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When Rivers Meet release their incredible new album Saving Grace - Winter 2021

Photo credit: Rob Blackham
Photo credit: Rob Blackham

We here at Rock Today are passionate about new music. Passionate. We are well aware of how fortunate we are to be presented with a constant stream of new music and the absolute privilege we have of seeing first-hand the incredible talent that continues to emerge globally. But occasionally something really special catches our attention, something that stops us in our tracks where a band or artist has created what can only be described as wholly exceptional music. And it’s with this in mind that we introduce you to the outstanding blues rock duo When Rivers Meet. Grace and Aaron Bond are perhaps the most gifted couple in the business, beautifully demonstrated by the enormous success they have already enjoyed. In less than 2 years they have released their debut EP The Uprising (September 2019), their follow-up EP Innocence Of Youth (May 2020) and their debut full-length album We Fly Free (November 2020). The impact When Rivers Meet has been absolutely phenomenal, clearly demonstrated by the band emerging as winners of 4 UK Blues Awards including Blues Band Of The Year, Blues Album Of The Year, Emerging Blues Artist Of The Year and Most Inspirational Online Performance Of The Year. They were also the listeners choice to win Planet Rock Radio’s Best New Band at The Rocks Awards. Now they are back with their sophomore album Saving Grace – and it’s perhaps as close to perfect as an album can be. We are well aware of what a huge statement this is but the truth is that this album is fully deserving of this label. As the launch date draws near, we catch up with Grace and Aaron at their home in Essex to get the full story on how the new record came together. Having just returned from a support slot with blues leaders King King, and with Saving Grace about this hit the shelves, the duo are understandably on a huge high. After receiving the warmest welcome, we take a seat and our conversation begins… 
When Rivers Meet UK tour 2022
When Rivers Meet UK tour 2022

Well I would of course like to talk about the new album Saving Grace, but before we do I would just like to take a moment to look in the rear view mirror, and take some time to reflect on some of the highlights so far in 2021. Firstly you are the winners of 4 UK Blues Awards including Blues Band Of The Year, Blues Album Of The Year, Emerging Blues Artist Of The Year and Most Inspirational Online Performance Of The Year. If that wasn’t enough, you also won Best New Band as voted by listeners of Planet Rock at the radio station’s The Rocks Awards. How did it make you feel to be recognised in this way?

Aaron – Completely surreal, to be honest. It was surreal just to even be nominated for these awards let alone actually win them. Totally took us both by surprise! 

Grace – Pretty much all of our growth and how our music has taken off, it’s all been in lockdown. So, like with the Blues Awards, we hadn’t gigged for a year, and it was just very surreal.
Aaron – Our minds are blown basically, it’s like we’re ecstatic, but at the same times it was like ‘How did that happen? (Laughs!)

Well of course, all this praise is a tough act to follow. Do you feel a huge sense of pressure to exceed this success with Saving Grace? 

Aaron – Yes. I think it’s a case of when we released We Fly Free, it was the first time we put music out to be critiqued. It was a very nerve-racking time for us because we read a review in one of the magazines which absolutely slated one of the bands that was well known and we’re like ‘Oh my god’, you know, ‘they’re going to destroy us!’ 
Grace – I think rather than worrying about if this album is more successful, we were more worried about it being good. In our eyes we have to remember that we have to care, we have to love it and if we love it then we assume that there will be other people who do too. We’ve done music before where we’re like ‘meh…’ so we are quite honest when it comes to our music. So if we’re happy with it then that was our main thing.
Aaron – That’s one of the things when we songwrite, it’s a case of we’ll start writing the song and if we love it, we carry on and if we don’t love it or if we think ‘it’s ok’ we just scrap it and go onto the next one.

Let’s talk more about the new album. Saving Grace is an absolutely stunning record and one I believe represents the very best in blues and roots rock. It has a beautifully authentic live feel, and listening to the record I actually felt like I had a seat at the table in the best music bar in New Orleans. It’s a wholly immersive experience. How important was it for you that the record embodied these live textures? 

Grace – It’s always been the first thing on our minds. We wanted it to be organic and wanted it to feel real. When we’re in the studio, it’s basically Adam’s [Bowers, producer - Ed] house. It’s one big open plan space. It’s not a dead room where you have to put effects on to make your voice feel like it’s in a nice space. There is not one digital reverb on our album, it’s all created in the room and that was really important. We do a lot of live takes and a lot of the vocals are just one take. The guitar parts are often played with the drums because if things get too perfect, that’s where you lose the authenticity and really you lose the vibe. It’s really easy to get so stuck in the detail that you forget that this was supposed to be real life. That was definitely on our mind. 

How did you decide on the title of the album? Is this perhaps a statement of how important music is to you both personally and as an artist? Did the music save you? 

