Artist Interview - River Hooks

River Hooks 11:11 – The Message is in the MUSIC!

A music executive contributes so much to the musical journey of an artist, so it is spectacular when they decide to release their own collection of music or continue their own music journey.  Indie Pop singer, songwriter, multi-instrumentalist, engineer, and producer, River Hooks, is no stranger to the Independent music world, and with the release of her latest collection of music entitled 11:11, she is already making WAVES

In a few weeks since dropping the single “Mountains,” it has accumulated 9K streams on Spotify.  In addition, the single “Real or Fake” has now passed 90K streams. That is a record that most artists attempt to set and break, and Hooks has already placed her flag on that musical mountain.  In this EP exclusive interview, you will learn the backstory behind such a multifaceted artist, what brought her to 11:11, and what she feels still needs to change in the music industry.  

What first got you into music?  

I’ve always been surrounded by music my entire life. My parents always kept MTV on (during the years when they actually played music) and I loved watching their music videos! In the car they’d play so many different artists for me and from every decade. We had instruments just lying around in the house and that’s how I became interested in playing guitar and piano. I wasn’t ever told to play. I was just always interested in learning how to make music when I was bored.   

I went to my first concert at six years old with my dad, we saw NSYNC haha. I can still remember that day and it totally led me to my concert addiction! I’ve always been interested in music and was that kid that was constantly singing. My love for music obviously never went away either! I am so thankful for my family and their constant support. Music was never something that I thought about doing because I’ve always gravitated towards it. I don’t know who I’d be without music and can’t imagine a day without it!  

Explain your music journey?  

Between the ages of nine to 12, my parents gifted me two instruments that I had been persistently asking for being a guitar and piano. I think they started to realize that music wasn’t just a hobby for me when they saw how much I was practicing. I would lock myself in my room for hours just learning how to play songs by ear. I’m also the only child, so music kept me entertained and I had a lot of time to create! Haha  

Music soon followed me into school. In middle school my music teacher had me stay back after class to ask if I would join the school’s choir. She knew that I loved music and singing, but I was on the fence about joining, so she threw in that we’d be taking a trip to Disney World (a theme park I had always wanted to visit) so I agreed and was in choir for four years! I don’t think I realized how impactful that time in my life was until looking back at those years now. I didn’t join choir when I went into high school, but I did become the teenager who chilled in the music rooms at lunch with my friends and we’d create together and nerd out on bands. I started to get more comfortable singing in front of people without a group surrounding me too. I was figuring out who I was as a musician in those four years of high school. I was also constantly going to concerts every week and learning how to play music by watching people play on stage. I grew up living 30 minutes away from my favorite venues in D.C. such as the 9:30 Club, U Street Music Hall, Black Cat, Merriweather and walking distance from The Fillmore. I basically lived at those venues in high school.  

Once I discovered Soundcloud, I started uploading acoustic covers. It wasn’t until I got into college that I started to really produce. I would replicate my favorite songs in my own way and upload them to Soundcloud. I taught myself how to produce on my laptop with Garageband then I leveled up to Logic, which has led me to my music journey now.

Small world; I am originally from Maryland and grew up loving the DC music scene, as well as, Merriweather too!  

So, how would you describe the music that you typically create / what is your creative process like?  

I pretty much create whatever I want. I really need to like the music that I make. If I can bop to my own music then others will see that my heart is fully inside of it. My music is typically based on my mood or whatever I’m writing about. I never want to be placed in a box being a genre. I never know what a song is going to sound like or sometimes be about until I start making the song. I do have melodies in my head and lyrics, but even in the process of making the track those can change too.  

I like to start my ideas on my acoustic guitar, but if I’m working on a song without my guitar then I’ll use my midi and create my productions. I enjoy searching for sounds that fit whatever vibe I’m going for and then the rest usually falls into place. I love producing because it can be very unpredictable and through each project I feel like I’m learning something new about myself and how I create. Music is limitless, so there are endless possibilities when it comes to making a song, but that’s also when overthinking kicks in and you just gotta be like “not today, Satan.” Haha  

I totally get you, River!  

The process of creating a song changes for me a lot. It depends on where I am when I’m creating the song, what time of day it is and what I’m feeling at the moment. I typically prefer to create late at night. I’m definitely a night owl and have insomnia, so most of my songs were created after midnight. I usually write all of my lyrics at night or when I’m taking a shower. I don’t know why, but I always have the best ideas in the shower! It’s really anytime when I’m alone and become lost in my own thoughts is when I can get into the creative process. I also hoard a lot of my ideas in my notes and audio messages. It’s just an easy way for me to save an idea really fast and come back to it whenever I need it. I also really enjoy adding my own samples into my songs, so I’ll record something on my phone and then process the audio in different ways. I truly feel like a scientist who’s gone mad when I’m producing, there is no method to my madness, but I usually get the results that I want. haha  

Ha-ha!  

Have you released any other music before your latest collection?  

