I can say with confidence that the world is different because of RVIVR’s self-titled first LP. The band oozed hope for so many people who wanted to ditch the machismo of Punk Rock in in 2010. As a queer man myself, it – among many other pieces of music that connected with me – allowed me to recognize this part of myself that I couldn’t put my finger on. It is a record that is renowned in the DIY community for its sound and its message, and it is even listed at #49 on Rolling Stone’s best Pop Punk albums of all time.
I’m very happy to be talking about this record with a close friend – Ryann Mathers of the band NONCOMPLIANT, a femme grunge band from Lexington, Kentucky. We got nostalgic about 2010 – a brief moment in DIY music where so many great albums came out, RVIVR’s self-titled among them, and how this time period made us want to get involved in any capacity:
“When I was about 20 years old, my (now ex-) wife was trying to start a band. She had gotten in contact with someone through Craigslist, and they did the classic, ‘here’s what I’m into and what I want to play,’ music exchange. RVIVR was this dude’s number one band. I still remember his email that said, ‘If you aren’t into this, then we won’t be able to work together.’”
I was nineteen I think. I don’t think I can even begin to describe how exciting music was at that time. The emo revival was still in its infancy, and many new bands were forming from the ashes of colossal acts that had disintegrated with time. Bands like Bomb The Music Industry!, Touche Amore, The Menzingers, Fake Problems, Titus Andronicus, The Dopamines, etc. were all getting huge recognition and were effectively taking over Punk music. These bands – doing it all themselves – were incredible testaments to how you really can do it all yourself. DIY music was getting into more ears with music festivals popping up all over the country and the forever-evolving social media/music sites and forums. Among these bands, was a band that formed from the break-up of Latterman called RVIVR.
The dual-vocal attack from Mattie Jo and Erica Freas is a magic that can not be duplicated. The songs feel desperate, but hopeful. Songs about growing up, gentrification, and falling apart are shouted over complex and fast instrumentation.
“That first listen [of RVIVR] through, played on busted computer speakers, and completely changed how I heard music. This sounds cheesy as hell, but I had never in my life heard anything like that. Until I was in 8th grade, I had never heard much music what wasn’t Christian music. I was raised in a small town in Kentucky, my mom made me go to church four days a week, and until I was 13 I was sheltered as hell. My first boyfriend introduced me to Nirvana, Alice in Chains, the Vaselines, the Meat Puppets, basically the mainstream late 80s / 90s grunge scene. And I never had much access to ‘secular’ music, outside what people let me listen to when I wasn’t at home, until I moved out at 18.”
I responded: So a bit after that was when you were introduced to the DIY scene that was dominating at the time?
“The entire DIY scene was new to me. Music that was played just for the sake of fucking playing music, without trying to impress anyone! People making their own merch, their own clothes, doing their own recordings and releases and distribution… even touring! At that point in my life I was half a step away from homelessness and never knew that I didn’t have to be rich to make this kind of music.”
There’s a part on this record that sticks with me, and it’s in the song “Edge of Living” where Erica screams “Smash a fucking plate! It’ll make you feel much better!” The anxiety in this song is so dense – it sounds like someone holding on for life, and every chorus is the warm hug that keeps you going. These internal battles are discussed at length on this record, and anyone with anxiety or depression can relate. I asked Ryann if they suffered from any mental health issues in their life:
“I’ve been in and out of therapy since I was in Kindergarten. I didn’t realize until I was an adult that, at age seven, I didn’t have ‘sports asthma.’ I had been having panic attacks.”
The coping mechanisms for anxiety and panic attacks vary for everyone and no one is unique in their exact method.
“I generally cope by creating. Music or writing or crafts or shitty art. It helps me feel like I have a grasp on something. My anxiety comes in these huge waves, and I can’t see anything else. Using my hands to make something will help pull me all back together. I think it’s pretty obvious that I’ve always had issues with self worth.”
Ryann went on to explain that in discovering RVIVR, coping became easier. The band and the scene surrounding them taught Ryann that confidence and purpose outweigh any sort of perceived skill or placement. I asked Ryann to elaborate on some of the moments of realization that led to the eventual drive to get out there and start performing music.
“It’s actually a live video of RVIVR playing at The Grist Mill. Erica plays a solo, totally butchers it and just laughs! And keeps playing! There are so many lines on this album that punch me in the gut, but her attitude is what affected me the most in the long term. It’s so inspiring to see so much freedom of expression. To be able to play music that’s so personal and so imperfect and to know that it is valid. I always had the impression that if you couldn’t do something perfectly then you shouldn’t do it at all. There is absolutely no way I would play music today without having seen Erica’s confidence.”
I asked for Ryann’s favorite song on the record. The response that came shouldn’t be edited or interrupted – so here it is in full:
“It’s hard to answer this question without getting really specific and personal. The song on this album that really kicks my ass is “Real Mean.” I actually have the line “Time moves fast and time moves slow” tattooed on me. I’ve had – and I know that we’ve all had – moments in our lives that just really suck, moments when your life changed forever. I’ve had a few of them, and sometimes I feel really stuck in specific moments. A month before my mom died, we went on our first family vacation to Virginia Beach. While we were taking photos on the beach she had a seizure. She never really recovered. I can still fucking smell the condo we stayed in that week. Even now there are times when I wake up in the morning and see the ceiling above the bed I slept in there. Part of me is stuck. Sometimes time moves fast, and sometimes time moves so slow there’s always a part of you in that moment. The day I got that line tattooed, I got back from my appointment, opened the door to my apartment, and walked right in on my wife fucking someone else. I don’t even remember what I said. I don’t remember moving out and back into my dad’s house, don’t remember where I found the strength to start completely over. I just looked up and it was a year later. There’s a few snapshots in there: my Christmas tree on the side of the road, my dad talking me through a panic attack, driving to work every single morning listening to RVIVR. The length of the album was exactly how long it took me to drive my grandparents old minivan to work. Time moves fast and time moves slow.”
RVIVR is more than a band to a lot of people. They’re a group that has made people feel whole for more than just their songs about growing up. They seek to solve the questions within that we cannot seem to answer, and in Ryann’s case provided an inspiration to create, forming a coping mechanism that continues with their career as a hair stylist and a musician.
“RVIVR played a huge part in helping me realize that creating for the sake of creating is a perfect expression.”
I can’t possibly lead this interview out. I asked Ryann why RVIVR’s self-titled record is a triumph, and what it means to the world at large. I could probably answer this, but I’d rather leave it to the expert:
“I’m actually going to use my friend Amanda Witbeck’s (beat awfuls / brenda) words to answer this. One night we were both pretty drunk, talking about how she was joining a new band and how excited she was. Then she dropped her eyes and said she was also pretty nervous about being good enough for a new band, because she had been criticized before of ‘not really knowing how to play drums.’ Suddenly she stopped, looked me right and in the eyes and said, ‘I don’t play music because I know how. I play music because if I don’t then it hurts.’ That’s it. That’s the thing that RVIVR taught me. That’s what this album means, that’s what this album does, and that’s why it’s inspired a whole bunch of poor kids to play shitty instruments as loud as possible and with all their strength. What you’re going through is real. It is valid. And maybe if you write a song about it, you can play it in front of your friends in some cramped basement —
And they’ll know exactly what you’re talking about.”
Dollar Signs’ Dylan Wachman chats with musicians about the music that helped them navigate the hard times.