Song Decontructed: ‘Mountains’ by River Hooks
A trip to Silverthorne, Colorado inspired this New York City songwriter and producer to get back to her own music
Last year, New York City singer, multi-instrumentalist and producer River Hooks released her debut EP, 11:11. It’s easy to be fatalistic when writing about a songwriter’s career but it’s hard not to think that her life had been leading up to that moment. From going to shows aged nine, studying how her heroes performed onstage, to putting self-produced cover songs out on Soundcloud when she was still just 16, she’s given herself an excellent musical education.
That early training has paid dividends with the release of the EP. Managing to showcase her talents as a producer without forgetting the song should always remain at the centre of the music, the seven tracks are a welcome blend of atmospheric electropop and classic songcraft. A particular highlight is the track Mountains, an ode to nature and escaping the busy city life, as Hooks explains here…
I took a trip to Colorado in August 2019, with my boyfriend, best friend and one of her friends. I needed to take a break from NYC and every adult related stressor. I just felt exhausted by life and needed to escape somewhere for a week that wasn’t in another city. I love being surrounded by nature and have always wanted to visit Colorado, especially because Red Rocks Amphitheatre has been a music mecca for me. We ended up staying in Silverthorne, Colorado and our cabin sat on a hill that overlooked these gorgeous mountains. It was the most breathtaking view. It felt like I had flown to Switzerland! I still dream about that place and wish I could wake up to that view every morning. Every day I would get up early, lay on the living room couch and just stare at those mountains through these floor-to-ceiling windows. I felt so small and alive all at the same time. I got this feeling that I had been yearning for and had lost for a bit, which was to create music again for myself. I had been collaborating with so many people and somehow forgot to create music for me. When I sat down on that couch for the first time, I knew that I would write a track titled ‘Mountains’. I wrote the title in my notes on my phone and then I clearly remember me writing that the song would be about my trip to Colorado. It would also be a part of my debut EP.
As soon as I arrived back into NYC I wrote Mountains in several minutes. I always create and write music at night time, so this song was made during a night session. Since I had just come back from Colorado the feeling from just being away and all the experiences that I had on the trip were still fresh in my mind. I wanted to start the song off by offering my story of how I was feeling before I decided to take a trip to the mountains. My lyrics are usually very overt, so you’ll hear me talk about my woes and as to why, “I just need to take a break…somewhere new, a quick escape.” By the end of the song, I let the listeners know that, “I took a trip to the mountains with some of my friends,” and that, “We all figured out that we were slowly suffocating, from the city lights / we miss the stars at night.” Those lyrics were inspired by a memory that I had from the end of our Colorado trip. We took a night drive and I remember staring at the sky very quietly in the back seat. I’ll never forget the moon and the stars that towered over every mountain we passed. It was a night to remember. Closing the song I sing, “Now we miss the good times / Colorado summer nights.”
I usually start writing production on my acoustic guitar, but this time I had a piano riff stuck in my head. I wanted a dramatic opening and soaring sounds throughout the instrumental. When I listen back to the production I imagine that there are three parts. Each section reflects my feelings towards my journey to the mountains. The dramatic intro is the spark in my mind that’s saying I need to take a break and escape somewhere far away. Then, when the guitars and atmospheric pads come soaring in, I’m on my flight and it’s about to take off. Soon after, my harmonies kick in and lead into a simple guitar progression with natural sounds of birds chirping. In this third part, I’ve finally arrived in paradise being Colorado.
I wanted my listeners to be taken on a journey, especially through my process of engineering my vocals at the end of the song too. The production was quite simple and lyrics came flowing out of me that night. However, automating and mixing the production was a bit difficult, but without it, it wouldn’t have had the same impact. Once I finished the song I knew that this would be one of my favorites and I’m so happy that it was the first piece of work that was released off of my EP 11:11.
IN THE STUDIO
This song, along with every other song I’ve produced this year, was made in my bedroom. I just moved out of my studio apartment a few weeks ago, where I produced most of the EP, so it was a bittersweet goodbye! I believe Mountains was also one of the songs that I recorded in Harlem at Uptown Mixers and kept the vocals from the session I did there one night. I create all of my projects in Logic, as it’s my favorite DAW to work in. I mix all of my songs at home and then later take my sessions back to Uptown Mixers to do the final mix and master in Pro Tools. When it comes to mixing, my favorite plugins bundle to use are from SoundToys. I recorded my electric Fender Stratocaster through my Scarlett Solo Interface and own an Akai MPK 261 keyboard, which I use to produce and sample things into it. I have a typical bedroom producer setup, nothing fancy, but I think the best music comes from people who are just chillin’ in their rooms alone without fancy gear or a lot of people to distract them. Even the studio that I take my music to is a relaxed hang environment. It gives the music a whole other vibe and I wouldn’t change a thing about it!
I’m super fortunate to have taken that trip to Colorado. I’m even luckier to have gone with one of my best friends and boyfriend. Every time I listen to the track it takes me back to a magical summer and I can’t help but think about the scenic views at our cabin. It’s also a reminder for myself to take a break and just breathe. This song was the start to a whole new adventure, as it led to me finishing my EP, which had been on my bucket list for a long time! Since creating Mountains my life has forever changed and opened a lot of doors for me. I’m so grateful to everyone who’s been supporting this song. It’s an honor to share this song with you all and if you’re ever in Colorado then you’ll now have the perfect tune to drive through the mountains to.