For River Dreams’ debut album Small Paintings, the pandemic served as the impetus, rather than a deterrent, for recording sessions to take place.
Sydney musician and songwriter Carl Manwarring had been playing around the city’s Inner West bars, pubs and bowling clubs under his own name for a number of years, following an initial foray into the post-high school world of rock ’n’ roll with the band The Darkened Seas. More recently, River Dreams has become the moniker under which Manwarring writes, records and performs his songs of literate indie rock, peppered with strains of Americana and folk rock.
Though Covid has scuppered many of their live opportunities, River Dreams does exists as band, formed as the vehicle for Manwarring’s songwriting and creative vision. When it came to the recording of his debut album Small Paintings, he called upon friends and fellow musicians to add to the songs and bring them vividly to life in the studio of producer and bandmate Joseph Ireland (The Middle East, Joseph Liddy & The Skeleton Horse).
“If it wasn’t for the pandemic we wouldn’t have actually gone into the studioto record,” Manwarring reveals. “Were started going into Joe’s home studio once a week and did a session and the album grew from that. The frustrating thing has been not being able to play live. We’re a new band and we’ve only played four gigs. We love to play live and perform so it’s been great to have the time and resource to record but not great in the sense of being able to play live. Hopefully that will change though and getting this record out will help that.”
From songs that were primarily written on guitar and piano, the studio process was a revelation of sorts for Manwarring as it allowed him and Ireland to build sonic layers around his rich and evocative lyrics. “When we started he said we were going to make the songs weird which in a sense meant having fun with them. It started with me and guitar and then we layered the instruments on. We brought in Josh Piltz (Andy Golledge Band) to lay down the drums and then Billy Ward to do the sax. Joe and I did most of the other instruments and we’d do it bit by bit each week,” explains Manwarring. “We never overworked it and spent just the right amount of time each session without getting the shits with it,” he laughs.
While many of Manwarring’s label mates on Evening Records work in different corners of country and folk music, he’s found his natural songwriting and singing style resides more in areas established and explored by the likes of Lou Reed, Silver Jews and more recently Kevin Morby. “I love country music and Americana but I’ve always been more of a rock ’n’ roll guy, growing up listening to the Velvet Underground and lots of blues. I’ve just always been more inclined that way. It suits my songwriting more and it’s naturally more my kind of music,” agrees Manwarring.
The slow build to his debut album meant that Manwarring had a decade-long pool of songs to draw from for Small Paintings. “At least two of these songs on the record I’ve been singing for at least ten years and a lot of the other ones are pretty fresh and new, written specifically for the record. I liked that though, it made it feel like a fresh thing, I didn’t want it to just be older songs.”
As he looks ahead to the prospect of more live shows and a second album, he reveals that the next one may be not be as long in the making. “Hopefully the next one will be soon, all the songs are there. I think I’d approach it being more aware of the song and the process of recording them and what we can do with them. I also want to be playing more shows… 100%!”