Yes, I released my first self produced single “Worth It” back in 2018. That’s the year when I told myself I wasn’t going to hold back anymore. I had just recently graduated from college and I wanted to put myself out there for people to find me and my music. Since then I started networking with people online and on social media. That’s how almost all of my collaborations formed. I met VILLAIN I through instagram and we made several tracks such as “Latch Off Of Me”, “Isn’t Silence What You Wanted?” and “7.” I met my friend Kate Brunotts over Bumble Network and we collabed on “Hugsrdrugs.”  

Cool.  

Even before I released my first track I was producing cover songs on Soundcloud. I’ve covered songs by Billie Eilish, Jessie Reyez, Chelsea Cutler, Sasha Sloan, Maggie Lindemann ect. I was learning how to produce by producing cover songs. Through those days of releasing covers, which I still try to do, I’ve learned so much as a creator and always want the next cover song to be better than the last. I think having my old productions up will show my growth as a producer too.  

It will show your growth as a producer, and it will reflect your journey and how it is an authentic one – one that was not formed by someone else, but formed by you, the artist, herself.  Great!  

And, what inspired you to release 11:11?  

I’ve had “produce a seven tracked EP” on my bucket list for some years. I just never had the time to really sit down and do it. After I got back from a trip to Colorado last summer, I felt more alive and hopeful for the future. I felt inspired and ready to conquer everything I had been telling myself I needed to do to start making things happen for me as a musician. I was also still working on the EP when the pandemic hit us, which in a way helped give me more time to myself and to focus on my work. Nobody was asking me to go hang out and I didn’t have to travel to go to work events, so it was kinda nice to have all that time on my hands. It definitely helped me finish the project faster and gave me time to focus without any distractions. Plus there wasn’t anything I wanted to do but make this EP at the time, so I was super thankful to have music by my side when I needed it most and I think a lot of people are using music to cope through this year as well. I’m so excited to finally have a body of work that I’m super proud of and can’t wait to release more music too!  

Well, I have enjoyed living with this collection, so I know others will really vibe to it.  

You said that “this EP is a look inside my mind, an open diary,” what made you want to take that transparent direction for this EP?  

That’s just who I am as a musician. Outside of music, I’m not an open diary. I’m a pretty reserved person and am introverted. I do like going out and being social, but I also really love my bed and chillin’ alone! haha. Music helps me connect with people in a different way. I find things easier to be said in a song than if I said it in a conversation. I also feel like in order to make good music then I have to be honest with myself and be comfortable with being vulnerable.  

Great point River.  

I listen to a lot of artists who stay true to their music with honest lyrics. Everyone listens to music for different reasons, but I think the more relatable you are the more people will gravitate to the music. I want people to get to know me through my music. I want others to understand that they aren’t alone and we all share the same feelings and thoughts. I’d like to think that my music is for everyone and I hope that me being myself is what makes my music stand out. I wouldn’t know how to make music if not for being me.  

What is the running theme of your EP?  

I’ve been asking myself that question a lot! I think the theme is actually a timeline of my life from August 2019 to when I finished this EP in July 2020. I didn’t have a theme when I started working on “MOUNTAINS” and that was the first song I worked on for this EP. There’s also several other songs that I wrote and produced that didn’t make it onto 11:11, but will be on my next EP. 11:11 shows my progression as a producer, but I wouldn’t say in order of the tracklist. I can personally notice changes in my production skills in certain songs. I guess you can call it a time capsule.  

It really is just an open diary. I chose topics that I wanted to write about and subconsciously I think those topics worked together as a full project. I’m deeply discovering myself through each song. It wasn’t until I sat down to do my final mixes and masters for the EP, that I realized I had seven songs and no theme! I eventually knew how I was going to order the tracks to make sense as a full project and how they would sonically flow together. This EP is very personal to me, but it may have more meaning to someone else. I’m always more interested in what others take from my music and how they interpret it, as my music is for whatever the listener wants it to be!  

Since this EP is like a “time capsule” that took eleven months to complete, that is a great title.  

What is the backstory of “Mountains” and “Real or Fake” your latest singles?  

Before I wrote “MOUNTAINS” I felt a bit lost as a musician. I had released my first single in 2018 and had been doing a lot of collaborations in the meantime. Yet, I knew that I needed to release my own music to get my name out in the world. I just didn’t know when to start and was also feeling a lack of motivation. I was depressed by the fact that I had lost the feeling of wanting to create.  

One day, I called up one of my close friends to see if she wanted to take a trip to Colorado and she was so down to take a trip! We both really needed a break from adulting and the stressors we both were feeling from being twenty somethings. We also really love to be in nature and escaping the concrete life when we can. So me, my boyfriend, my friend and one of her friends took a trip to Colorado where we stayed in this amazing cabin on top of a mountain. The cabin had these enormous windows that faced several mountains, it was unreal. In the morning I would just sit and gaze into these mountains. I felt small in the world and finally with my break from life, I started to feel inspired and hopeful for my future again. I dedicate “MOUNTAINS” to Silverthorne, Colorado. The lyrics say everything that I was feeling. I sat down the day that I got back from my trip and wrote “MOUNTAINS” and I finally felt happy and the urge to complete a full EP. I’m so thankful for that trip and the people that I went with. I don’t know when this project would have existed, if it weren’t for that needed escape. I hope to go back to Colorado someday soon, as it felt like I was living on a cloud on top of those mountains.  

