As a musician, music producer and music publicist, NY-based musician/publicist River Hooks is a multi-faceted artist. Growing up in the DC area, her aunt moved to NY as she was entering high school. Frequent visits into the city with her family allowed her to experience firsthand the ins and outs of the NY fashion and music industries, leaving her with a magical view of the city. Having felt the pull towards music at a young age, she started making her own music at the age of 15, citing Kanye West’s YE as the reason she uploaded her first single to Spotify in 2018. A fairly reserved and introverted person in her day-to-day life, music has helped her to connect with people in a different way and communicate things she may not say in a normal conversation. Hooks moved to NY in 2013 for college and has been living and making music in the city since then. Although she initially had no plans to produce, she fell in love with producing music in college when she discovered Garageband, later buying a mic, audio interface and MIDI that helped her become an accomplished producer, audio engineer and mixer. Upon leaving college and not knowing what she wanted to do, she was given the opportunity to become a music publicist, a position that has allowed her to make connections and help her navigate the ever changing music industry. On October 16th, Hooks released her debut solo EP 11:11 via Internet & Weed, a NY city label she connected with via her work as a music publicist. The process of making the album, which was entirely written and recorded in her bedroom at night, was a therapeutic one for her and helped her to discover who she is an artist. Ahead of the album’s release, she released her single “Mountains”, a song that was born out of a trip she made with friends to Colorado after feeling a lack of motivation and desire to create. Upon returning from her trip, she felt a renewed sense of motivation and was inspired for the future, feeling the urge to complete a full EP. With plans to release a new single, do more collaborations and release her next album sometime next year, it’s safe to say that she has a bright future ahead of her and is an artist to keep on your radar. You can connect with River Hooks via the following links:
You have said that you always loved music and were uploading covers as a teen and were figuring out who you were as a musician during your high school years. What did that vision look like for you at that time and how has your idea of what kind of musician you want to be changed over the years?
I always knew that I wanted to be known as someone in the music industry. Whether it was me being a musician or working inside the industry…I just wanted in! I tried taking music seriously in high school, but I didn’t know how to really start a music platform. That’s definitely a reason why I moved up to NYC for college. I knew if I was going to start my music career anywhere it would mean that I was going to pack up my life and move to New York. I’ve lived in NYC for seven years now and I finally feel like I’ve fulfilled that goal. Haha. Over the years, I’ve become more confident in myself as a musician and producer. I take what I love to do really seriously and hold high goals myself, as I of course, want to “make it.” I’m still the same musician in a lot of ways, but now I’m just working harder than ever and connecting with so many people. I can happily say that I’ve made that music foundation I was seeking for back when I was in high school.
Your aunt moved to NYC before you started high school and helped you to see the ins and outs of the NY fashion and music industries firsthand. What was that like for you to experience at such a young age and what kind of impact do you feel those visits had on you?
Experiencing her lifestyle just made me want to move up to NYC even more. I loved going into the city and the feeling it gave me. It felt more like home everytime I came up. I’ve always lived in a big city, as my hometown is 15 minutes from D.C, so New York wasn’t a frightening move. I’ve always been the type of person who wants to jump into the deep end of things, but yea, being able to step inside of my aunt’s shoes was always a cool thing. There were times where I helped out at her show events, dressed models, met interesting people and could feel like I was playing the role of where I wanted to be someday. I’ve always enjoyed watching my aunt running things and hanging out with various people from within her circle. She’s not too much older than me, so she’s more like my sister than my aunt and has always been that cool person in my eyes. I also just knew that being a part of the music industry was truly something I needed to be doing. Remembering those days made me want to work harder and to not give up on my dreams as anything is possible.
You moved to NYC by yourself at the age of 17. What led you to move to NYC and what were those early years like for you in the city? What do you feel that you have learned about yourself in the process, both personally and artistically?
College and music led me to NYC. Due to me traveling into the city a lot, I already felt like it was my second home. Maybe it was fate too, as I applied to a lot of colleges and I got accepted into every college I applied to NY. For me and my family, that was a clear sign that I was meant to be living here. When I think back on moving up here at 17, I’m impressed with how easy that was for me. I’m super close with my family…like I call my parents everyday lol. So I’ve never been 100% in love with NY because of it and my best friends still live back home, but sometimes you just have to do things for you. I adjusted with no problems and have become a better version of myself with all the independence that came along with the move. There wasn’t anything for me back home when it came to the music industry. I knew there would be more opportunities in NYC. Through my years of being here I’ve made so many awesome friends who are also musicians and that’s been huge for me.
I’ve learned that I’m capable of doing anything as long as I’m working hard and just being myself. Music has always come naturally for me, so I’ve never really had to think too much about that. NYC has given me stories and experiences that have made me who I am today personally and artistically. I thank the 17 year old me for having the guts to do something that a lot of people never get the chance to do and my family for supporting my decision!
