Bands share a whole lot more than just music. They encounter and endure life’s ups, downs, and everything in between as a collective. Along the way, band members grow individually and collectively. Following a year highlighted by 150-plus shows, Wild Rivers transpose personal experiences into relatable anthems woven from strands of folk, indie, rock, pop, country, and beyond. Their 2020 EP, Songs To Break Up To [Nettwerk], brings Wild Rivers—Khalid Yassein [guitar, vocals, keys], Devan Glover [vocals, bass], Andrew Oliver [lead guitar, bass], and Julien Laferrière [drums]—closer as it also draws listeners in.
“The EP was very personal for me specifically, but building it out with the band was a big step for all of us as friends,” says Khalid. “I spend 95% of my time with my bandmates. We’re a family, so we go through everything together. It’s autobiographical, but the group saw the vision and were empathetic. It went from a singular experience to everyone serving the vision tonally and musically.”
Since the release of their self-titled 2016 debut, Wild Rivers consistently progressed towards this point. As of 2019, their total streams surpassed 100 million and counting. 2018’s Eighty-Eight EP garnered acclaim courtesy of Rolling Stone Country, PopMatters, Earmilk, No Depression, and more. Additionally, the band packed shows across North America and beyond, touring alongside The Paper Kites, Donavan Woods, and Jake Bugg, to name a few.
In the midst of a 2018 road marathon, Khalid faced the dissolution of a long-term relationship, so he poured his heartbreak into the music.
“When we began writing, the songs that spoke to us all were centered around the breakup,” he says. “We decided to lean into the theme and make the EP an exploration of the topic, what the different sides of a breakup are, and what the feelings are. These include the good and the bad, the acceptance and the sadness, and the new freedom. We wanted to write a collection of songs covering the spectrum of what you feel going through the end of a relationship.”
In order to do so, the group retreated to Nashville, TN in October 2019, working out of Creative Workshop with producer Skylar Wilson (Rayland Baxter; Justin Townes Earle; Joshua Hedley). In the studio, they expanded their sonic palette by further incorporating synths, guitar effects, gang vocals, and choral harmonies.
“In the past, we’ve mainly recorded in Toronto,” says Devan. “We could just hop into the studio whenever. In Nashville, we only had a limited amount of time, so we got locked in and focused on the end goal as a team. We were all staying together, so we were living and breathing the EP the whole time—which was awesome.”
“Our philosophy was to take risks and do something different,” Khalid elaborates. “The whole ethos really helped in making decisions and guiding what we did. If we felt unsure, different, or vulnerable, we always chased that feeling.”
By chasing it, Wild Rivers uncovered five undeniable tunes led by the first single “Thinking ‘Bout Love.” Clean guitar and a steady beat reverberate amidst a heartfelt vocal volley between Khalid and Devan. Wistful recollections of an old flame give way to gospel-style harmonies as Devan soulfully sings, “I’m just thinking ‘bout love.”
“When you’re talking about breaking up or after it’s over, one person will think practically like, ‘We shouldn’t be together on paper. These are all of the reasons this relationship doesn’t make sense’,” Khalid goes on. “It’s the rational side of deciding whether or not you want the relationship. Then, there’s my side, which is romantic and naïve. I think, ‘Nothing matters, if we have love and our relationship is good.’ That’s the only future I’m thinking about. One partner thinks about the logistical hurdles; the other thinks about love. It’s the hopeless romantic versus the cold rational adult.”
On the follow-up “Kinda Feels Alright,” soft strumming and delicate percussion offset candid admissions from Khalid such as, “Last year baby, I was checking in. Now, I’m crashing.”
“One night, I went out on the town with my friend, got drunk, had a bunch of laughs, totally relaxed, and just experienced this amazing feeling,” he recalls. “I wasn’t sad about anything. I stopped thinking about the split. When I was walking home, something made me think of my ex, and all of these feelings came back. It turned on a dime. I realized I couldn’t focus on it anymore. I needed to get closure and get back to my life.”
Elsewhere on the EP, drum machines anchor the poignantly playful “Small Talk” as a piano that once belonged to Ray Charles rings out on the bold ballad “Do or Die.” Now, as the band bring Songs To Break Up To on the road, they’ll contribute $1 from every ticket sold to Voices of Our City Choir—a San Diego-based charity working to amend the housing crisis.
By opening up on Songs To Break Up To, Wild Rivers ultimately connect like never before.
“We want to validate people’s feelings,” Khalid leaves off. “It’s okay to be sad; it’s okay to be happy. There’s no right way to handle something like heartache, but you can talk about it with your friends. We try to show that.”
“In this collection, there’s something for everybody,” Devan concludes. “The songs span different genres and vibes. We hope there’s something that can connect with you in terms of the music and the message.”