On Being A River: An Interview with Doug Hoyer

To Be A River“I’ve basically been thinking about mortality.”

Doug Hoyer is a thoughtful man.

He is not brooding or withdrawn. He is smiling and sipping an iced chai. He is careful in choosing his words as he discusses the darker sound of his new album, To Be A River.

“Mortality, and… I don’t want to say reincarnation, necessarily, but just that flow of life. And how it continues on and how it’s so different from previous generations, but still so the same. How 200 years ago there were people just like you and I. They had real lives and real struggles. And we just don’t know about them. We don’t know about their daily lives. And people won’t know about ours. Maybe they’ll check our facebook statuses 100 years from now and know that we were grumpy on Mondays. I think about that a lot. It’s a continual cycle.”

Hoyer describes his music as collage. Listening to it, it’s easy to imagine him stumbling upon compelling sounds and tucking them in his back pocket, pulling them out later to craft the disparate elements into infectious, danceable songs. To Be A River samples everything from sixty year-old Korean folk records to Hoyer home videos. He explains that, since he doesn’t play in a band, he uses sampling as a way of jamming with long-forgotten musicians. Resurrecting sounds from the dead.

But it’s not just sounds that Hoyer collects. He also saves more abstract ideas he encounters. Most notably, To Be A River was largely inspired by Italian installation artist Giuseppe Penone.

“He had this piece that I saw when I was on tour with The Joe. We stopped at the national art museum. As I was walking through the room there were two rocks in front of me, just placed there, parallel. So I walk up to them, and I sort of walk around one of them, and I walk around the other, and then I see the tag. And the tag says: ‘To Be A River.’

“It made me be a river because it made me actively move around these rocks as the river might. My environment was shaping me. And it stuck with me for a while. And that title stuck with me. I looked up the artist, looked up this work, and that specific piece. [This] wasn’t illustrated at the gallery: one of the rocks was from the riverbed and the other rock was from somewhere else not on the river. He took the rock and he carved it–by hand–with sandpaper to be identical to the other. So this was him being a river and shaping with every passing stroke.

“That really hit me on a few levels … I interpreted this as one thing, and it meant something to me in a certain, specific way, but the artist can intend for it to mean something completely different.

“The idea of influence and us not having control over these things fits in with this river motif. It’s going to go and shape. It’s going to carve the land. It’ll be there every day, but it will not be the same river. Heraclitus said, ‘you cannot step in the same river twice.’ That motif was very much on my mind.”

Considering the thought Hoyer gives to the importance of daily lived experience and to the ways that our environments shape us, it’s no surprise that he makes them the subjects of his songs. “Minimum Wage” deals with the reality of having to work a mind-numbing job to fund creative pursuits.

St. Patrick's Day at Wundi“I’ve been working at restaurants for the past six and a half years, and I’ve worked others before that, too, I guess. So that pops up in my lyrics sometimes. It’s on my mind a lot. …  What I originally wanted to talk about was being a postgraduate. Being someone who’s just finished their degree and is still working at a restaurant, so this person–myself–can facilitate their dreams or their goals and their passions. I wasn’t sure how I could approach that in the song without sounding like a privileged white man or without a ‘first world problems’ hashtag floating in the air. Unless I acknowledged it, or maybe had a bit of humour with it. I wasn’t sure how to tackle that. I definitely knew I wanted to, though. I knew I had to, just because it’s on my mind so much– just having to work to do the things you want to do.

“I’m really happy with that song. It’s kind of awkwardly personal, though, because it’s about something as mundane as working. But I also feel that this is something that a lot of twenty-somethings do. A lot of people work at a job that they are indifferent to… It’s an odd time.”

His frustration extends to the current political climate.

“I just feel like we are taking steps backwards from where we are. You think we’re at this place, and then you hear people in actual places of authority and power that are so far removed from where we should be.”

Another order was shouted out by the Remedy barista, and it was time for Hoyer to head to his shift at a local diner. He explained how Cloud Atlas influenced his music; what he said about the film could just as easily apply to his own album.

doug at the elevation room“To me the focus should be that there is struggle in every life… there will always be people who try and dominate and people who try and revolt. Our stories are all the same through these generations.”

To Be A River is poppy and compulsively danceable. It also delves into the undercurrents, tackling the inescapable questions about the flow of history and whether we mean anything to it. Dive in.

To Be A River comes out Tuesday, May 28th. Listen to and buy it here.
Hoyer’s official album release show is Saturday, June 15th at the Haven Social Club with Cantoo.

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