“These are kids!” said a guy standing next to me in the crowd at WorkPlay. We were there to see Riverbend, a band he told me he’d only found out about through the venue’s online calendar. He and his date had decided to listen to some of the group’s music on Spotify and liked it enough to attend the show. To his surprise, the musicians who entered the stage were four teenagers with the sound and stage presence of four seasoned adults.
Looking back, that short exchange with the stranger in the WorkPlay crowd sums up what’s so surprising about Riverbend. The quartet is comprised of four Birmingham-area high school students — Stanton Langley, Price Pewitt, Max Simon, and Sims Ruffino — who are musically beyond their years.
To date, the band has released two albums, headlined multiple shows at WorkPlay, and performed at festivals including Sloss Fest and the Heights Hangout. In March, the band released The Extra Mile, the follow-up to its 2017 debut EP, Bitter Words. Recently, band members spoke with Jefferson County Journal by phone from their rehearsal space.
Jefferson County Journal: You just released your newest EP, The Extra Mile. Were the songs on that record, newer compositions, older songs, or a combination of both?
Stanton Langley: It was both, but I don’t think we had any of any of these fully ready to go when we made Bitter Words. These were maybe ideas at the time, but it wasn’t until after we put that out that we decided it was time to start working on these songs and we got them ready for the record.
Price Pewitt: It definitely felt like a new chapter and a major shift for our band from the last EP.
Jefferson County Journal: Your debut EP was recorded in Austin, Texas. How would you compare the recording process of Bitter Words to the recording of The Extra Mile?
Langley: This one was pretty different. We went with more of an organic approach. The last time we went into record, some of [the songs] were written two days before, and we really didn’t know quite what the composition was going to be in the studio. That was great, but this time around we wrote the songs and let them get weathered live — but not overdone. They sort of marinated for a while. By the time we went in, we did more live takes — like we’d be playing live — and came in and threw some cool ideas on top.
Sims Ruffino: Going out to Austin, we had a very limited amount of time to do the entire EP, whereas with this process we had from August to November to come back and forth in and out of the studio because it was really close. We could tweak things. It wasn’t like we were hundreds of miles away, which was a lot nicer because I could go back and fix a couple of drum things.
Pewitt: Anytime we’re working with a new producer and a studio, no matter what the process is, it’s going to be different. But it was nice to be able to run home and grab another instrument instead of being so far away. I feel like as we’ve gotten older and more used to being in the studio, it felt a little more freeform and smooth and we weren’t on a clock or out of our comfort zone. We were in our backyard with [producer] Les Nuby, who’s been a great friend to us. Just to go in and have fun with it — it felt loose and comfortable and we got to experiment some. I think we all feel good about it.
Jefferson County Journal: Do your songs still evolve during the recording process?
Max Simon: Absolutely. There are guitar parts and drum fills and bass lines that we’ve changed or emphasized in the studio to bring the songs to life. We road-tested the songs as much as we could, but then there’s something about being in a room and experimenting that we hadn’t gotten to do with them and that opened new doors to a lot of the songs.
Langley: The last thing I would say about it is being with a guy like Les — working with [Bitter Words producer] A.J. Vallejo was great — but the thing about Les is he grew up playing the same kind of music. He had the same path and was very relatable. He was able to give us his input in the studio and make it something that made sense for our music.
Jefferson County Journal: How would you describe the band’s writing process?
Langley: We never really quit writing and we’ve stayed on top of it. As this project came to a close, we decided to get it into gear and started writing more songs. When it gets down to it, the most important thing to keep growing is being creative and coming up with new songs. Our process has changed a little bit. A typical song used to be where Max would bring in a riff and we would mess around for a little bit and get the structure down and I would put the lyrics on it. We still do some of that, but it’s evolved in the way we’ve started to write new songs.
Ruffino: We just take a two-hour jam and copy and paste all the best stuff to make it into a four-to-five-minute song. I think that’s the way that it’s starting to happen.
Simon: We hopelessly jam — it’s something that we just cannot get away from [laughs]. Even if there’s the biggest gig of our lives on Friday, we’ll end up spending an hour or two on Thursday jamming something out. I think it keeps us motivated and keeps everything fresh, which is important.
Pewitt: We’ve hit a new level, in my opinion, of being comfortable with our instruments and getting more comfortable and familiar with each other’s playing. It’s hard to have our instruments set up and not start pumping out whatever ideas are flying here and there. Some of it gets trashed and some of it turns into a song that we hold onto.
Jefferson County Journal: What are some upcoming plans for the band?
Langley: We’ve got some big plans for the summer. At the end of the month, we’re going down to Florida and we’ve got a show on [Highway] 30A. We’ve got SliceFest coming up on June 16. We’re going to branch out and travel to different states and try to get a foothold in different cities.
Riverbend will perform at SliceFest on Saturday, June 16. Advance tickets to the festival are $30 for general admission and $125 for VIP, and can be purchased at slicefest.com.