You have said that when you would visit your aunt, the car rides into the city were magical. Having lived and worked in NY for the past several years, how has your impression of NYC evolved? Do you still feel like the city is magical or has that magic worn off for you?
Hmmm, yea, it’s a love and hate relationship. Haha. Maybe if I were rich and could afford to live anywhere and step into any door then I’d be like yea, I LOVE IT HERE! You definitely have to work hard to live here, as things aren’t cheap. I do still feel the magic though. I actually just moved into a new apartment this month and it’s on the 14th floor, so my bedroom view has a skyline view of the city and, for me, that’s the magical part. It’s the feeling of feeling small in a big city where there are endless possibilities. There are a lot of things in NYC that I would love to do and hopefully will do one day. I am constantly meeting new people who are changing my life in ways that I couldn’t imagine. Just by living here, I’ve done so many fun things and have experienced things that I wouldn’t have experienced if I didn’t move up here. I think if I were to move anywhere else I would still feel the same push and pull. I’m always looking for more and can never be satisfied with whatever I’m doing as there’s so much more to life than what’s on the surface. I don’t know if NYC is where I’ll be living for the rest of my life, as there are more places I would love to experience. However, I’m just really happy living in the present and working hard for an awesome future. I love NYC very much and thankful for everything it has to offer and has given me. My impression hasn’t changed too much, but I’m just growing up and NYC is that place where I’m doing that at.
You have cited Kanye West’s ‘YE’ as the reason you put out your first single on Spotify in 2018, saying he makes his music for him, whether people love it or hate it. Was the perception other people had of your music something you had struggled with prior to releasing that first single?
It hasn’t really been something that I’ve struggled with, but of course, that always lingers in the back of my mind. I think that feeling just comes with being passionate about something, as most of us are afraid of failing and being judged. My song “SELF DOUBT” off my debut album 11:11 is honestly the anthem for that feeling. Maybe even my track “LOCAL TRAIN” too, as I talk about being afraid that I’m nothing and the motions of being stuck doing the same thing everyday. I just really appreciate Kanye’s existence, as he does what he wants and for himself, no matter what “the people” say. I mean he really voted for himself this year in the election! haha. I know people like to call him crazy, but society has said that about many intelligent people. I believe people are afraid of those that speak their minds, as so many of us have been taught or learned to keep quiet about so many things. I just kinda said, “f**k it” and thought I’m going to release this single myself because I want to and I don’t care what happens. I never knew when or how to start fulfilling my music goals, but that summer after listening to that album I just had this feeling that it was time.
You have talked about the importance for you of creating music that takes listeners on a journey. Why is that important to you and who are some artists that have done that for you?
I personally have always loved musicians that pull me into their world through their lyrics, instrumentation and even music videos. I never want my listeners to feel like every song sounds the same or it’s predictable. I try to keep each song different and take my listeners into different worlds. It gives me the challenge to make something new and discover new sides to me.
I love The Beatles and grew up listening to their music. Their songs “Day In The Life”and “I Am A Walrus” always took me into this cinematic world. I could name so many more songs of theirs, but I always have to put those on. Queen’s “Bohemian Rhapsody” was another song that I loved as a kid and I remember singing it in the car to school a lot. It felt like I was listening to a Broadway show and that feeling has always stuck with me. I’m always producing music from a cinematic point of view or at least my lyrics hold a lot of imagery. I love The Beastie Boys song “Intergalactic”, as it takes me back to their music video of this robot fighting this squid monster haha. FINNEAS is also an incredible producer and artist that surprises me all the time with his work. Some other current artists would be Tyler The Creator, Frank Ocean, Kanye, Childish Gambino, The 1975, Jeremy Zucker, Chelsea Cutler, Charli XCX, Tierra Whack, Mallrat, Phoebe Bridger and Billie Eilish. They are all creative artists that have influenced my ideas of how I try to make music. They each have their own way of making music and their way of using imagery has always gravitated me toward their projects. I listen to a lot of different music and that also helps keep me interested in creating new sounds too.
You have done several collaborations with other artists and have said that you enjoy the collaborative process and how you always learn something new. What is your process like for creating music with others vs solo? What are some of the things you have learned through your collaborations that stand out to you?
When I’m collaborating with others I prefer to sit down and get to know the artists first, if we haven’t had the chance to do that yet. I’m always interested in how everyone else creates and what their process is like, so I try to understand their minds and pick their brains for a bit. My goal is to get as much of their sound in the mix as possible. It’s just nice being able to create with someone, sharing our worlds and then creating a new world with our collective vibes. When you are by yourself in a session it’s very easy to get into your own head and overthink a lot of things and when you are with someone else you can easily bounce off ideas.
