There’s a period of re-examination, consideration and assessment that comes naturally with the end of the calendar year. That’s the head space I’m in when I catch up with Alex McWalters, the drummer for the Asheville-based band River Whyless, as we talk about their big New Year’s Eve show at The Orange Peel. (Get tickets here.)
I think Alex is there too, taking stock a bit. As usual, there’s a lot of good, and some not-so-good.
River Whyless celebrated the release of their third record, Kindness, A Rebel, in the summer. A full, exciting U.S. tour backed up that release. It all came with some high expectations, not all of which were met, Alex observes.
The band launched its first European tour, with dates in Vienna, Ghent and across Germany. It was a dream come true, Alex says.
And the musicians hit some big personal milestones. Halli Anderson moved across the country to Oregon. Ryan O’Keefe got married. Alex and Ryan bought property together in Swannanoa and are building houses. (Daniel Shearin rounds out the foursome.)
“It’s just us becoming adults and moving on to next phases of our lives, and continuing to be a band,” Alex says in summation.
It’s all led to a reaffirmation of everyone’s desire to keep going, says Alex. That European tour, especially, “reignited the spark that makes it all feel like an adventure again.”
“We talk a lot about how we still want to be together and make music. It’s easy to take that for granted,” says Alex.
After all, River Whyless started as friends getting together to make music when they were students at Appalachian State University. That was more than a decade ago.
Still, it’s a grind. No matter how hard you work as a musician, regardless of catching a lucky break, the music business today is constant hustle. Everything has moved to streaming services, and a demands for content based around social media – videos, photos, endless interviews – wears on a body, says Alex.
“There’s a part of us that wants to hold on the the grassroots,” he says, that feeling to being close to where things started. That goes along with a sense of wanting to “guard your art,” he adds. All the questions asking the band to define what they’re doing can be exhausting.
Now it’s time to put that all aside for a night and celebrate.
Horse Feathers, a group of indy rockers from Portland, Oregon, will be opening. “We’re going to make it as Last Waltz-y as possible” with plenty of sit-ins, he says.
“It will be a rocking show,” Alex promises, with plenty of energy, with a midnight countdown and balloon drop and all.
And looking back one last time, Alex says he feels good about it all.
“I would say it’s been a good year,” he says, adding that he’s not really a resolutions guy.