When Rivers Meet’s Musical Married Couple Discuss How A Gibson Les Paul Changed Everything, And Preparing To Get Intimate In London

When Essex-based married couple, Grace and Aaron Bond, left their jobs in 2019 to focus full time on When Rivers Meet, they took the gamble of their lives. However,...

 

Interview by Mark Lacey

Photo Credit: © Blackham Images

 

When Essex-based married couple, Grace and Aaron Bond, left their jobs in 2019 to focus full time on When Rivers Meet, they took the gamble of their lives. However, that decision has been vindicated several times over, as they embrace the recognition and awards that have followed; famously being the first band to win four awards at the UK Blues Awards 2021 and another three awards in 2022 including ‘Blues Band of the Year’ at both ceremonies.

This year has seen their success accelerate on the live circuit, with summer performances at the UK’s Steelhouse Festival, and more recently joining Joe Bonamassa on his ‘Keeping the Blues Alive at Sea’ Mediterranean Cruise. With a new album ‘Aces are high’ also getting notable attention, this could well be their time. 

“With this album, it was like, this is what we do now. We just create what we’re feeling at the moment. We were really confident going into it. We didn’t try and pigeonhole. We’ll go as heavy as we want to go. We’ll go as light as we want to go. And the genre police will be out there telling us that we can’t be blues anymore or we’re not rocky enough, but we weren’t caring. I think that’s why it seems to be well received by people”.

Photo Credit: © Blackham Images

 

MGM: I’m presuming ‘When Rivers Meet’ is a play on words for the pair of you. Are you the two rivers that have met?

Aaron: We are, yeah. So, we were in Sardinia and we were playing with the name of our band.

Grace: At that time, we were Homes and Bond, it was my maiden name, Aaron’s surname. When we got married, we wanted to switch it up into something different.

Aaron: Bond and Bond didn’t have a good ring to it. It sounded like a building firm. We’re over this ravine overlooking where these two rivers meet. And we were playing with the word rivers and it was like, oh, that’s perfect; ‘When rivers meet’.

MGM: How would you describe your sound to someone who hasn’t heard you before, and describe what you’re trying to say with your music?

Grace: When we first started releasing music in 2019, we very much seemed to head straight into the blues scene. We love the blues and our music is rooted in the blues for sure. We won ‘Blues Band of the Year’ three years on the trot. So, there’s definitely huge elements of that but there’s a lot of rock in there too. We’re not really trying to be anything, to be honest. We like pretty heavy music. We like a repetition on riffs. We like something you can really grab hold of. We’re pretty much blues rock.

MGM: You won a couple of those Blues Awards really early into your career together. But your sound is so much more diverse than that. Does winning those awards help you or has it pigeonholed you into that blues genre?

Grace: It was definitely a positive thing. We were completely unknown and it kicked us straight off. We were the first band to win four awards at the Blues Awards and we were embraced by that scene. A lot of the big festivals are rock festivals. We’ve got a lot of Americana influences in our music and what happens then, is you only are seen in the blues scene. Because we’re an independent band, it has made it more difficult. Our second album went a little bit heavier just because that was where we wanted to take it. And then people asked, are we not blues anymore? We’re not trying to be anything in particular, we’re just putting music out that we’re enjoying.

Aaron: I think it’s our influences as well. You’re talking about bands like Cream, Led Zeppelin and Rolling Stones and even though they were kind of rock bands, they were very heavily influenced by the blues as well. In a way, we feel the same.

MGM: You’ve been playing together for about six or seven years, but you’ve been together as a couple for almost twenty. Why did it take you so long to decide to get it together as a group?

 

Grace: We’ve definitely been playing together longer than six or seven years. Maybe ten to fifteen with different projects. We’ve been a duo, we’ve played with bands, and we were writing different music for the last ten years, but we’ve only struck on what we’re doing now, for four years.

Aaron: Yeah, since 2019. The Gibson Les Paul completely changed our sound because before that I didn’t have an electric guitar; it was just acoustics, and finger style. Going from that and bringing those vocal harmonies and that Americana style into what we do, just amalgamated it all together. And that’s our sound now.

MGM: So, what makes ‘When Rivers Meet’ different as a project to when you were performing together before?

Grace: I play violin and mandolin, and Aaron was finger picking acoustic guitar. When we started to write together, we automatically fell into really good music, like Americana stuff, but it wasn’t the music that we listen to necessarily. We’d actually recorded some music before, but nothing was resonating with us. As much as we were rehearsing it and playing it, we were going out and almost then getting our feel going by doing a covers gig with a band. We were doing it, but for whatever reason, we weren’t getting our kicks out of it.

Aaron: We didn’t understand why up until we went to a concert and saw Tyler Bryant and the Shakedown and bang, straight away it was like ‘this is what we’re supposed to be doing’.

