RVIVR and the Cost of Wanting Everyone to Have a Good Time
When RVIVR released their debut three-song demo in 2008, few had the foresight to see how big of an impact the band would go on to have in just a couple years. While RVIVR became important for many in the punk world, their ascent was not always defined by gleeful admiration. Following the band’s self-titled LP in 2010, RVIVR would begin to tour more extensively and, as a result, found themselves entangled in a series of controversies — controversies that grew more intense on the various message boards the internet has to offer. Seven years have passed since that LP was released and, in that time, singer / guitarist Erica Freas has experienced a lot of revelations about RVIVR’s history. In light of Don Giovanni's recent remaster and re-release of the self-titled LP, we sat down with Freas to talk about RVIVR’s emotional journey.
It’s been a while since the debut LP was released, but there aren’t any major anniversaries for this reissue. Why did you decide to remaster and re-release now?
The idea of waiting until the 10-year anniversary to put it out makes me laugh, because we’ve been trying to put it back out for years. We were scrappier and punker when we did the record, and we did it to the best of our ability, but we didn’t know about mastering or stuff like that. We just had all collectively put out a lot less records. Doing The Beauty Between, it felt like all of us collectively pushed forward and learned a lot more about how we wanted to sound. That was 2012, and that’s when we first decided that we should go back and make the self-titled sound as good as we could make it sound, now that we have these different skills that we didn’t have.
What happened to delay it so many years?
We just kept not prioritizing working on it because it was in the past and we had stuff that we were working on in the now, you know? Then, after releasing Bicker and Breathe in 2014, we kind of took a step back from RVIVR. So, when we stepped back into it, putting the self-titled back up on the top of the priority list just made sense. So, we had a long conversation with Carl Sass — he is the one that remastered it — and just really took our time and made it sound the way that we wanted it to. It coming out now is just a result of the natural, non-rushed, non-specific time when it was finished.
Did you approach Don Giovanni with the release or did they come to you asking about it?
We have been floating around in the same world as Don Giovanni for a long time. I approached Joe Steinhardt — one of the main people behind Don Giovanni — about doing my solo record earlier in this year. We talked on the phone, and he talked about how much of a RVIVR fan he was, so we just asked him if that would be interesting to him. It’s kind of a big deal to do something other than putting it out on Rumbletowne, because I’ve been running Rumbletowne for close to a decade and we just never had somebody else in the States putting our records out before. So, it was kind of a "getting to know what this experience was like" thing.
Was there ever a thought that you couldn’t do this record yourself for any reason?
No, not at all. I’ve been distro-ing RVIVR for the whole time we’ve been a band. When we asked Joe if he wanted to do the self-titled, knowing it’s a re-release and not new material, I felt it was generous of him to take the chance and opportunity to do that with us. And I know that the records aren’t flying, you know what I mean? I am sure that there are quite a few people that are stoked to have a sonically better version of that record, but we are not a hype band. We are an old band that a lot of people have grown up with.
The band has been going for quite a while, but you have a smaller amount of releases. Is that a conscious choice or a practical choice of when you are able to get together and write?
It’s just a natural flow. We are always writing, and it’ll feel like we have a selection that is either good to turn into an EP, 7”, or we are ready to do the big push for a full-length. We’ve been a band since 2008, and in that time we’ve put out several 7”s, a couple collections, two full-lengths and an EP. So, we are not, like, cranking [out] a full-length a year; when we do a full-length, we are wringing our souls out to make it. We work really hard.
Are you on the course for a new record?
Oh yeah, we are definitely on the course for a new record. We have a pool of eight or nine songs, and we are just writing all winter long. We are hoping to record in the spring.
You mentioned the band taking a hiatus. I remember when RVIVR were really going strong and touring a lot, but then hit a point where — I'm reluctant to use the term "controversy," but there started to be a lot of incidents happening at different shows, and a lot of people taking to message boards to criticize the band. Did this has an effect on you deciding to take a step back for a bit?
Yeah. Oh man. [Pause] I feel like sort of the tide that we have been on with RVIVR, over the last eight years, has just been so interesting. We came in and we were just a punk band with people with mixed genders. Period. And that felt really different almost 10 years ago than it does now, so it got pushed more to the forefront to be like, "Yeah, we are a band that is standing up for feminism." Which seems now, when I even say that, like, "Haha, that’s such a singular issue and it's so long ago." But it’s just been this evolution. We were catching a little bit of wind, but we were just a little baby band. But then, the shows stopped being fun. Naturally, a punk band, especially one that is playing energetic and fast songs, is going to get dominant social norms — like aggressive men — at their shows. We started speaking up and, at first, we were clumsy about it, because we were just like, "AGH! WE’RE PISSED, SO WE ARE REACTING HOW WE ARE REACTING."