On the other hand, working alone helps me dive deeper into myself and I always seem to learn new things through that process. I pretty much do everything myself beside mastering, so for me, I try to step outside of my comfort zone each time I start a new session. I really have no method to my madness, but I always surprise myself with the end result. I love that music has no limitations and that’s what keeps me on my toes.
Most of my collaborations have been worked on remotely, as many of the producers have been from Europe or we’ve met online. Through all of my experiences thus far, I’ve learned how to navigate through the process of collaborating with others faster. I know what questions to ask, what’s important to talk about in our sessions and may learn something new from their side of their creative process. I sometimes find out cool things about their mixes and try to implement that into my own sound. Creating with others has helped me express myself in new ways too. With new challenges to overcome when working with different artists, there’s a lot of personal growth involved in collaborating with others.
You are currently working with an up and coming label called Internet and Weed. What can you tell me about the label and you became involved with them?
Internet & Weed has a huge home in my heart! Everyone on the label is really chill and the guys that I work with Alap, Merc and Christian have taken me under their wings and are the coolest dudes to know. They all have their own music too (Third Culture Kings, BKGD Audio, Merc Yes & Brazillian Gentleman) and help a lot of up and coming artists such as (Anda, TOBI, Ice Cream and more!) I met the guys a little over a year ago in Harlem through a work related event. I came to their studio (Uptown Mixers) for work, but then the night turned into a lot of getting to know each other. They learned that I was a musician, I showed them my tunes and they offered to work with me. I was really lucky because I just started working on my first album! Everything with I&W has been super organic and they truly believe in my music. I’m so thankful for them. We even have little projects that are stemming from within the label, so that’s been cool too. Check them out and everyone that’s a part of the roster, as everyone has their own sound and there are good people behind the music too.
You also work as a producer, having learned production in college. What has it been like for you to produce your own music and do you do produce for other artists or plan to in the future? What has it been like for you to be a female producer? Has that presented any challenges or frustrations for you?
I love producing and the feeling it gives me. I’ve always loved music, but to make music, being able to write and sing on top of something I made is such a high for me! I’ve always been the type of person to want to do everything myself and maybe that’s because I’m the only child haha, but I’ve always despised the thought of buying someone’s production or having to search for a sound that fits my mood. Having the capability to produce tunes that run in my head all day has been life changing! I never have to wait on anybody! I can just fully express myself and then go to bed happy.
I’ve co-produced with people, produced some tunes for marketing purposes such as a travel agency and am currently in the process of working on a remix for another artist. I definitely want to produce more for others, so if you’re reading this and would like to discuss something, hit me up on my socials!
I do enjoy being a female producer because there aren’t that many of us, but we are growing every year!! I love meeting female producers, working with them and also listening to their music. And yes, being a female producer in the music industry or just in general has it’s frustrations. I get a lot of, “so who’s your producer?” or “who wrote the song??” and everything else in between that would make anyone annoyed. We still have this idea that females can’t be as talented as men and that’s a big issue in the music industry. I think that’s what makes our music a bit more honest and relatable. We are all just trying to prove a point that we deserve the same recognition as any guy with a fancy studio, but the truth is, none of that stuff matters! A lot of the “so…you’re a producer?” conversations will go nowhere. It’s always a bummer meeting male producers that could care less if I can do the same thing that they can, but nothing is stopping me from anything because I am gonna keep doing me. I hope every female creative is doing the same!
You became a full-time music publicist out of college. How did the opportunity come about and do you feel that being both an artist and a publicist offers you a unique perspective? What kinds of doors do you feel it has opened for you as an artist and what has it taught you about the music industry that has helped you on your path as an artist?
I ended up landing an internship my Senior year and just fell into the role of a music publicist. I had always wanted to work in the music industry, but really didn’t know what I wanted to do and I’ve just stuck with it since. I was also only at that internship for maybe a month until my current boss, who also worked there, left the company and asked if I wanted to work for him full time and I said “yes!” Just like Internet & Weed, it was another opportunity that found me and has worked out. Haha
I do believe that working as a music publicist has kept me humble as an artist. I know what’s happening behind the scenes, so it does put things into perspective. Some may offer that being inside of the industry can be mentally discouraging, but I think that’s why I work really hard to make something happen for myself in this career that I’ve chosen. I’ve definitely gained exposure through connections that I’ve made with people in the industry, but nothing has ever been given. I’ve had to put myself out there and separate myself from my work by showing what I can do as a musician and that I’m worth their time. I’ve got a good head on my shoulders and surround myself with good people, so if any doors open up it’s because of the path that I’m on and the steps that I’m taking to make my dreams happen.
You recently released your debut album 11:11. You have mentioned that releasing an album was on your bucket list. What has it been like for you to finally have the album released and out into the world? What was the process like for you in writing and recording the album?
