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Okkervil River is an American rock band led by singer-songwriter Will Sheff. Formed in Austin, Texas in 1998, the band takes its name from a short story by Russian author Tatyana Tolstaya set on the river in St Petersburg. They began as a trio made up of Sheff and friends he'd met in his native state of New Hampshire but, over time, have gone through many lineups.
Okkervil River self-released their first album, Stars Too Small to Use, which led them to the South by Southwest music festival. After recording their first album in a garage, they signed with Jagjaguwar. They continued by releasing four more albums, including the critically lauded concept album Black Sheep Boy.
After a period of touring for Black Sheep Boy, Okkervil River followed up with The Stage Names. The album sold 10,000 in its opening week in the United States. The group released a free covers album, Golden Opportunities Mixtape from their live performances.
The band has garnered positive critical reception. They have appeared on the talk show Late Night with Conan O'Brien and have performed with acts such as The Decemberists, The New Pornographers, The National, and Lou Reed.
Okkervil River released the album The Stand Ins on 9 September 2008. They promoted the release with a series of cover songs from the album on YouTube by people they've met as a band. Their 2010 collaboration as a backing band with psychedelic rocker Roky Erickson yielded True Love Cast Out All Evil. On 10 May 2011, Okkervil River released their sixth full-length album, I Am Very Far, which peaked at No. 32 on the Billboard 200. The band released their seventh album, The Silver Gymnasium, on 3 September 2013. The album peaked at No. 66 on the Billboard 200. The band's most recent album, Away, was released on September 9, 2016 on ATO Records.
Okkervil River's founding members became friends at Kimball Union Academy in Meriden, New Hampshire, and after parting ways for college moved to Austin, Texas to live together and start a band. The band consisted of singer-songwriter Will Sheff, Zach Thomas on bass and mandolin, and Seth Warren on drums. Their first gig was at Steamboat in Austin on 11 January 1999.
Bedroom EP and Stars Too Small to Use
In 1998, the group self-released their first disc, Bedroom EP. Over the course of two weekends in the summer of 1999, they recorded a seven song self-released album titled Stars Too Small to Use, with recording engineer Jeff Hoskins.
They met Jonathan Meiburg at a gig with his band Whu Gnu at the Waterloo Brewing Company on December 3, 1999. Meiburg subsequently joined the band on accordion and later on pianos and organs.
On the strength of Stars Too Small to Use, Okkervil River was admitted into the 2000 SXSW music festival. Their first major press was a SXSW feature article in the Austin Chronicle on 3 March 2000.
Don't Fall in Love with Everyone You See and Down the River of Golden Dreams
The band met recording engineer and producer Brian Beattie at their SXSW showcase on 18 March 2000 and soon agreed to make a record together. They spent much of the rest of that year working on Don't Fall in Love with Everyone You See. Warren moved to Berkeley, California in December and was replaced on drums by Mark Pedini.
By the time of that year's SXSW festival, Okkervil River had received interest in their new record from the Bloomington, Indiana-based record label Jagjaguwar. The record was released on Jagjaguwar on January 22, 2002.
One year later the band traveled to San Francisco and reunited with Warren to record their third album at Tiny Telephone with engineer Scott Solter at the console. Jagjaguwar released Down the River of Golden Dreams on 2 September 2003.
In 2003, Pedini left the band to pursue his graphic design work, leaving Okkervil River without a drummer for that year's SXSW. They invited Travis Nelsen, fresh off a tour filling in on drums for sister labelmates Secretly Canadian's Swearing at Motorists, to perform with them. He soon became the band's full-time drummer. The next year, during a long bout of touring, the band added keyboardist and lap-steel player Howard Draper as a fifth member.
Black Sheep Boy, The Stage Names and The Stand Ins
In August 2004, the band began recording with Beattie again, finally putting the finishing touches on their third full-length album, Black Sheep Boy in November. It was released on 5 April 2005. As a result of the album's critical success, Okkervil River followed up with an EP entitled Black Sheep Boy Appendix on 22 November 2005. This was the first recording with Draper, horn and keyboardist Scott Brackett, guitarist Brian Cassidy, and touring bassist Pat Pestorius, who eventually replaced Zach Thomas in the band. The band signed to Virgin/EMI in Europe and the label re-released Black Sheep Boy and its follow-up Black Sheep Boy Appendix as a double disc on 28 April 2006. Jagjaguwar eventually followed suit, releasing the Definitive Edition with extra songs and videos.
The Stage Names, their fourth full-length studio album (produced again by Beattie), was released on 7 August 2007. The disc features the line-up that toured extensively on Black Sheep Boy and the Black Sheep Boy Appendix, with Cassidy replacing Draper who joined Shearwater. The album was met with critical acclaim and debuted at number 62 on the Billboard 200 with 10,000 copies sold.
Okkervil River released their fifth album The Stand Ins on 9 September 2008. In its first week, the album charted at No. 42 with 11,000 copies sold, according to the Billboard 200. On 12 December 2007, the band freely released a nine-song mixtape entitled Golden Opportunities Mixtape via their website. These recordings, along with the upcoming appendix, are the first to feature contributions from new touring keyboardist, Justin Sherburn, who joined the band in November 2007.
In 2008 guitarist Brian Cassidy stepped down from the band as a full-time touring member and was temporarily replaced by Charles Bissell of The Wrens for their spring and summer tours. Bissell was later replaced by Lauren Gurgiolo, singer and songwriter of the Austin, Texas band The Dialtones. After performing on the Late Show with David Letterman in early 2009, the "Pop Lie" single was released backed with the b-sides "Millionaire" and "Pop Lie (One Man Band Version)".
I Am Very Far & The Silver Gymnasium
Okkervil River's sixth album, I Am Very Far, was released on 10 May 2011. To promote the album, the band went on tour in 2011 with Titus Andronicus, Julianna Barwick, Future Islands and NewVillager. In September 2013 Okkervil River released their seventh album, The Silver Gymnasium, the content of which is inspired by Sheff's childhood and hometown.
Away, the band's newest album, was released on 9 September 2016. The album features a new backing band and sonic direction, including contributions from Marissa Nadler, Jonathan Meiburg and members of the classical group yMusic. The content of the album is largely based on Will Sheff's life during the 2013-2015 period after the release of The Silver Gymnasium, during which many members of the band left and his grandfather died.
In 2001, Meiburg and Sheff founded a second band known as Shearwater. Originally an outlet for Meiburg songs and some Sheff songs that didn't fit the Okkervil mold, Shearwater has gradually evolved into a full fledged band. The band's 2006 release, Palo Santo (sans Sheff's vocals, but including his musical input), has seen Meiburg receive great critical acclaim. The groups still share many fans, and, while on tour together in 2004, they released a limited edition split-CD entitled Sham Wedding/Hoax Funeral. In 2008, Meiburg left Okkervil River to focus exclusively on Shearwater.
On 20 April 2010, former 13th Floor Elevators singer-guitarist Roky Erickson released the album True Love Cast Out All Evil, produced by Will Sheff and backed by Okkervil River.
Okkervil River also performed "Candle on the Water" for the 2016 remake of "Pete's Dragon (2016 film)."