Grace: We just weren’t doing what we loved. I guess people could see that. And as soon as we got back that week, Aaron bought a Gibson Les Paul, we were like, let’s try and write something completely different. We released a four song EP and literally, it was just like night and day. We did our first blues festival, which was Dereham in Norfolk, and all of a sudden people were listening and watching. It was such a different reaction.

MGM: How does the dynamic of living together as a married couple and then performing together work? The music industry has not been kind to married couples; thinking of people like Meg and Jack White in the White Stripes, Sonny and Cher, or Ike and Tina Turner. How do you maintain that happy balance?

Aaron: I think one of the things is we love to be together all the time, and we just enjoy each other’s company.

Photo Credit: © Blackham Images

Grace: We’re quite lucky, I guess. A lot of couples, if you’re together a lot, it becomes difficult and we’re sort of the opposite. We’re better if we’re together all the time. We’ve been together a long time. We definitely have arguments, but we champion each other, so there’s no competitiveness between us.

Aaron: As soon as you bring an ego into the party, there could be problems. But we don’t have an ego with each other, so therefore we don’t really fall out or anything like that. Obviously, we do on normal things, but when it comes to the music side of things, we don’t at all.

MGM: Often it’s the tension between the guitar player and the singer that provides that creative spark leading to them writing their best music. How do you get that creativity in your music without that?

Grace: We tick along really well together, and because we’re together all the time, we’re proper intense, and all in with each other. That has helped the music, because Aaron does the lyrics, and people don’t expect that I do the music. Aaron’s been through a lot of stuff, so it does get channelled into the music.

Aaron: There’s a few sweet songs on there, but a lot of the lyrics are quite a bit darker. I always like to have a double meaning to every song. If you delve into the lyrics, you might see it.

MGM:  What does the title of the album ‘Aces are high’ signify for you?

Aaron: We took a gamble back in 2019, where we quit our day jobs. We bought this old van; we converted it ourselves into a camper so we could travel around the country and play original music. Not many places tend to want to have original music and pay for it. We were lucky in that regard. 2019 was a massive turning point for our decision. And our aces are high, literally; we gambled and we feel that we’re so lucky and privileged to be able to do what we do.

MGM: You’ve got a bit more attention with this album. Your last album, ‘Saving Grace’, did very well and you’ve won those awards, but it feels like this one has really resonated.

Grace: I guess we’re finding our feet. We went into this album a lot more confidently, and with the first album, it was the first time properly working with a producer. We lived with him for three months and we didn’t necessarily have a clear vision of what we were going to create. With the second album, there was a lot of pressure, and we did feel that in the studio. We’re proud of the album, but it was under strain. We could feel the expectation there. But with this album, that weirdly just went, and it was like, this is what we do now. We just create what we’re feeling at the moment. And so, we were really confident going into it. We didn’t try and pigeonhole. We’ll go as heavy as we want to go. We’ll go as light as we want to go. And the genre police will be out there telling us that we can’t be blues anymore or we’re not rocky enough, but we weren’t caring. I think that’s why it seems to be thankfully well received by people because it is just a bit more chill.

Aaron: Being independent, we can make decisions about what we want to do creatively. We really felt that we wanted to be a bit rockier; even putting fuzz into the album, which we’ve never done before on the guitar tones, and it really resonated with us.

MGM: The sound is very reminiscent of Rival Sons, with the fuzzy guitar, and the vocal on that album takes on a very voodoo vibe, almost ‘Live and Let Die’. Harder blues music is currently having its own renaissance moment, with the likes of Dirty Honey and DeWolff, but other people like Elles Bailey are also making strong headway with the Americana sound. Your music is right up there at the right time. One particular track on the album that is gaining attention is ‘Golden’. What is that about?

Aaron: It’s about a certain person that we had a relationship with. It was fantastic at the time, and then it all sort of fell apart. We’re still close, but at the time we were really close. It’s a moment in time where something is so special and so good, but nothing really lasts forever necssarily. And that’s what happened.

MGM: ‘Trail to Avalon’ has a really raw sound. How do you get that, and what does that signify?

Aaron: Well, ‘Trails to Babylon’ is quintessentially very British. We wanted something very English. I love mythology, and obviously it’s Arthurian mythology. Babylon is the place where we’re all aiming for, and we’re all on that trail, but it’s easy to fall off the trail and you have to really concentrate and be mindful.

Grace: All of our albums have been recorded in one live room. Our producer plays drums and bass on our recordings, and he’s our live bassist as well. We start off all the songs, just the three of us; just thrashing the songs out a bit and recording them. On this album, so many of the vocal takes are those original takes where we were thrashing the songs out, because you’ve got the energy and the enthusiasm. They’re all like first raw bloody takes.

