Austin Rock Duo Ancient River Masterfully Multitasks Onstage

Austin Rock Duo Ancient River Masterfully Multitasks Onstage
Nakia Matthewson
click to enlarge NAKIA MATTHEWSON
Nakia Matthewson
Ancient River makes a hell of a lot of noise. You'd never know it is just two guys with the usual number of hands and feet. Alexis Cordova, Jr. plays synthesizers and samplers, simultaneously playing drums — all while contributing vocals behind singer/guitarist James Barreto.

"Being a two-piece, we take it on as a challenge," Barreto says. "We just want to see how far we can take it as far as filling out the sound and making it sound like the record when we play live. Basically, it's the two of us multitasking pretty hard while we're up there."

In fact, their live shows have become so involved, the duo can no longer risk consuming alcohol beforehand. They'd like to occasionally, but he says, "we have too much to concentrate on."

The rock duo from Austin, Texas rocks super hard at times, but never trashes around at the expense of cultivating an atmosphere. The sound is a collage that evokes strong imagery — empty stretches of desert highway, forgotten civilizations, and lonely planets suspended in space.

Ancient River is bringing its expansive soundscapes to Churchill's Pub on Thursday, June 21. Speaking with New Times ahead of the show, Barreto says the band draws inspiration from film scores. The forthcoming self-titled album — the first since Keeper of the Dawn (2015) — will be their most cinematic work to date. The corresponding tour will incorporate film that goes with the music, but they're still undecided on some particulars.

"There's one track about a serial killer, and it's kind of sinister in nature," Barreto says. "Those images might be a little hard to look at. We've talked about getting really graphic with it, but maybe we'll hold back a little bit. I don't know."
Despite playing around with elements of psychedelic rock, Ancient River distances itself from the nationally renowned Austin psych scene. Barreto and Cordova consider themselves more like art-rockers, but even that label fits uncomfortably.

"We've never wanted to pigeonhole ourselves," Barreto says. "We want to appeal to a wide array of music fans. I don't want anyone to feel or alienated or get stuck in a particular scene. ... The psych scene is interesting to me, because I feel like it's always been around. Bands I listened to growing up were all making what you might consider psychedelic music."

Ancient River has bounced between being a two- and three-member band since forming in 2008, but it's kept the core of Barreto and Cordova thoughout its run. Outside of music, the pair bonds over shared interests in hip-hop, true crime shows and basketball.

Cordova, who grew up in Fort Lauderdale, embraces the challenge of staying ultra-busy onstage just like his bandmate.   "I've never been one to focus on just one instrument," he says. "I used to play bass in [Ancient River] and I play guitar and keys, too. It's more fun that our band allows us to showcase our abilities in that way."

Ancient River: 9 p.m., Thursday, June 21, Churchill's Pub, 5501 NE Second Ave., Miami, 305-757-1807, Tickets cost $5.
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Howard Hardee is a freelance writer based in Madison, Wisconsin. Originally from Fairbanks, Alaska, he has a BA in journalism and writes stories about music, outdoor adventures, politics, and the environment for alt-weeklies across the country. He is an aficionado of fine noises and has a theremin in his living room.