That swelled and grew when we started being more explicit about the kind of shows we wanted to play. Meaning, asking bookers to book us with other bands that had women or queer people in them. Now, this is such a fucking non-issue. It’s the best. But, at the time, it was different. We went to Europe for the second time in 2011, and we played in Ireland and asked if the people would book us with other bands with women in them. Our show in Dublin was boycotted on the internet by boys who had their feelings hurt that we had asked for that. We ended up having this really uncomfortable tour, and it brought it to our attention that we needed to take into consideration the cultural differences — which is also a no-brainer now — and that you can’t just go around being [like], "This is how I say and demand things in the punk scene and subculture in the country I am from," and then take it someplace else in the world and do it the exact same way. So, we did have a lot of controversy around that time. That’s when the thing happened in Philly where — it's been told a million different ways — but the room was too small and we weren’t smooth about asking the crowd to chill out, and we probably hurt this person’s feelings.
I talked to him afterwards about it and he told me that you actually reached out to him and took him out to coffee the next time you were in town, and apologized.
I was also grossed out about how he was objectified in that situation. People were like, “They made a child cry!" And I was like, "He’s a fucking human who was having his own experience. Fuck all of you."
I believe he mentioned something about you creating a zine at the time to allow people the space to comment on their experiences at RVIVR shows — both positive and negative — but I don’t remember anything coming out. Did you ever complete that?
No. Man [laughs], this is such a funny historical can of worms. I was working on that zine and, in order to do that, I was looking at a lot of message boards in order to read what people were writing about us, and I had to stop because it was just ... okay this is going to make more sense when I say this next part of what happened, but, at that time, all it was doing was hurting my feelings. It was a bunch of men, mostly men — although there was a Facebook group called, like, Feminists Against RVIVR, who thought that by us trying to ask the crowd to be less aggressive that we were saying that women can’t be aggressive, which I am, like, sorry, that is not the point — so I just had to stop, because I was basically just reading a bunch of men saying why they have a problem with women standing up for themselves. Or saying things like, "Mattie [Jo Canino, vocals / guitar] probably sits down to pee," which is before she came out as trans, but was definitely experiencing a lot of gender bullying from people looking at her and not liking the way that this man was conforming to their standards of manliness.
Well, regardless of what's being said, it’s hard to read a lot of negativity about yourself and not internalize that, or use it to reinforce some of the worst aspects of the punk scene — not just then, but still today.
I feel this was all growing pains and we are past that. Not just RVIVR. We played the Fest this year, and I saw so many people who were just presenting so openly gay. I saw so many bands with women in them, and on the big stage, which is different. There is an access thing where some crappy band with all men in it is way more likely to get on the big stage than a weird band with people of mixed genders. So, I do think that a lot of progress has been made.
On that point, beyond the clumsiness, do you think any of your actions on that tour would be second-guessed now?
With RVIVR, Kevin [Rainsberry, drums], Mattie and I have been playing music together for almost a decade. We fucking love each other, we fucking love playing our songs — the new ones and the old ones — we love being tight. It’s just the funnest project. And the music aside, the skills that we learned through this is trial and error — which is really trial and error in front of 30 to 200 people every time — and I just feel like we are so much better at it now. I just don’t have the same kind of stress that I used to. We will play some town where we haven’t played before and people have heard that we are a cool punk band, but haven’t heard that we are a cool punk band that is going to be paying attention to the crowd and asking for a behavior change if, like, the women who are at the front of the room get shoved to back really quick after we are playing. People will be bummed out and get eye-rolly, but at least 75 percent of the room knows that that is actually why they came to see us: because we are going to be a good band that is going to ask something different than business as usual. I’ve just gotten so much feedback from so many hundreds of people. Sometimes it's just like the biggest, baddest guy in the room — who you look at and go, "Nothing can bother you" — and that guy will be like, "Thank you for saying what you say about aggression, because people look at me and think they can bounce off me like a trampoline, and I hate it. And I am I so happy that when I come to you, you are not going to let that happen." It’s cool.
To wrap things up, are you going to tour more on the reissue or are you setting your sights on finishing the new record?
We always play songs off the self-titled. We always think about the combination of songs; we compose our sets really thoughtfully and weave it all together. So, we aren’t going to specifically tour the self-titled, but we are going to keep touring like we always do — which is pretty consistent — and not so much in the United States. We tour a lot, but in little bursts.
But I do have one thing to add, which is that, in this thing about how we were learning in front of everyone and it's been a long process — and sometimes it's been really ugly or made people really mad — I feel like the punchline for that, for me, is that it is better to speak up and non-defensively move through whatever sort of reaction you get, because not speaking up out of fear of negative reaction is not working. It is worth the risk, and it is okay if people get mad at you. You are going to live through it and hopefully do better next time.