“Real or Fake” is based on observations of people that I knew and would hang out with. I would go out to a lot of parties, I’m not even a partier, and would just chill all night somewhere that didn’t feel like an obnoxiously stereotypical party scene out of a movie. I saw so many fake people out with their fake friends. I soon learned that some of the friends that I was hanging out with were just as fake. Again, my lyrics say it all and most people can relate if they’ve been to a party.  

The questions that I ask to the listeners are “Are you real? Or are you fake?.” People will do anything to blend in or to make themselves seem “cooler.” People use others to get what they want and if it’s not about “me me me” then anybody’s else's problems are minuscule. I wanted to write a song that you could jam to, but while also having yourself question the situation that you may find yourself in at a party. I’ve had a lot of friends who’ve listened to the song being like “wow, I felt your words...that’s me at every party!” or “this song slaps!!,” so I think it was hit! haha  

What is the best advice you’ve been given?  

I was told once, “you’ve only got one life to live, so do what YOU want with it, make it meaningful and in the end it doesn’t even matter because we all are going to eventually die.” haha I know it sounds morbid, but it’s the truth! As long as I’m focusing on myself and being a better version of me everyday, then I’ll stay happy knowing that I lived life with my heart in it and with good intentions. “Doing me!” is my life motto.  

Great motto.  

If you could change anything about the industry, what would it be?  

SOCIAL MEDIA. It’s the worst. It’s a pain. I wish I didn’t need it! As a music publicist, I’ve learned having a good social media presence is sometimes better than having a million streams. It’s so sad to think about! I find it so annoying when people in the music industry ask for your social handles and how many followers you have. I’m like...so what about my music?! I rather focus all my time making music then trying to please people on the internet. It’s not something that I like to waste my time on. I also think that the industry needs to stop having social media be this tool to compare artists’ worth. I will state that social media is not completely bad. It’s a great way to connect with people, but it can be overwhelming for anyone in the music industry. We are all constantly thinking about how we can gain followers, more likes or how we can become the next viral star. Social media causes depression and trying to figure out algorithms won’t help and neither do paid bots. I’m very much over social media, but I try to keep my accounts relaxed and a space for me to post things that I care about. I love my Instagram account and those that follow, but I wish I wasn’t based on a number in the music industry. I’ve touched on social media in a few of my songs, so I’m sure the world will hear my point of view in my music soon. Haha  

I totally agree with you River.  I wish the industry would go back to the way they would gage an artist’s worth years ago – like in the 1980s – when Prince and Michael Jackson (to name a few) were changing the industry with such creativity.  In those days, the industry was not image-driven or lazy in terms of putting in time to research an artist to see REALLY what makes them an ARTIST.  There were actual scouts who would actually GO to an event and see the artist for themselves – through a non-biased lens (so to speak) instead of allowing LIKES or VIEWS to assess the talent.  The human experience is being lost in the industry.  It is sometimes hard to imagine the Thriller album sold over 25 million records without social media . . . GO FIGURE!  Sure, social media connects what is usually hard to connect globally, but talent is internal and should not be assessed on a public, FREE, platform.  

So, what would you be doing right now, if it wasn’t for your music career?  

I have so many interests, so it’s hard to pick just one. I do think if music flopped then I would stick to my other passion, which is photography. I studied photography in college and came out with a minor, so I’m starting to incorporate my photography into my music career. I think those worlds go hand in hand, so I’m excited to see where that may lead me in the future! I really love going to concerts, so it would be awesome to be a professional concert photographer too.  

Last question, when did you last give yourself permission to let go?  

I love this question so much! I gave myself permission to let go the day that I handed over my EP to send off for streaming distribution. I had been working on 11:11 for almost a year. It felt like such a long journey and I had been “perfecting” the material for forever it felt like, so it was hard to one day say that “I’m finally done!” It felt really good to let go of this project. It’s a piece of me that’s now shedded off into the world and I’m really excited to finish my upcoming EP, which I’m currently working on now! I hope that this is just the beginning for me, as I have so much more of me to offer. I’m very excited about my future and I hope that you enjoy my first project!!  

Thank You River!!  Remember me when you cut that other EP sis.  

I like to say that we are only as free as our dreams allow us to be, and in the case of River Hooks she is fully free because she is living her dream to explore, create, and showcase her talents to the world through a lens that she has crafted called 11:11.  This artist has “no limits,” and I cannot wait to see where else she takes us.  #cageless   

The full EP drops today, make sure to stream or download your copy HERE!  

CONNECT WITH River Hooks here

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