Looking for folk music in London? Meet the Green Rock River Band, a Brixton-based wonky-tonk doom-folk collective who have been playing together in one form or another for 15 years and are releasing their first album Rhinoceros with Handclap Records this month. Arts co editor Barney welcomed bassist Adam and singer-songwriter Jeremy into the Bugle office for a Carlsberg and a chat.
Why are you called the Green Rock River band?
Jeremy: Just when we’d started the band, I was in a beautiful secret little park in Hounslow – where I grew up – and I drunkenly tried to walk across this river on these rocks covered in moss, and I fell in.
When did the Green Rock River Band form?
Jeremy: 15 years ago, we started as a duo and accumulated members over the years. We stopped growing when we couldn’t fit more than eight people on stages.
Adam: I’m one of the accumulations. We’ve reached our critical mass.
How did you all meet?
Jeremy: From drinking in the same pubs, being on the same music scene. Adam had seen us play before, and one day we asked if he could join us.
Adam: I was in a duo playing the banjo at the time, and we used to stage-invade Green Rock River Band gigs (with permission), and then one day my four strings on the banjo turned into four strings on the bass. I was a big fan of the band, so I was pleased and privileged to be asked to join.
How would you describe your music in 5 words?
Adam: Wonky-tonk doom-folk… music. It’s difficult because we have so many influences and there’s so many of us in the band. There’s elements of country, bluegrass, folk, delta blues, cajun, jazz…
Jeremy: I’m quite a big fan of old British music hall, theatrical story-telling and the live element of it.
So what’s doom-folk?
Jeremy: It’s celebrating misery and hard work in a very joyous way. It’s when you’ve had a really hard long week and you just want to get smashed. Gallows humour.
Tell me about your album Rhinoceros coming out in May.
Jeremy: It was recorded up in North London at Reservoir Studios, which is run by Chris Clark, a bit of a legend in the field. We recorded as much of it live as we could. We wanted the feel to be right, rather than get the most perfect take. We did it all in 10 days and we’re really happy with it. This feels like the most honest piece of work we’ve done. It’s all the risks we wanted to take, it’s the best songwriting that we’ve done, and the arrangements are solid. We’ve got some nice collaborations on it too – there’s some beatboxing, trumpet, piano and french horns.
How have your live shows been received?
Adam: Since I joined the band, I don’t think I’ve done a gig where people haven’t danced. I’ve been a musician for a long time and it’s the first band I’ve been in where that’s been the case. We’ve had some riotous nights.
Jeremy: We come at them with a lot of love in our hearts. It’s not just a band and an audience, we work together to have a good night.
Do you like playing gigs in Brixton?
Jeremy: Certain places feel like home – Brixton’s one of them. Every show we’ve played in Brixton has felt really good, because of the audiences. You play in other parts of London and have no idea whether people are enjoying it or not – in Brixton, people are dancing in the sound check!
People tend to think of the countryside being the natural home for folk music – what do you think of folk in the city?
Jeremy: Folk music is all about storytelling. People have lived in Brixton for years and they’ve always got stories to tell – hip-hop, dub or folk, it’s all story-based. You don’t get that all over London. There’s an attitude around here of sharing and community, and there’s a tradition of music from all the different cultures…and food of course! Everybody likes to eat in Brixton, and that’s just fine with us.
I noticed you’ve got a cooking blog on your website…
Adam: Damn right – you can’t have good music without good food and good drink to go with it.
Jeremy: It’s the whole package. We put on gigs and we call them parties, we cook up something and everyone gets stuck in. Whether it’s a big old jambalaya or some cake, we get cooking, and get playing.
What have you got planned after the album launch at the end of this month?
Adam: After the album, the next big thing in our calendar is an independent feature film which we are in – The Fitzroy. It’s due out later this year. We’ve done the soundtrack and we’re in it as well.
Jeremy: It’s a feature-length British comedy said in an alternate 1950s Britain; the Cold War went wrong and Britain’s been covered in a poisonous gas and the only place you can get a traditional British seaside holiday is on an ex-Soviet nuclear submarine off the coast of Margate. It’s like a shit Butlins, and we’re the entertainment!
Sounds bonkers! And what are your future plans for the band?
Jeremy: We’re toying with the idea of playing in Germany next year too. It would just be nice to build up a bigger following. We’re going to keep doing what we’re doing: eating and playing music!
Rhinoceros will be available from 26th May. You can order a copy and find about the band’s live shows at www.greenrockriverband.com. They’re always on the hunt for new dishes for their blog and would love to hear your favourite recipes – send them to firstname.lastname@example.org
A shorter version of this interview appeared in the May 2013 Brixton Bugle.