Their friends probably thought they were millionaires. The band Monsters Calling Home had just performed on Jimmy Kimmel Live, after all. Record labels were calling. Tours were booking up. But then it all slowed down to a crawl. The band needed to regroup. It needed new energy. It needed a new name.
Monsters Calling Home was Alex Hwang's group. He wanted a band. If the folk-rock sextet could rebrand itself, every member might be just a bit more invested in the music being created. They'd also stop getting comparisons to another folk-rock outfit.
"Honestly, one of the reasons (for the name change) was because Of Monsters and Men was a big band," Hwang says. "At that time, for that first album, our setup was kind of the same. We had a male-female vocal thing going on, folk sound and a lot of anthemic things. Rather than fight the uphill battle of being compared, we wanted to distance ourselves. It was also good to challenge ourselves and let go of things and see if we could come up with something we liked."
And so, Run River North was born. The band released its debut album in 2014 and is hitting the road just ahead of its sophomore follow-up, Drinking From A Salt Pond. They'll perform at the Double Door Inn on Dec. 3.
The children of immigrants, Run River North shared a common bond when they first got together as a band. They could all relate to Hwang's lyrics, but Monsters Calling Home was still more personal to him than the others.
"[MCH is] my father's initials," Hwang says of the old band name. "I think the name change has given everyone more freedom to express themselves within it. Maybe they didn't feel like a monster calling home before. It feels like more of a band now."
While the band, which has had a consistent lineup for the last four years, still sings those MCH songs tied to family life and not much has changed about their sound as a whole, things have gotten more introspective.
"The name change and what we're going through is a marker of growth for us and we never want to be comfortable in what we do — doing things that are easy," Hwang says. "There were a lot of times where it went stagnant and still, but we're always trying to challenge ourselves and figure out ways to keep moving."
There are a lot of river analogies that come up when talking to Hwang. Not only the stagnant/flowing comparisons, but the lyrical-meaning comparisons, as well. He doesn't hesitate to lay it out, because he says it works as the best way to describe how the band has changed.
"The river kind of stopped and we looked at what was in the river and it was a still picture of ourselves," Hwang says of the band's approach to its sophomore album. "We're embracing who we are. I think it's more of a self-reflective album and it's more about relationships. Do we want to be playing music with all the flaws and brokenness we have and everything we know about each other? A lot of that comes out on the album. We talk more about our relationships and what it takes to be in relationships more than focusing on our family and the immigrant story."
Being the children of immigrants was important when the band started. It gave them a common bond. But while there are still plenty of stories there for songwriting, Hwang says the band's maturity gave them a different perspective on what to write about. You have to move forward, he says.
"In order to move forward, you have to look at yourself and see who you are and what kind of family you can make and what kind of home you're making," Hwang, 29, says. "In that process, we thought, 'Oh shit. We're not the most perfect people ourselves. We can blame our parents all we want, but we still have to live our lives.' The second album is just that — looking in the mirror and wondering if we're just like our parents."
The band spent the last year writing and recording the sophomore album, and seeing each other almost every day. But now, after some time off, they're ready to get back on the road. They're doing a short stint this fall before, hopefully, more extensive touring in 2016.
"Rather than sing about what everyone else is singing about, I'd rather sing about what I know and what impacts who I am," Hwang says. "That was a big part of the first album. Now that we've toured the country and gone overseas, there are so many other things to talk about. We can start with ourselves and go from there."