oh man vinyl! That’s been such a pain!… but other than that we’ve managed to make everything work. Although it was a mega rush. We had to delay going in the studio by a couple of months, but we were adamant that we would get the album out in 2020. It’s been such an exciting time but also very surreal. We’ve had such great feedback on the album but like most people we haven’t really left the house, so it’s been difficult to get our heads round it!”

I reveal that I’d had the pleasure of reviewing We Fly Free for Velvet Thunder in the Autumn, and confirmed that I thought it mightily impressive! I suggested that one of the reasons for that is its wider appeal to the broader church of rock. The duo’s music is undeniably blues-based, but very accessible, rocky, fresh, and well received. Grace agreed that they had been knocked out by that level of reaction, they’d genuinely not expected it.

I went on to say that another part of the appeal must also be that it’s a very “live” album, and I love the classic retro feel to the mix. It’s clear that Grace and Aaron had themselves wanted that, using things like reverb, fuzz boxes and that gorgeous Hammond organ. I ask whether they had also got involved in the “techie” side of the production, or whether they had carefully chosen a like-minded crew? – and congratulated the team as a whole. Aaron confirms this: “We absolutely intended the album to have a live vibe to keep the energy raw and we live for classic rock, so we had to keep the recording style vintage. Right from when we recorded the first EP, we wanted analogue, authentic and unpolished. Ads our Producer really thinks outside of the box and embraced the brief!”

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I come back to what might be next for the duo. With no touring in the immediate future, they’re not the sorts to be resting on their laurels? Grace emphatically agrees, saying “Yup we’re writing the next album now and continuing to put lots of energy into growing online.” And of course, a 2021 tour must be in prospect – I ask how they’re going to handle the logistics – whether a bigger ‘bus’ might be necessary, with somewhere to put the Hammond!

Grace agrees it could be tricky!: “We are definitely already planning our first UK Headline Tour which is very exciting! We will be touring with a three-piece backing band which is going to be amazing! Think we might have to put bunkbeds in the van…”!

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A thoroughly interesting couple, completely immersed in their work and in their love for retro influences – I look forward to seeing the ‘bus’ roll up at a town near me!

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Just a few MORE samples of the rave reviews We Fly Free has generated:

“It’s not often I give an album a nine out of ten accolade, but this is something quite startling. This is the urban blues with the brakes off.”  – 9/10, Vive Le Rock

“This is an album full of raw energy, that crackles, buzzing with power and passion.” – Blues in Britain

“We Fly Free confirms these guys are heavy enough to get your attention and quirky enough to hold it, songs that are kicking but leave a boot-print on your heart.” – 4/5, Classic Rock

“We Fly Free is the perfect antidote to our new reality. Hang on tight, it will lift your spirit.” – Blues in Britain

“The tracks are well crafted, a fine mix of fuzzy guitar-laden tracks, chill out tunes and blues, allowing you to sit back and enjoy top musicians at work.” – Emerging Rock Bands

“It’s a tough job to make a new blues-based record that really arrests the listener’s attention, however, WRM’s sound is built of simple but powerful elements, handled with taste but delivered from the gut.” – 9/10, Guitarist

“Electrifying and somehow original despite its deep roots, it’s a great debut.” – 9/10, Guitarist

“Grace and Aaron bring a definite chemistry to their music which works on so many levels. Vocally both are strong, and harmonies are just wonderful. It’s fabulous to hear a few non-standard musical instruments used as well, which altogether make this full album a treat for your ears.”  – Two Finger Media

“A genuinely interesting, eclectic mix of songs produced in a retro-style, the mix being deliberately almost muddy at times. There’s undeniable talent at work here!” ­– Velvet Thunder

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Did I Break The Law?

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Battleground

When Rivers Meet’s debut album “We Fly Free” is available from www.whenriversmeet.co.uk