It’s an euphoric feeling and I hope I feel the same with every release. This was this first time I’ve really done something for myself and truly put myself out into the world. I think people now understand who I am as an artist and how serious I am about music. I have definitely witnessed others’ perceptions of me changing, but in a good way, as they’ve come to realize that I am someone who should be taken seriously. Music was just a hobby for me in a lot of people’s eyes, but now they see it’s something I was meant to be pursuing and that feels really good. I’m happy to see and hear that the music is resonating with others too. It’s just been a great experience with having this debut album out.
The entire process for me was therapeutic. This album was something that needed to happen, as it’s just a reminder to myself that I can achieve anything that I put my mind to. I’m also the happiest when I’m making music! It was also really awesome to be able to step inside a studio to mix and master my songs. Everyone that surrounded me through the process of making the record made the journey fun!
I also recorded and wrote everything at night in my bedroom. A couple of tracks were made back in Maryland, as I was staying with my parents for a few months during quarantine. I think that made the project even more special. The lyrics were always easy to write, but the production always made me dig deeper. I appreciated every part of process, as I learned a lot by just making mistakes and fixing them along the way. I think everything that happened in the making of this album will only make the next project easier to make, as I’ve done it before, but I’m really pumped for whatever I put out next!
Several other songs that you wrote and produced didn’t make the album. How did you decide which songs to include and which songs to leave off? Do you have plans for the songs that didn’t make the album?
I realized halfway through working on the album that I didn’t have an overall theme for the project. It still really doesn’t have a theme, but the ones that I chose for the first project made the most sense as I wanted it to be more of an open diary. I believe that the first seven songs show others a glimpse into who I am. The songs that I kept off this album I think will work better for the next one that I’m working on. And to answer the next question, yes! I will be releasing the other tracks onto my next release.
A recent trip to Colorado gave you the inspiration and motivation to start producing again and finish the album. What led you to stop and what can you tell me about the trip and how it changed your life?
I never really stopped producing or creating music. I still had Soundcloud as my outlet for releasing music, but the obstacle that I kept facing was myself. I felt stuck because I didn’t know how to pick up from where I left off in 2018, which was just a single and then I became used to just doing collaborative releases. I was really focused on working with others and forgot to produce for myself, as I’m always being sent music by people online. I don’t know what I was waiting for, but I just hadn’t made the next steps into getting my music out there. It also gets a bit depressing being on social media and comparing yourself to every other artist and basing your musical talents off of how many plays or followers someone else has.
Colorado was another “f**k it” moment and I knew if I really wanted to make music a career I needed to stop wasting my time and get productive. I also really needed to take a break from NYC and work. I hit up a close friend, who was also tired of the struggles with being an adult, and asked if she wanted to take a trip to Colorado. We both were in, so my boyfriend and her friend set plans to take a trip to the mountains at the end of August 2019. The feeling of being in good company in such a beautiful place was something I really needed. I felt alive again, just being in a new setting and experiencing a new place made me want to write and create again. I think that trip put a lot of things into perspective. Life is short and sometimes we just have to do things for ourselves to find happiness. I stopped all collaborations and focused on my album and all of my goals that I had pushed aside. I’m so grateful for that trip and miss that location everyday! It took me out of the darkness and now all I want to do is make more music!
You also love photography! When did you start doing photography and what can you tell me about your plan to incorporate your photography into your music career?
Yes, I love photography! I’ve always loved taking photos, but I got really serious about photography in college. I actually graduated with a minor in photography, so I definitely want to use those skills and put them into practice. Every song that I’ve put out under my name and the artwork cover for them has been made by me. I took the photo for “Worth It” on the Roosevelt Island tramway and even drew the illustration for my album artwork. The next single that I’m releasing, which will be a cover song, it’s artwork is a photo that I took in France from outside of my bedroom window. I love the thought of having all my artwork being taken by me, as I have so many passions and I want to incorporate them into my music career. My instagram is full of photography and concert photography, which is also something that I love doing at shows. It’s just another outlet to show who I am without having to take a billion selfies to say it! haha I am such a DIY person, so it only makes sense to keep up with doing everything myself. My music is really personal and I want the artwork to be just as personal too. I hope to explore more with photography throughout my career and possibly incorporate it into merch too.
What’s next for you?
I’m currently working on the next album, so I’m looking forward to getting that out sometime next year. I have a new single coming out in December, which will be a cover song, so that’s really exciting too! This will be my first produced cover song that I will release on all streaming services, so I hope people like my version of Beabadoobea’s song “If You Want To.” More collaborations are currently in the works and I’m also really stoked for those to drop! I’m just really happy to have a lot of music coming out. There’s still so much more that needs to be finished before releasing, but expect a lot of music from me! I also have merch coming soon, so again, I’m REALLY excited for that and can’t wait to have a physical copy of my first album for purchase. Definitely keep connected with me on my socials to keep up with all new things from me, but thank you so much for anyone who’s been supporting my music!! I appreciate you all so much!