MGM: This album captures a very authentic sound all the way through. ‘Seen it all before’ also has a very authentic blues, gospel and soulful vibe. What were you trying to achieve with that song?

Aaron: The main thing was through this journey we’re on, there are people that crop up every now and then, that try and turn you down a certain trail. They’re so convincing. But it’s happened a few times now, hence we’ve seen it all before. Somebody said to me once, ‘There are vultures up here and there are sharks down here, and you’re in the middle. Try and keep clear of those people’.

MGM: Since you both decided to quit your jobs and focus on the music, it’s really taken off. You had some great dates last year with King King. You’ve done some of your own shows earlier this year, as well as the Firevolt and Steelhouse festivals. You’ve also just gone around the Mediterranean with Joe Bonamassa on his KTBA cruise.

Grace: It was mega hot. We actually flew over some of the fires just outside Athens as well. It was really close to the city, which is crazy. But the cruise was great. It’s just non-stop gigs for five, six days. You wake up for breakfast, and you’ve got the playlists of all the artists going around, and you’ve got the pictures of all the shows from the night before on all the screens. It’s a proper immersive experience, and it was really fun.

We played four shows in three different venues. I think there’s six or seven venues on the boat. You just all get switched around. It’s just good vibes. Everyone wants to enjoy the music. It was nice to see a lot of other acts, like Blackberry Smoke, who I’ve never seen before, and also DeWolff who were fantastic.

MGM: Outside of these shows on this cruise around Greece, pretty much all of your shows have been in the UK. Are there plans to play again overseas?

Aaron: We did play in America last year, so that was pretty cool. We toured with King King and we did our own headline tour. Then we toured with Reef and then we did another headline tour this year. And then the Bonamassa cruise.

Grace: It’s very cool because we’ve not delved into a lot of different territories, and next year we’re going to be spending a lot of time in Europe.

MGM: You’ll soon be playing the Hop Harvest Festival in Farnham, and a few shows later in the year including Whitby Blues. But what’s the plan beyond those and also around the album?

Grace: We just announced an intimate show that we’re doing in London at the Islington Academy 2, which sold out on 24 hours. Our tour finished and we’re releasing the album now, so we just wanted to do something a little bit special. We like to switch it up with what we’re doing. For the last two years we’ve done a spring headline tour. We’re going to be touring this album, but we’re not going to be doing as many dates. We’re going to be doing some big shows and then spending a lot of time out in Europe and also the States. There’s a lot of potential support stuff coming round. Our name is getting out there and we want to focus on writing as well for the next album.

MGM: You’ve only been together as a band for a few years, but you’re already on your fourth album, and putting one out almost every year. I’m guessing that ideas for the next one are already in the back of your mind?

Grace: It definitely is and we’re thinking about being a little bit more collaborative with the next album. We always just write everything together. Sometimes our producer has a lot of input. We put him on the songwriting credits too, because Adam Bowers, he’s amazing. We’ve met a lot of musicians now these last couple of years, and so we’re really keen to write with different people. And we’re going to spend a lot more time nurturing the songs. We’ve always just written for an album, so we write twelve songs that we’re happy with. Things get scrapped like crazy along the way.

Aaron: We’re quite ruthless. We’ve always said that as we’re writing a song, we either like it or we don’t. If one of us doesn’t like something about it, we just scrap it and then move on to the next one.

Grace: We’ve been spending like three months every year in the studio recording. We want to switch it up. We’re really excited about it, so we’ll see what happens.

MGM: You’ve put out a couple of live recordings as well as your studio albums. Have you decided to record any shows on this tour, maybe the show in Islington, given that it’s sold out?

Aaron: We’ve recorded all of our tour. We filmed two or three dates on this tour. So, we’re definitely going to be putting something out, for sure.

Grace: We like to record everything anyway. We’ve got a sound man who’s literally like the fifth member of our band, and we record everything because we want to hear back what’s going on. So, we’ve got a lot of footage.

When Rivers Meet’s new album ‘Ace are high’ is out now:

ACES ARE HIGH – TRACK LISITING

1. Infected
2. Seen It All Before
3. Play My Game
4. Golden
5. Aces Are High
6. Trail To Avalon
7. Perfect Stranger
8. The Secret
9. By Your Side
10. 5 Minutes Until Midnight

 

https://whenriversmeet.co.uk/

https://www.facebook.com/whenriversmeet

 

See them live:

 

27th September 2023:    O2 Academy Islington, London

6th October 2023:          Cornwall Rocks Festival, Looe

12th November 2023:     Whitby Blues, Rhythm & Rock, Whitby

3rd February 2024:         UK Blues Rhythm & Rock Festival, Winter Gardens, Blackpool

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