The recent release of the debut single “Young” from singer-songwriter RIIVER feels like a long time coming for his fast-growing fanbase.
The half-German, half-Guatemalan musician built up his strong following through regular busking in London hotspots, such as Camden, Piccadilly Circus, Covent Garden and Leicester Square.
“I absolutely love playing and performing outside for complete strangers” RIIVER says. “They become really good friends of yours from one second to another, and you share this connection, which is amazing”.
While RIIVER’s busking sets feature lots of original songs, he likes to include a mix of covers too. “I absolutely love singing covers”, RIIVER says, likening the process of making another artist’s song your own to a “kind of micro-songwriting” where he is able to “give [himself], [his] own soul, to it”.
“The reason that I do covers is because I know that these are songs that people are going to be able to sing along to”, RIIVER explains. “I want to entertain people because at the end of the day I am an entertainer. I just want them to feel good and if it’s a song that they know that they can sing along to, and it’s going to make them feel happier, then that’s amazing“.
“I’m definitely going to make it my own version as well, though”, he adds with a laugh, “because that’s the fun part”.
RIIVER credits busking almost entirely for the accumulation of his supporters. “Before I started busking, I didn’t really have a fan base”, RIIVER says. “I’ve gained all of my following from busking or from people […] posting me on their Instagram stories”.
He goes on, “Before busking, I had a few hundred followers maybe, mostly friends, and now it’s already ten thousand, which is incredible”. He adds with gratitude, “It’s crazy how many people are there to support me and have helped me to boost this single now as well”.
Much like his busking style, the new single RIIVER mentions, called “Young”, places emphasis on its acoustic elements, resulting in a stripped-back quality. RIIVER explains his reasoning behind this sound, stating that he wanted the lyrics and his voice to stand out as much as possible.
“I wanted it to sound as if it was done in one room, in the room that the listener is in if that makes any sense, just to be closer to the listeners”.
RIIVER credits his friend and fellow artist J-MOX for helping him to perfect and produce the song in a way that achieved this raw, expressive quality: “J-MOX did a really good job at keeping the song super simple in production, whilst bringing magic out, and making the message stand out. He’s super talented”, RIIVER says.
Despite the fact that the singer has been writing and producing music for a long time, “Young” is RIIVER’s debut release as an artist. “For so many years, I just wanted to release something myself”, he explains.
RIIVER grappled with the big but empty promises of labels that eventually changed their minds, as well as the fickle interest of people with big contacts or a lot of reach who failed to keep up communications with him.
“I would have songs ready and they would never get released”, RIIVER recalled. “I was at this point where I was like, ‘nothing’s happening and I’m not doing enough’”.
“Young” takes inspiration from this experience, RIIVER says. “The song is inspired by a day where I was feeling really bad. I felt really behind in life. I felt like I wasn’t accomplishing anything“. “I just had this one sentence in my head, which was, ‘I remember when my ears were still young’”.
For RIIVER, this statement means recalling his first memories of music, or more specifically, when the idea of making his own music first presented itself as a possibility.
“I can definitely remember when all of this was new to me, thinking, ‘wow, I think I want to do that. I think this is what I want to be; this is what I want to create’”, he recollects. “There were no limitations given to me back then. It was just out there in the air and I was able to grab this dream and really visualise it”.
Evoking this feeling has helped RIIVER when he’s felt behind in life. But also, he says, he wants to focus on the feeling he anticipates he will have upon achieving his goals.
“It doesn’t matter how we’re going to reach those things or when we’re going to reach [them]. What’s most important is just the feeling. Because at the end of the day, everything that we’re doing, we’re just doing it to feel good or to make other people feel good. So this is the most important thing”.
RIIVER’s attention to the importance of feeling also colours the way he lives his life. He strives to achieve feelings of inner peace, worth and purpose every day through mindfulness rituals, such as meditation and yoga.
He started meditating four or five years ago, he says, when he stumbled across a ten-day trial of an app called Headspace. “After those ten days I noticed that a lot of things that I had denied about my past and denied about my self came to the surface”, he says.
After discovering that meditation helped him to deal with these newly surfacing thoughts, RIIVER decided that it needed to become a part of his daily routine. “Since then I feel like I’ve grown a lot and now understand how to control my thoughts – no, not really control my thoughts,” he revises, “more like accept my thoughts and be able to let them go”.
“Yoga has helped me a lot with that as well”, he says. “I started about a year ago and I absolutely love it. I’ve never been this consistent with doing exercise; I’m doing it every day. Right now I’m working on doing handstands, and it’s a lot of fun to have something that you can work on and get better at every day”.
As well as integrating these mindful activities into his daily routine, RIIVER also strives to live the most ethical and sustainable lifestyle he can. Veganism, for example, is important to him. For RIIVER, going vegan kick-started a wave of awareness about the world.
“Being vegan has changed me a lot”, he says. “Before, I would just accept things the way they were”.
But going vegan made RIIVER realise that just because something is prevalent and left unquestioned in society, doesn’t necessarily mean that it is “the right way of living, or good for us and our planet. […] I just have more awareness now”, he says. “I question things more and have my own opinions more”.
With meditation, yoga and ethical consumption forming a backdrop behind the artist, RIIVER hopes, through his outlet of music, “to inspire people to live a more mindful life, more in alignment with their hearts. […] I just want listeners to feel inspired; I want them to feel love for life, love for themselves.
I want them to feel like they are enough, like they are a miracle. I want people to find their purpose and pursue it. Because these are also things I want myself to feel. And if I can do it with music, that’s amazing”.
Like many artists right now, RIIVER has had to make changes to the way he shares his music. In place of busking during the pandemic, RIIVER has been experimenting with “virtual duets” with fellow artists.
He recently dueted with singer Cristina Hart using Instagram, which was met with many positive reactions from his fans. “I’m planning to do a few more; I’ve already contacted a few friends of mine”, he says.
“I think it’s really important that we keep doing things that make us feel connected to each other, and help people who are watching to realise that there are still possibilities to connect during this time”.
With any luck, RIIVER will be able to follow up “Young” with more releases later this year: “I’ve got a few different plans”, he comments. “There’s not too much that I can say, but what I can tell you is that there’s definitely going to be a few more songs this year to come. I’m really excited for the future”!
Keep tabs on RIIVER on Instagram here and watch the music video for “Young” below.
Words by Jodie Sheehan // Photo Credit: Giuseppe Puocci + Annis Art