Olympia, Washington’s RVIVR is reputed for its catchy, thrashy, and triumphant take on socially conscious pop punk.
Thus it’s almost hard to conceive that RVIVR guitarist/vocalist Erica Freas could charm so easily with her acoustic solo sets, plucking out heartfelt winsome folk-inflected songs with a husky vibrato on her guitar, but that she does. I talked with Freas following the Bicker and Breathe EP release, her influences, community, music, and feminism.
She Shreds: How was recording Bicker & Breathe?
Erica Freas: It was fun to record because we were working with a quick deadline and just wrote the songs and whipped out the recording in a couple of weeks. In 2012 we spent over six months tracking and then mixing our last full length LP, “The Beauty Between”. I love recording, I think it’s fun and challenging. There are parts that I feel like I excel at and parts that make me feel shrinky-dink and insecure. My attention span flies out the window during mixing. That’s when you listen back to what’s been recorded and make decisions about how it sounds in order to be a full, balanced, dynamic, rocking record. As a musician, rather than a sound engineer, this often means sitting and waiting and listening carefully to the same part again and again. If I feel like I don’t have the language to describe what I’m hearing or identify what I think needs to sound different, then I sometimes feel insecure. There’s a lot of vocabulary in recording. I’m learning more and more and feeling more confident the more time I spend in a recording scenario, and I’m still amazing by hearing my playing and my songs on a finished recording.
SS: You played an acoustic set when you opened for Mirah in November and play some RVIVR songs acoustically. Do you write songs on acoustic guitar?
EF: Mostly I write on my acoustic guitar. It’s more comfortable for me to write on an acoustic than an electric. I fucking love the electric, too! I love to rock the fuck out and make it loud and dirty, but if I’m trying to pull a song out of the mind, out of my air, I like the gentler, fuller tones of an acoustic. For me, the electric is too loud and jarring to write on, it needs to be set into the volume and energy of the rest of the band. If I’m building a song out of some chords and some lines out of my journal, that’s a total fit for the acoustic. If I’ve got a riff, like a lead or a piece of a hook, then a song could be built off that thru an electric guitar, most often in collaboration with my bandmates. I write songs lots of different ways. Sometimes laboring over a couple pieces of a song for months, sometimes landing a song start to finish in an hour. My biggest challenge is finding space and time to write, if I’ve got time I know that I’ll turn out something interesting.
What sorts of things can listeners expect on the forthcoming RVIVR album?
You can expect some smashing punk rock with some wild guitar, some anger, some hope, some words to scream along to if that’s you’re thing. And, you know, Kevin, Mattie Jo, and I have been playing and writing together for over six years and we still love and care about the project. I think this record is tighter than our previous stuff because of that love and effort. It’s fun to get more skillful as individuals by working as a team, I feel lucky to have found people who will throw themselves into something with me so thoroughly.
“First off, I’d love for the idea that gear is a male-domain to be shifted because “gear” is the gateway to volume and tone and is part of the way music can come together to express yourself. I don’t care about brands but I do care about certain qualities.”
How long have you been playing guitar? Who are some of the guitarists who have influenced you growing up?
I’ve been playing for 18 years. As a teenager I took a couple lessons from some old men in Olympia who were nice enough but didn’t lead me into anything revolutionary. Mostly I learned from printing tabs off the dial-up internet. I was NOT a hip kid who knew about underground bands, despite the fact I was a teen during the 90’s in Olympia. I was influenced by Tori, Bjork, Courtney, Dolores, Sinead, Gwen. I didn’t understand or realize that Riot Grrl was going on, I was obsessed and thrilled by the women of mainstream “alternative” music. Now I’m immersed in underground music, I’m influenced a lot by my friends and peers.
Women musician visibility seems to be a very accessible concept here in Olympia. Has living in Olympia informed your experiences playing music at all?
Yea, Olympia is good in that respect. It’s how it should be to see a woman playing music: totally normal to the point where you can take it for granted. I still get that shimmery excitement when I see women playing really well and I probably always will. It’s so important to see ourselves and our identities reflected in the musicians we listen to, the books we read, the media we consume. Diversity in expression is utterly crucial.
What gear, equipment, and acoustic engineering set-ups do you use when playing and recording with RVIVR?
First off, I’d love for the idea that gear is a male-domain to be shifted because “gear” is the gateway to volume and tone and is part of the way music can come together to express yourself. I don’t care about brands but I do care about certain qualities.
Gear can be expensive, but there are ways to be crafty and get what you need, I always buy used gear, often from craigslist where there’s a lot of room to barter. I got my Telecaster in 2008 for $300, it was somebody’s studio guitar and lived on a stand in their room, great condition except a blemish from them dropping it. I’ve dropped it a hundred times and it’s so worn now, but that initial blemish saved me a couple hundred bucks. I traded out the bridge pickup for a humbucker with deeper sound, the stock pickup in a Tele can be pretty piercing and twangy and Mattie Jo plays a Tele, too, so we wanted our guitars to take up different frequencies and stand out from each other. And I play through a Fender Deville 4×10 Combo Tube Amp (Four 10″ Speakers where the amp is attached to the speaker and set inside one cabinet, as opposed to a two piece head & cab), these are super duper common, I always double check to make sure I don’t leave a show with someone else’s guitar amp because so many bands have the same one. I use a Rat Pedal for my solos and I use a tuning pedal so we can switch songs quickly and sound tight and in tune. I also bring my own mic which mean I don’t breathe other people’s spit every night of tour so I lose my voice/health less and know that my mic is going to work well even with the P.A. is unpredictable. All my gear together, came to about $1000 but I collected it over time and I know I could have spent less if I’d been thriftier and not in a hurry. That looks like a lot of money or no money at all depending on the circumstances of your life, but to me it’s beyond worth it to have gear that allows me to play loud and play well and sound good.