Aaron – One of the things is obviously because of Grace’s name, but also, we really struggled to find the title for the album. We couldn’t think of one of the songs that suited, or any of the lyrics that suited to be a title of the album. So, we were having a conversation on holiday, and we were just talking about it. I think I said “Our music has really been our saving grace” and that was it really. 
Grace - We were both working jobs we didn’t enjoy. We were trying to do music at the weekends but we couldn’t travel very far because we had to get home for work. So we quit our day jobs and went all in! And it was a slog for a fair time before it came to fruition.
Aaron – We bought an old van and converted it ourselves into a campervan just so we could travel around to play music to people everywhere we could.
Grace – And then how things have taken off in the last year, it’s like everything has come back round and we get to be together all the time and live the life we want because of music.

I’d like to talk about some specific tracks. The third track on the album, He’ll Drive You Crazy is a hugely powerful track and I love the breakout dialogue with the words ‘Sorry, what was that bit again?’ which adds an unusual and personal touch. From a lyrical perspective, Grace, I believe every word you sing. Is this perhaps the most autobiographical song on the album?  

Both - We drive each other crazy!  
Grace – How we work is that Aaron does all the lyrics and I do all the music, but it actually wasn’t, you wrote the lyrics didn’t you.
Aaron – Yes, because I know I drive her crazy basically.
Grace – We really wanted to leave that added bit in and again its kind of like, we take what we do really seriously but at the same time we do it because it’s fun, you know? It was a genuine bit when we were recording, and I just thought it was really funny.
Aaron – We were thinking, ‘should we have an outtake kind of thing and get an outtake somewhere?’ and we thought ‘nah,let’s leave it in the song’ because its genuine for the song – it’s what happened.

The emotion your music carries in this record is absolutely staggering. The track Don’t Tell Me Goodbye is perhaps the perfect example. A more chilled moment in the album with its clean guitar lines. It’s also such a beautiful story and a song that shows the special magic that happens when the two of you come together. Is the title of the song a message you are giving each other? 

Aaron - Throughout lockdown and because of everything that’s happened, I think everybody’s gone through something where they’ve had to say goodbye or can’t say goodbye to someone and it really resonated with us. Everyone goes through this at some point in their life with either one or more people. When I write the lyrics to all the songs I love people to have their own interpretation on each song. I don’t like to slap you in the face and say this is exactly what’s happening. It’s more of a case of you if can relate and if you can really feel the song then I feel that that’s the message and I think that makes sense.  
Grace - You can apply it to your relationship and it’s really bad but I’m quite an emotional person anyway. On the last line when we were recording the vocals I was actually crying and I was trying to hide it and Aaron was like ‘We know you’re crying’. We really do feel the songs when we’re singing them.

Throughout the album you both provide vocals and of course the most gorgeous harmonies but I think it’s fair to say that Grace is the lead vocalist. However, the track Eye Of A Hurricane is a moment for Aaron to truly shine. I love this song for its story telling and it’s urban tale quality. I think it works perfectly because Aaron is singing. Was there a lengthy conversation that took place to decide who would sing on this particular track and Grace, was it easy to step aside for this one? 

Grace – Definitely, we always say whatever is best for the song. Lots of times we get, even on our live streams, people asking ‘can we hear Aaron sing?’. I like that people love hearing him sing because I love hearing him sing and we aren’t competitive at all. We are very much about wanting to put the best thing forward. I was actually singing that song and I suggested Aaron tried it. We were like ‘he’s going to sing it’.  
Aaron – There were another couple of songs that were kind of written more for me but for some reason it didn’t work, and we embraced it. You know, Grace nailed them. It was the same with the last album as well. There were a couple of songs you were meant to be singing and you didn’t, and I sang. It’s just the way it works. We’ve got two voices. Either one does it or the other one does it. But predominantly Grace is the lead singer.

Saving Grace is also a hugely inspirational record from a guitar playing perspective in that for me personally it created a tractor beam to pull me to back to my blues roots from my current pure hard rock residency. The emotion you convey through the instrument across the whole record is phenomenal. What was your vision for this record from a guitar perspective?

Aaron – We wanted it to be a little bit rocky, but we are so fundamentally into the blues and classic rock. 
Grace – I think it’s the simplicity because we definitely see Aaron’s role as guitars, and I think that’s what made our music a bit different as well because I take some lead parts with mandolin and there isn’t a huge amount of leads or melody lines in our songs. I think leaving that space and having the simple, repetitive but hopefully powerful guitar, that’s what we see as one of our fundamentals.
Aaron – My biggest influence is John Lee Hooker and it’s just repetitive riff, riff, riff and it really gets to me – I just love it!

