During the first 20 minutes of my interview with L.A.-based singer-songwriter Brandon Zahursky, he’s chatty, almost nonstop. But he gets thrown off a bit when I ask him how his music landed on TV.
“It was a fluke, man. I don’t know how it happened,” he says, with shock still in his voice—despite the fact that it was all the way back in April 2014 that “I Will Follow You” by his project Rivvrs was featured on an episode of About a Boy. It wasn’t just in the background, either; it was a major plot point. Lead character Will Freeman, trying to impress a woman, tries to convince her that he wrote “I Will Follow You” for Rivvrs. “I love that song,” she responds. “You know that song?” he asks. When she adds that Rivvrs used to be called River Shivers, he says “That’s like knowing Beck before Beck was Beck.”
Zahursky’s surprise about getting placement in a television show is odd. Prior to this question, he had struck me as inordinately self-assured, with his career on his mind at all times. When he was younger, before ever playing a show, he used to track venue websites in his area, and look for artists he wanted to open for. He’d email the promoters 30 times a day. They never responded. He didn’t relent.
Even younger than that, he used to play the guitar in every spare moment, sometimes eight to nine hours a day. Once he started to get actual gigs, he released an album under his birth name, which got no recognition. He started the band Rivers Shivers with a drummer friend, until the drummer friend stopped showing up to gigs. The name Rivvrs was a way to avoid the stigma of being a singer-songwriter (“people assume it’s going to be an acoustic vibe,” he says), while also not having to rely on anyone else to make his dreams come true.
Hold On was his debut as Rivvrs, which he self-released in August 2014. He considers the EP a rebirth of sorts: a new moniker, an updated sound. “I Will Follow You” was one of the four tracks on the EP. The rest were in a similar style: folk-pop with epic choruses.
“While I was writing and recording Hold On, I was working 40 hours a week for a wine company in Napa. It was like this double life,” Zahursky says. “Hold On was a mantra to myself of hold on, keep working, keep fighting and your dreams will eventually happen at some point.”
He continued working at his job after the About a Boy episode, despite the reception it got (for instance, the abundance of fan covers on YouTube). Looking back now, he thinks his song was chosen because he was based in San Francisco at the time, just like the show.
“All of the songs they were getting were from people in L.A. I don’t think they had many San Francisco options. That adds a little reality to it. I think they liked that,” Zahursky says.
About a Boy led to more placements on top networks (ESPN, Fox, MTV, CBS, etc). Zahursky’s song “Save My Soul” was featured in more shows than “I Will Follow You”—“that song paid my rent for the last year,” he says.
Eventually, he quit his job and moved to L.A. He recorded and released his follow-up LP, Unfamiliar Skin, in March of last year.
“Unfamiliar Skin was the realization of this rebirth, the unfamiliar feeling, which is a good thing,” he says.
It’s much more scattered and experimental style-wise than Hold On, an odd move for someone at the early stages of building a career.
“I don’t like being predictable. I go through phases all the time. There are a lot of artists I don’t listen to anymore, not out of the fact that I don’t like their music, but the records just fall into this safe zone, like Jack Johnson. You can almost just predict what he’s going to release,” Zahursky says.
He’s got a third release in the works, tentatively scheduled for March 2017. This one won’t be as scattered as Unfamiliar Skin. He says it’s inspired by touring—which he does solo so as not to lose money—and gauging what type of songs work best in a live setting.
“Playing solo, it changed the vibe of the full-band sounding stuff. I’m seeing people’s reactions,” Zahursky says. The follow up is going to be like the middle of the two. You’ll see a little more acoustic vibes.”
INFO: 8:30 p.m., Sunday Jan. 29, Moe’s Alley, 1535 Commercial Way, Santa Cruz. $9/adv, $12/door. 479-1854.