Jungle folk: not the most common of subgenres in the roots world. Even the most seasoned of music connoisseurs have probably never heard of jungle folk, which strings together classic folk percussions with a tribal drumming element, producing a vibrant, organic sound, as inspiring as nature itself.
The River and The Road is a four-man act based out of (the impeccably green) Vancouver, B.C., who has created this new branch of folk music. Their songs, videos and performances weave together the lush, natural elements that both folk music and the jungle share, creating an entirely new imprint on the roots vibe to which we are all so accustomed.
TRATR is comprised of members Andrew Phelan (vocals and guitar), Keenan Lawlor (vocals and banjo), Cole George (drums) and John Hayes (bass). The quartet came together in 2011 from separate backgrounds, as well as different continents, following a serendipitous series of events. Lead vocalists Phelan (originally from Blue Mountains, Australia) and Lawlor were at the same Vancouver open mic night in September 2011, coincidentally hitting on the same female patron. Needless to say, it was a rocky beginning for the two talented musicians, but after discovering their shared passion for music they began to collaborate.
“We didn’t necessarily love each other right off the bat, but, over time, we grew a very strong friendship out of music,” says Lawlor. After a year of making music together, and filtering through a series of other band mates, they brought on George and another bassist. The night before they were going to film their first video, the original bassist backed out, leaving them high and dry. They turned to Hayes, a seasoned musician, with whom Lawlor was staying at the time.
After a quick rehearsal, the four members knew they had something special: “He basically came in the next day and we just knew that this was the band,” says Lawlor. It was those fortuitous happenings that lead these four artists together to create The River and The Road, and they have never looked back.
The band released their self-titled album in April 2012, stamping their unique, harmonious folk sound onto 12 outstanding tracks. Typical folk acts usually have only one emotional note that rings throughout their entire album, but not TRATR. Songs like “Elisabeth” are joyous, toe-tapping anthems to which you can’t help but sing along. Skip ahead to “Rose Bay” and you’re bombarded with melancholy feelings from a past relationship that didn’t work because timing was never quite right. This diversity could be attributed to the fact that Phelan and Lawlor write lyrics to individual songs separately and then collaborate with the rest of band to produce the track.
“All of my songs are based off personal stories,” explains Lawlor. “They’re a reflection of who I am and the things I’ve been through, so it’s hard to take on lyrics from anyone else.” These individual life experiences have served as a pool from which TRATR draw inspiration to write lyrics — thus far, this method has worked out swimmingly for the band.
Perhaps the coolest part of TRATR’s musical history is that they ventured out on two massive musical road trips. First was three-and-half-months of busking through Australia, from December 2012 to March 2013. This was followed by the cross-country journey from Vancouver, BC to Halifax, NS and back in October 2013. Unfortunately, the Australian trip got off to a bumpy start when the band’s van broke down in the middle of nowhere. They were left stranded, waiting for the van to get fixed. Although some members of the band developed heat stroke, they also received the official key to the nearest town and became instant local celebrities.
TRATR have created a bright future for themselves, with an upcoming tour and the opportunity to record new material next month. It is clear that, through the influential experiences they have shared, along with their diverse backgrounds, natural chemistry, and sincere story telling, The River and the Road have successfully set their music apart from other folk acts and have left fans yearning for more of that lush, green jungle folk sound.
Catch the River and the Road at the Palomino (Calgary) on February 28 and at Brixx (Edmonton) on March 1. April 20 at the Media Club (Vancouver).
By Kayla Beattie