RIVERS AND RUST BIO 2018
It’s cool, crisp and spacious – easy to digest, but full of emotional complexity. There’s something very middle-American about Rivers And Rust, but don’t get too caught up in defining it.
A side project of Matchbox Twenty guitarist Kyle Cook, the versatile, adaptable collective is a heated mix of roots rock, soul and Americana, an understated cauldron that plays off the push and pull between male and female voices. It’s a flexible set-up, a small sort of freelance structure that allows musical partners to move in and out of the ensemble as Cook finds new voices that extend his creative reach.
“I’m looking at it as having a cast of different vocalists along the way that will contribute their talents and skills to it, but still make Rivers and Rust an identifiable sound,” Cook says. “DJ’s do that a lot. They’re always kind of viewed as an artist – here’s the new Zedd single, and it’s Taylor Swift singing. Here’s the next Zedd single, and it’s Demi Lovato singing. Maybe it’s even Bonnie Raitt.”
Cook is central to the identity of Rivers And Rust. He’s a co-producer, a co-writer, the bass player in the studio, the electric guitarist on stage and the male voice, adding some of the burn to the sound.
The rest of the troupe bends around him. The group’s first tours in 2016 and 2017 paired him with bluesy Texan vocalist Sheila Marshall delivering the female voice, while Nashville’s Kelly Prescott stepped in to put a ferocious tone on another series of dates. The touring band can change, too, since the material is pliable enough to maintain its distinction through multiple approaches to playing.
The recordings at the foundation of Rivers And Rust were built around a trio of musicians – Cook on bass, ex-Cage the Elephant member Lincoln Parish on guitar and engineer Ryan Hewitt (Tom Petty, Red Hot Chili Peppers) on drums – with an uncluttered, driving sensibility. The songs are firm, full and rhythmic, while the sonic intensity is accomplished with a modest number of moving parts.
“What Lincoln and I were coming up with has an abandonment to it, where it feels real and feels visceral,” Cook says. “But I want that craftsmanship, too, like with a Lindsey Buckingham-type of production: beautiful harmonies juxtaposed against this outburst of aggressive guitar or dissonance. It’s just that balance. It’s something accessible to people, it’s something pleasing to the ear, but also with a little edge to it as well. It’s a tough balance to ride.”
That balance is evident in the material that Rivers And Rust has doled out in its early live shows. Titles such as “Carry Us Away,” “Fault Line” and “Welcome To The Show” convey angst and bitterness in their lyrical themes. But that discomfort is offset by the compact melodicism, the focused backbeats and the infectious hooks embedded in the guitar-driven frameworks.
“It’s not like we’re prone to do like four-minute preludes or stuff like that,” Cook says. “I want to have economical songs that people can take into their lives.”
That’s the kind of straight-forward approach Cook and his band mates in Matchbox Twenty have always provided, a concise, driven brand of rock that’s more clean than a garage band but less polished than a pop superstar. The group’s relentlessly listenable songs – including “3 A.M.,” “Unwell,” “How Far We’ve Come” and “She’s So Mean” – have made it a steady hit-making enterprise, leading to gold, platinum or multi-platinum certifications from the RIAA for each of its five albums. But that intermittent release schedule is also part of the motivation behind Rivers And Rust.
“There’s too much music in me to get out in one group,” Cook says. “I wish we would put out more material. I love the way we craft records, I love the time we put into it. When you add the fact that it takes a year for every album to set up—we all live in different places, the rehearsing, the writing of the material—it takes a lot of effort and coordination.”
Cook periodically found other means of expression between his primary band’s projects, contributing to albums by Mick Jagger and John Waite from a base in Orlando. But the itch for additional creative opportunities increased when Cook moved in 2007 to Nashville, where he found camaraderie in an under-appreciated rock scene. Despite its country stereotypes, Music City is the home to Jack White, Cage The Elephant, Kings Of Leon and The Black Keyes, to name a few, and the city was teeming with potential collaborators. Initially, Cook tried his hand at producing other artists, but as he got immersed in one of Marshall’s projects, he organically flexed his creative muscles by co-writing material and playing on the album. He realized he had more artistry to share, and Marshall’s range and raspy texture helped him understand how his Rivers And Rust side project could co-exist with Matchbox Twenty without stepping on any toes.
“I want to work with women,” he says. “It’s a Fleetwood Mac kind of thing. I love the dynamics of that. Unless you have a Freddie Mercury kind of singer, a male that just has insane range, you can’t accomplish that with a male vocalist. So I always liked that masculine/feminine thing in rock and roll, because you’ve got a lot more to play with.”
Parish, on the heels of his Cage The Elephant membership, helped bring the basic sound and song structure to life with his similar affinity for basic, sinewy sounds.
“He’s a super talented guy,” Cook says. “We just happened to be right down the street from each other, so he and I struck up a relationship and started writing songs. A lot of it was guitar riff-based. We related as guitar players so it was easy for us to sit around and talk about that stuff, and we both came from successful bands, so we related there. Our visions kind of lined up.”
Rivers And Rust is ideal as a flexible unit. Akin to the structures of Santana, Nine Inch Nails or Parliament, it’s intended as a format for collaborators to move in and out, building the stockpile of material and adding new shades to the existing pieces as it evolves.
Its unfettered rock and roll core gives Rivers And Rust a definable home base. But one of the group’s more adventurous, raw pieces – “Got No Limits” – could easily serve as a mantra for the band’s possibilities.
“I listen to a wide variety of music, and I’m not afraid to try to find a way to fuse all of those influences,” Cook says. “I’m not going to be afraid that if I put a beat on something that people will think I’m saying I’m a hip hop artist, or if I put a pedal steel on it that I’m saying I’m a country artist.”
The very name of the act, Rivers And Rust, hints at the available spectrum.
“It’s the dark and the light,” says Cook, “the clean and the dirty.”
But don’t worry too much about defining it. Rivers And Rust is really just a way to experiment with different personalities in a classic roots-rock format.
“When I think of U2, I feel pretty strong about what that band sounds like,” Cook says. “When I think of Ryan Adams, I feel pretty strong about what kind of sonic thing is going on there. I would like that to be the case with Rivers and Rust. But not dependent on just one singer.”