Top image: Rain and River / photography by Gus Van Sant
For Rain Phoenix, her older brother River always was, and still is, a constant source of inspiration. Only three years old when she and River (then five) started playing music, the pair went on to form the band Aleka’s Attic in their teens. Rain later worked with the likes of Red Hot Chili Peppers and R.E.M on the road.
Now, marking 25 years since his untimely passing at the age of 23, Rain releases double A-side Time Gone. A reflection on the construct of time through a lens of grief, nostalgia, and how love never leaves you, but guides you. The single features two previously unreleased Aleka’s Attic tracks, Where I’d Gone and Scales & Fishnails, alongside Rain’s first single as a solo artist, Time is the Killer feat. Michael Stipe
Released through Kro Records, in collaboration with LaunchLeft, Rain discusses her music below, as well as activism in the arts, and the ways in which River’s legacy endures and educates today.
Clementine Zawadzki: Why did now feel like the right time for these Aleka’s Attic tracks to be shared?
Rain Phoenix: It’s hard to explain, the easiest way to talk about it is to say that the time was right for Time Gone. Everything just seemed to open up and point to yes.
CZ: What does it mean to you to not only have your own personal memories of River, but to also have his films and music to go to?
RP: River was a true original – authentic, passionate and totally unapologetic when it came to art and music. It’s an incredible gift to have his catalogue of music and film to be inspired by, and I’m glad the time has come to share some of his music too.
CZ: Your single Time is the Killer features R.E.M’s Michael Stipe. Can you tell me a little about your friendship and approaching him about the track?
RP: Michael has been a longtime friend of mine. I met him through my brother River. Michael’s voice spoke to me for this track and while it was totally nerve-wracking to ask, it was completely worth it.
CZ: What was it like being so young and playing with and working with bands like R.E.M and RHCP?
RP: Well, I was 21 when I hit the road with RHCP for nearly two years as their backup singer. It was an experience that helped shape my confidence as a singer. Until then, I had only ever sang with River, so it was the first time after he passed away that I realised I might be able to do it without him…
CZ: Did you write Time is the Killer before or as a response to the idea of releasing Aleka’s Attic songs? There’s really lovely synergy there and the songs all tie in so nicely.
RP: I wrote most of it before, but not completely – it was missing a music break, so I asked my collaborator Kirk Hellie to write and produce the track with me – once that happened, it was truly a song and it instantly felt right to pair it with the Aleka’s tracks.
“[River] has a well-known quote, “Run to the Rescue with Love and Peace will Follow,” – which sums up his belief that if we don’t find peace within ourselves we will not have the capacity to help others.”
CZ: In the song, you sing about time being a mirror, healer, and teacher. What has time reflected, restored, and taught you?
RP: The impermanence of life, accepting that everything changes has been the greatest mirror, healer and teacher for me.
CZ: Where I’d Gone and Scales & Fishnails are the two unreleased Aleka’s Attic tracks. Were there many Aleka’s Attic tracks to go through?
RP: Yes there were a number to choose from, but these two jumped out as the ones best suited for this release. I love anything River… he has always been and will continue to be an inspiration to me.
CZ: It’s been 25 years since River’s passing. Why do you think River and what he stood for still resonates so strongly with people today?
RP: If I were to answer with only two words they would be authenticity and integrity. He was a truly special being.
CZ: I saw on Instagram you put a call out to followers interested in recreating the photo of you and River through drawing, painting, digital art…
RP: I love River’s fans. They have been so dedicated to his memory, to his legacy, and I really wanted to include them in some way, to imbue the release with their appreciation of him.
CZ: Do you remember much about when that photo was taken?
RP: It was taken right around the time that Aleka’s Attic formed.
CZ: The trailer for Time Gone is also really fitting and moving. Did you edit the clips and why did you choose these specific frames of film?
RP: The trailer was directed by Bradley Gregg who played River’s older brother in Stand By Me. He had some 8mm footage of Aleka’s Attic from one of our shows in 1989, and then I gave him some old 8mm footage of my mom when she was 16 years old. I think the footage mash up and choices Bradley made worked so well with the song. He’s a true artist.
CZ: The release is through Kro Records, but in collaboration with your own imprint LaunchLeft, which in itself is a project uniting artists to spotlight new talent. What sparked the idea?
RP: LaunchLeft was born from the simple idea of ‘Artists Helping Artists’ and inspired and informed by River’s left-of-center artistic example. LaunchLeft enlists well-known creatives to use their fame, connections and voice to spotlight emerging artists in music. Collaborating with Kro Records on the release has been dreamy and effortless.
CZ: What did you learn along the way in your podcasts with Moon Zappa, speaking with other artists and hearing about their experiences and views?
RP: Hosting the podcast with Moon was so fun! She is one of the greatest comedians and writers I’ve had the pleasure to work with. It was incredible to hear amazing rock ‘n’ roll stories and artistic insights from some truly iconic artists. My favorite part was always hearing whom they recommended in music – to me, that’s when the ‘artists helping artists’ magic happens. Unfortunately, we had too much on our plates to continue the podcast, but I’m thrilled there will always be a full season available for people to hear.
CZ: I’m really interested in the River Phoenix Centre for Peacebuilding (RPCP), because I think the concept is unique. How many years did it take to get the center up and running?
RP: I think RPCP just turned five years old – RPCP was born from all that River stood for in terms of his activism. He has a well-known quote, “Run to the Rescue with Love and Peace will Follow,” – which sums up his belief that if we don’t find peace within ourselves we will not have the capacity to help others. So RPCP’s programs and practices reflect his commitment to beginning with oneself first, to gathering strength enough to fight any human or animal injustice with an open mind and fiercely compassionate heart. RPCP was created in honor of his wish for peace in the world.
CZ: What is RPCP currently working on?
RP: Police/Youth dialogues, Student/Teacher dialogues, restorative justice practices and circles, peacebuilding workshops, so much…
CZ: Are you going to release an LP as a soloist?
RP: Yes thanks for asking! I’ll be releasing a follow-up solo EP in the spring. I’ve been working alongside Kirk Hellie for the past month on all new songs and look forward to sharing them very soon.
Time Gone is out now via Kro Records.