Talking In My Sleep is the song that perhaps sounds the most live – a simpler song with two voices and a guitar. Did you take a different approach to recording this particular song?  

Aaron – Yeah, I think it was one take. We thought, because everything was so rocky, we wanted to give an acoustic song as well. I sort of changed things slightly just to show we can just be one guitar and two voices. 
Grace – It’s nice for us to remember as well. Yeah, we can do that too and we can just sit with an acoustic and we can do something that’s hopefully really nice. A nice break in the album and just a different colour.

Let’s move on to When Rivers Meet in a live setting. You have just concluded 7 date tour in October with the fabulous King King. What were the highlights for you? 

Aaron – Oh, there were a lot! Just being out playing live music again, in amazing venues, to a wonderful crowd everywhere we went. Every crowd was amazing! 
Grace – I think with everything that’s happened with our music, during lockdown, for us to go out and travel to different parts of the country and have people there to support us as well was amazing! Obviously, King King have a whole legion of fans that follow them but to have people there supporting us. Our fan base is called The Rapids and we’re walking out on stage, and we hear ‘Rapids! Rapids!’, you know people chanting!
Aaron – Also, we’ve got people singing our songs back to us!
Grace – The whole thing is amazing, and Edinburgh was a real highlight too. It was the last gig, it was their hometown and to just be a part of it…
Aaron – We love gigging. We love being out on the open road. We missed that through lockdown. To be able to go again is just so good.

Your live shows to date have been just the two of you with Aaron keeping a beat with a bass drum. A very simplistic yet highly effective set up and performance. However, the 18th of December sees you playing The Hunter Club in Bury St Edmunds as a 5 piece. This is a significant move for you. What made you decide on this new direction and is this likely to be a permanent one? 

Aaron – It’s definitely permanent. We have been toying with the idea of having a band for quite a while and last night it was actually our first band gig – we played in Surrey. We want to give the best impact in the best show and the best sound. We can’t do that with just a bass drum. 
Grace - I think as well, we are realising our limitations as a duo, though I think it will always be part of what we do like with live streams as a duo, and there will be duo gigs. There is a limitation practically of what sort of slots, what sort of positions you get at the festivals and shows. Quite simply you can’t make the same impact as a duo that you can as a band. We saw that even with King King. We are really proud of what we’ve been able to achieve as a duo, but we hear a full band and we’re like ‘yeah, let’s do it’. We’ve got a great band, like seriously nice blokes, who are amazing. So that was a big worry but now we’ve sussed that!

So, when you talk about the first show with the new band with the new personnel, how did that go? Did it go exactly as you wanted it to? 

Aaron – It was amazing! It was brilliant! It was fantastic! We only rehearsed properly three times and to go and play that last night it was great. 
Grace – We’d done like an hour and a half after three rehearsals, and I think one of the biggest things for us is again like we really wanted to feel like we were all in this together and enjoy everything and it really did on the last night even more so. We have all got each other’s backs and it just felt so good.
Aaron – The camaraderie was fantastic. It was amazing. And to be able to play a gig in front of hundreds of people... The place was sold out and we got a standing ovation! We were actually blown away. It’s definitely the right thing to do!

April next year sees you embarking on your first ever UK headline tour. 17 dates! How much are you looking forward to this extensive tour? 

Grace – We are definitely looking forward to that run of shows. Even more after doing the King King tour. We’ve never toured like this. Our tour was: we get in our van, and we go to one gig, we sleep in the van as we couldn’t afford the hotels and we go to the next show. That was our tours. 
Aaron – It was a case of it could be anywhere around the country and we had to get there.
Grace – To then be a part of the King King tour... It sunk in as well that seventeen dates is quite a lot. We’re way more excited about it now and we were like, we only want to do Thursday, Friday, Saturday nights because who wants to go out on the Tuesday? I’m really pleased we’ve done that. We are so excited, especially now we’ve got the band lined up and we know who we’re doing it with, and how much fun it’s going to be.

What does it mean to have the incredible Troy Redfern joining you? This is a very special pairing.

Aaron – We think he’s a perfect match for us. He’ a great musician. 
Grace – We really complement each other, and we are really chuffed that he’s agreed to do it because he’s been doing a lot of touring and he’s been so amazingly supportive. So we are really chuffed to have him on our tour - and we’ve never met him! So we’re really looking to meeting him!

As our conversation draws to a close, we reflect on what an incredible album When Rivers Meet have created in Saving Grace. With such a strong body of work, the highest awards and a hugely exciting tour to look forward to in the new year, this really does feel like a band on the launchpad to stratospheric success. Hold on tight! 

For more information check out https://whenriversmeet.co.uk and in the meantime enjoy the video to Saving Grace’s lead single Testify below.